Cocktail competitions have been around for quite some time now. What beauty pageants are to gay men is what cocktail competitions are to alcohol connoisseurs. The best mixologists the drinking world has to offer put their ideas and skills to the test and create the possible next classic cocktail.
Bacardi is an old reliable: consistent, smooth and reasonably priced. You can’t go wrong with Bacardi – the most awarded rum in the world – in your arsenal. For the past eight years, Bacardi has held the prestigious Bacardi Legacy Competition that has challenged the skills of some of the best bartenders in the world, to create unique yet enduring drinks that would become part of Bacardi’s renowned roster of classic cocktails, like Original Bacardi Daiquiri and Mojito. This year, it has included the Philippines among the countries joining the competition.
About a month ago, I was honored to be one of the judges for the 1st Bacardi Legacy Competition Finals held at Buddha Bar Manila. Five of Manila’s top bartenders (from the initial 50 entries) duked it out for a shot at leaving their mark in Bacardi history. Joining me on the panel are highly respected personalities from the industry: David Dennis (Puerto Rican-New Yorker mixologist, F&B consultant), GP Reyes (co-founder/owner of several Manila top bars like Valkyrie), Sanjit Randhawa (Bacardi Philippines general manager) and David Cordoba (co-owner of one of the world’s top bars and 28 Hong Kong and Bacardi Legacy Competition founding team.)
For a drink to be considered part of the Bacardi Legacy, it has to be original and easily duplicated (so you can order it from the swankiest bar or the casual dive bar and it will be the same, like a Mojito). The finalists were also tasked to plan out a promotional campaign to demonstrate their drink’s legacy potential. After all, even if you have the most innovative, yummiest cocktail in the world, if no one knows about it, then what’s the point? Remember, sharing is caring. What’s interesting about the competition is that the grand finals winner will not be announced immediately, as Bacardi believes it takes time for a drink to become a classic. The success of the cocktail will be evaluated over several months to make sure it has the potential to join the Bacardi Legacy roster.
The bartenders showcased their creativeness and passion through their presentations: Joey Cerdinia (Exit Bar Makati) with Bequest starting off with a rapper, Marnell Masallo (Skye Lounge Fort) with Island Souvenir with a video of the beach to compliment his drink, Mark Alvin “Oreo” Tolentino (Revel at The Palace Fort) with Little Man bounding up the stage with “It’s Always A Good Time” playing in the background, Mark Jerrold Bernardino (Scarlet Fort) with Kalikasan bringing on the nature feel with birds chirping and twittering, and Richie Cruz (Cafe Enye Bar Eastwood) spending a good amount of time delivering an engaging and informative mini lecture on the history of Bacardi and then singing the song El Tindero as he was making his drink of the same name. Most of them indicated that their inspiration for their drinks came from their families and their struggles. They certainly came across as heartfelt and sincere, masking their nervousness with determination and heart.
In the end, there could only be one winner, and it was Richie Cruz’s El Tindero that was chosen to represent the Philippines in the Bacardi Legacy Global Finals in San Francisco this May. His drink, which is suggested as an after-dinner or dessert drink (paired with sapin-sapin) is ingenious and original (this is a type of drink that can turn the heads of even the top cocktail connoisseurs and be branded a Filipino classic with ingredients such as San Miguel beer, coconut water, muscovado sugar syrup, apple cider vinegar and rimmed with dessicated coconut. It is interesting to note that he was the only one among the contestants who used Bacardi Gold (the others used Bacardi Superior). I must admit that his was the only bar I haven’t been to, so I suppose this is the right time to haul my ass to Eastwood and check out the bar scene there.
I have no doubt that Pinoy bartenders are world class. Thanks to competitions like these, striving, talented Pinoy bartenders can hone their craft and gain much needed exposure in an international level. This is just the 1st Bacardi Legacy and for sure, next year the quality of competition will just get better. Most Filipinos don’t know this but we do have a very deep history of bartending connected to the TIKI bar movement that started in the 1930s in America. During that time, in a famous bar called Don The Beach Comber (Los Angeles), celebrities like Charlie Chaplin were regulars. If you ordered a Sazerac or an Old Fashioned in this bar, they would make it for you in plain sight. But if you wanted to have one of their “talk of the town” tropical concoctions, it would emerge from a hidden back bar. Guests never saw who made them; today we know them as the Don’s “Four Boys,” and one of them is the legendary Filipino-American bartender named Ray Buhen.
We certainly have the pedigree and talent for bartending, and we are poised for recognition as one of the countries to watch out for. We are clearly on the brink of making a mark in the cocktail competition arena and leave a lasting legacy. So let’s raise our glasses to Bacardi, to Filipino talent! Let's toast to a great future, cocktails and dreams!
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Photos by Star Sabroso