Today's post is written by Lou Bustamante, who travelled to Trinidad to witness the 2014 Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge. Lou is a contributor to publications including the SF Chronicle, SF Weekly and Wine & Spirits.
On Sunday, March 2nd, on the eve of Carnival in Trinidad, The House of Angostura, producers of Angostura Rum and Angostura Aromatic Bitters, gathered 11 contestants from around the globe to compete in their Global Cocktail Contest.
Each contestant had seven minutes to prepare two drinks, one rum based, and the other a freestyle cocktail. While the biggest challenge was certainly on stage in front of the judges, the other for some was sourcing ingredients. For American contestant Yani Frye (from The Sugar House in Detroit, Michigan), finding citrus fruit like oranges and grapefruit with skin worthy of a contest-winning garnish proved a challenge. Shaking four shakers at once and making a total of six different cocktails (the contest only required two) seemed less daunting to Frye.
For others, it was the distance travelled, like James “Sugarfoot” Goggin (who owns Handsome Bartenders in Auckland) from New Zealand who spent over 40 hours on multiple flights to get to Port of Spain, where the contest was held.
The pace of the competition was fast, with many competitors coming in down to the wire over going over the limit, since clearly explaining what they where doing and making the presentation was part of the contest. And even though the taste of the drinks contributed for a majority of the points, those with timing strategies did well.
Nazar Makarov (from the City Space Bar in Swissôtel Krasnye Holmy, Moscow) had a sound track and well rehearsed performance that wowed the audience. The carefully choreographed routine allowed him to have sound effects tied in to certain maneuvers, but also allowed him to know exactly where he was on timing throughout. While he didn’t win top honors, he did win the Best Rum Cocktail for his Rum Story (Angostura 7-Year Old Rum, demarera sugar, Chambord, Angostura Bitters, apricot infused white and dry vermouths).
Mike Tomasic (from Mr. Moustache in Bondi Beach, Australia) won the Freestyle Cocktail for his Olympia (Hine Cigar Reserve Cognac, Lustau San Emilio Pedro Jimenez Sherry, lemon, egg white, fig & lemon jam, Angostura Bitters), but also took home the grand prize, a new job as the global brand ambassador for the House of Angostura and $10,000 USD.
Talking to Mike after his win, he said his strategy was simply about trying to focus on making the drinks, as any mistake could eliminate you from the competition. “My strategy was to just get out and get those drinks done as quick as possible,” says Tomasic. He added that his other goal was to, “illustrate your knowledge on each product you’re using, why you’re using it and how the flavors integrate together.”
Interestingly, Tomasic also attributes his win to the strength and quality of bartenders in Australia. With the wage laws in Australia making bartending less about money, Tomasic explained, there is more of a focus on the craft. Bartending competitions in Australia are extremely fierce, with more global champions coming out of the country.
He hopes his win will allow him to showcase the talent and creativity behind the bars in what is a fairly isolated country (geographically speaking), along with the rums and bitters from the House of Angostura.