Perhaps you’ll be surprised when I write that Bacardi Rum and their brand ambassadors in various countries are known as major supporters and promoters of mixology at the highest level.
I was — because in the United States, at least, the top-selling rum has always been more associated with party time, the Rum and Coke and the fact that every bar in the country except perhaps cocktail geekeries carries the brand. It’s everywhere, which may be why it would be hard to turn it into a niche brand that so many cocktail-centric bartenders seem to prefer.
But after spending a few days in the company of some of the fastest-rising young stars in international mixology, I’ve seen the other side of Bacardi and it’s just as smart and sharp as the suits the male competitors wore during Bacardi's 2012 Global Legacy Cocktail Competition, held in San Juan to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the iconic rum.
It was there that Shingo Gokan, representing the United States via Angel's Share in New York City, was named champion unanimously by a judging panel that included Bacardi’s global ambassador David Cordoba; as well as previous winner Marc Benneton of Lyon, France; and bar guru Stan Vardna, one of the instructors of classes held for the competitors earlier in the week.
The competition included 26 finalists, all national competition champions: Anastasiya Gvak from Russia, Jimmy Hult from Sweden, Zdenek Kastanek from the United Kingdom, Hayden Scott Lambert from Ireland, Boudewijn Mesritz of The Netherlands, Lukas Motejzik from Germany and Matteo Zamberlan from Italy. Gokan was far from the favorite going into the finals, and his selection brought audible gasps from some in the audience. But his performance, like that of Gvak, a former physician who left Siberia to become a Moscow bartender, was emotional and riveting.
Some competitors clearly were auditioning for a role in Bacardi’s ambassador program, which already employs some well-respected bartenders around the world. All competitors were charged with creating a cocktail suitable to join the Daiquiri and Cuba Libre as “legacy” cocktails as a way to celebrate the brand's establishment by Don Facundo Bacardí Massó in 1862 in Santiago de Cuba. In their presentations, some told stories of their own lives; others wove fictional or historical tales around their drinks, notably Kastanek for his La Hermosa, already placed in many bars across the globe. Drinks ranged from complex and innovative — Motejzik popped corn in a shaker cup for his — to the hard-to-replicate. Gokan, who will spend a year representing the brand at various events, evoked the Japanese tea ceremony, telling how he grappled with his home countrys catastrophe’s last year and the inspiration he drew from the memory of his grandmother’s tea making.
So moved was Gokan that time slipped away, and he was in danger of not completing his drink making and story telling in time to clear the bar, a final step that must be completed in this competition before the clock runs out. But spontaneously, his competitors who, like the audience, were moved by Gokan’s tale and efforts, leapt up and swept the bar clean in time.
It was a brilliant moment, one redoubled when Gokan was named unanimously as the winner. Gokan will join Cordoba on a series of visits to leading venues and special events around the world in the coming year.
Recipe courtesy of Shingo Gokan, winner of Bacardi's 2012 Global Legacy Cocktail Competition.
1 oz Bacardi Superior rum
1 oz Bacardi Solera rum
1/2 oz Osbourne Pedro Ximinez sherry
1 tsp matcha (green tea) and zest of yuzu
Mix the Bacardi Superior and matcha with a chasen matcha whisk (bamboo tea whisk) in a glass tumbler. Strain into a shaker and add Bacardi Solera and sherry. Hard shake and double strain into an Old-Fashioned glass and spray yuzu zest on the top.