Last week I went to Trinidad to report on the 2011 Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge. They flew in bartenders representing North and South America, Australia, the Caribbean, Europe, India, Asia, Nigeria (though he had visa issues and couldn't attend), South Africa, and Trinidad & Tobago.
I got a chance to sit down with most of the contestants for a quick interview to learn a bit about their drinks and their countries.
Andy Griffiths from Cookie in Melbourne, Australia eventually won the day, and the $10,000 check.
He told me that down in Melbourne they're working with barrel aged drinks now (but the barrels are much harder to get than in the US where they're everywhere) and he's aging a Rum Negroni with chocolate bitters. Lately he's been using Chartreuse in drinks a lot, as well as doing more food and cocktail pairings.
Each bartender prepared two drinks in the contest. His first was an aperitif-style cocktail made with Bunnahabhain scotch (owned by Angostura), Yellow Chartreuse, Madiera, muddled cherries, bitters, and salt. An interesting thing Andy told me is that any drink with fresh fruit and sugar can use a pinch of salt to bring out the flavor.
His second drink (one had to be made with Angostura rum; both had to include Angostura bitters) was inspired by a Trinidanian dessert. It's a flip with rum, eggs, sesame seeds, treacle (molasses), chocolate liqueur, and bitters.
Mariano Ramirez from Buenos Aires, Argentina is a consultant. He told me that the most popular drinks there besides the typical daiquiris and fruit drinks are Fernet and Coke, and that they also drink a lot of vermouth. I asked him where I should go for good drinks if ever in Buenos Aires and he recommended 878, Mundo Bizarro, Danzon, and Olsen.
His first drink was made with rum, apple juice, lime, honey, cinnamon, and bitters. Sounds like a nice set of matching flavors. His second was made with gin, basil, red pepper, simple syrup, grapefruit juice, and bitters, served highball -style. He said he focussed on easy-to-get ingredients made for the international palate - not in the dry and bitter style favored in Argentina.
Jamaal Bowen works at the Sandy Lane on Barbados. As I've actually been there, I asked him about the wonderful juices they have. He said the Bajan cherry juice, golden apple juice, passionfruit juice, and coconut water sometimes make it into drinks, including their welcome punch at the hotel. He says on Barbados people often mix fresh coconut water with dark rum or with Johnnie Walker Black. I forgot to try rum and coconut water while I was there, oof.
His first drink was made with Hine cognac (also owned by Angostura), passionfruit, thyme, simple syrup, orange and regular Angsotura. His second was made with Angostura 1919 rum, basil, simple, lime, elderflower, and bitters. Sounds like he likes some herbs.
Daniyel Jones is from Trinidad and works at Martini Makers doing special events. He says that people are appreciating fresh ingredients more in local bars, but then again they drink coconut water with their whisky so they're used to a certain amount.
His first drink included rum, jackfruit, spices and bitters. His second used caimate fruit, which is says is a fruit with a delicate flavor, and used Angostura rum to infuse orange peels, seasoning it over a saucepan before adding them- and the rum- to the drink.
Kurt Schlechter works at Circle Bar in Johannesburg, and is also a bartender trainer. He says Johannesburg is known for having the best clubs, while the cocktail bars are more centered in Capetown. (He cited Asoka Son of Dharma and Cubana as examples.)
Kurt noted that in South Africa, beverages must be 43% alcohol (as opposed to 40% US) to be pure spirits. This leads to a lot of problems with importing spirits, but some just change the labels - I believe he said Absolut comes in as a "spirit aperitif," for example.
His first drink was made with Bunnahabhain scotch, gingerbread syrup, cream, milk, and Amarula liqueur to throw in some local flavor. He said this drink was inspired by Angostura bitters on top of vanilla ice cream. His second drink was a fizz made with rum, passionfruit, egg, soda, and honey.
Wolfgang Mayer works at the Widder-Hotel in Zürich, Switzerland. He says the bar carries over 1000 bottles, including 100 tequilas (that's a ton for Europe). He says he's been experimenting with German stomach bitters in cocktails, and actually used them in a drink here.
His first was a classic Manhattan with Angostura and the German stomach bitters. His second cocktail was a version of a daiquiri made with sage and peach puree and of course, bitters.
Michael Schaus works at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He says lately he's been getting into using fresh ginger, St. Germain, and Canton.
His first drink used Wild Tukey American Honey, creme de cassis, raspberries, bitters, and ginger. His second used rum, fresh sweet and sour, orange zest, and bitters.
Yangdup Lama is a bartender trainer in New Delhi. He says of the Indian palate, "The drinks have to be very full-bodied, like the food. Nobody would like a really Dry Martini but everyone wants a sweet Appletini." He says that in some creative mixology happening in India they're using spices like curry, corriander, clove, and cinnamon, but in general the young drinkers don't yet appreciate quality ingredients in spirits.
His first drink was made with Bunnahabhain scotch, toffee nut syrup, and bitters, served up. His second was made with Angostura 1919 rum, paan (a minty spice mixture), apple juice, orange liqueur, and bitters.
On stage at the event, he made a point to remind the audience that he is handsome and also single.
The only bartender I wasn't able to interview was Nor Salinah Binti Syed Osman from Malaysia, who works at Twentyone Kitchen+Bar in Ipoh, Perak. (I think she said her nickname is "S" which is a lot easier.) At the contest she made one drink with 1919 rum, sweet vermouth, cassis, and bitters, garnished with apple slices. He second drink was made with a yellow lime (producing yellow juice), lime leaf, red plum, simple syrup, rum, and bitters. She rubbed the lime leaf around the rim before serving it, which would be cool to try with life leaf here.
Judges included Dale DeGroff, Colin Apiah, and the previous Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge winner Jamie Stephenson.
Congratulations to all the contestants and I know you all had a great time during the rest of Carnival in Trinidad!