by Chris Enns
Competing in this year’s Bacardi Legacy competition has given me the opportunity to visit Puerto Rico and Casa Bacardi, the Cathedral of Rum. This monument, located just outside San Juan, is where 85% of the global Bacardi supply is produced. Along with an overwhelming number of barrels maturing in their aging warehouses, it stores multiple four-story-high tanks of molasses shipped in from Mexico as well as other Caribbean Islands. Needless to say, this was a highlight of my bartending career.
The trip to San Juan had a few hiccups, with our West Coast crew arriving to the party fashionably late having had a 15 hour delay in Newark. To start things off, the Bacardí family met in the back bar of La Factoria for Salsa lessons to get everyone feeling the rhythm of the island. After we finally arrived, it was time to shake something very different: daiquiris! This was an opportunity to meet not only the other Canadian competitors but our American brothers and sisters as well. These times are my favourite part of competitions, having the chance to make new friends from all over the world. A few group pictures, and a round of OCHO’s, and we’re off to dinner. The group is treated to a stunning six course menu at Marmalade, with Bacardí cocktails to pair. Dessert came with a round of espresso before heading back to the hotel. Tomorrow will come soon and it’s a fully planned day with two feature pop-ups. Time to get some rest.
Tuesday comes and it’s down to the lobby for a quick breakfast. Everyone gets their coffee and a few croissants then it’s time to get on the shuttle. At 9am, we are off to Casa Bacardí, the distillery where most of the world’s Bacardí comes from. We arrive and are greeted with a welcome cocktail of fresh mango and strawberry as well as a fruit breakfast to start the day. The tour begins with a story of the Bacardí, their move from Cuba to Puerto Rico, and the lineage of the Bacardi family. We then meet on the top of the Bacardí building, nine stories high, where the top of the column stills peak. It is an incredible view from the highest point on the estate. We see where the Spanish established a military point, as well the under-construction rectification still. The size of the facility is amazing and I have never seen a still this large.
We are then escorted to a warehouse to see and smell the rum as it matures in the Caribbean climate, the angel’s share takes over. Getting the opportunity to ask questions of the Master Blender José Gómez was fantastic. Everyone is truly passionate about what is being produced. We then enjoyed a tasting of the Bacardí line-up with Johnny, our guide, before bottling a personally engraved bottle of Casa Bacardi Special Reserve. Next is lunch and the first pop up of the trip.
Lote 23 is an outdoor, multi-vendor, food court community square with two small bars. This will be the first location where six Legacy finalists will showcase their cocktail while locals and fellow competitors grab a bite, sip a beverage, and listen to live music in the middle of the square. Canadian finalists Sean McGuigan, Arnaud Leduc and Matt Boyle kept the crowd hydrated as the San Juan sun beamed down. After three hours of food and drink it was time to pack up and head back to the hotel to freshen up and collect our tools. We are off to dinner followed by La Factoria, the second pop-up of the trip, and I’ll be up next.
Dinner was exactly what you’d expect from a table of bartenders. Cocktails and beers are being passed around, everyone wanting to try as much as they can. Bone marrow is being saved to luge OCHO while we contemplate dessert or more cocktails. A big thank you to Parcela restaurant, we all left happier and healthier than when we came in.
Now the fun really begins behind the stick at La Factoria, with fellow Canadians Michael Hopper and Tom Scully. A four-room cocktail and salsa bar with an award-winning team. I was fortunate to make my Bacardí Legacy cocktail, El Patrimono, for locals and fellow competitors. Shaking up as many cocktails as there were coupes, it was a memorable experience I will cherish for a long time. I did get a lesson in what to wear when in San Juan behind the bar: leave the suit behind and wear a more climate-appropriate shirt! Think TIKI.
Our final day of activities was all about professional development. We were in the hotel conference rooms having the chance to learn from two presentation and public speaking coaches. We reviewed interviews and presentations, a break-down of last year’s global winning presentation, and received one-on-one time reviewing with our coaches. We were given the tools to improve both our cocktail presentations and our everyday presence behind the bar. The next seminar was held by GN Chan, global Bacardí Legacy winner from 2016. GN tells us how he won the global title with media relations, guest shifts, creating awareness, and bringing the whole story of our cocktail together. The chance to hear from someone who has been where we are really helped boost confidence and calm nerves. The amount we learned and the tools given are so valuable to our craft. It’s trips like these that are all about growing and being better capable to serve our guests.
One final pop up night at La Factoria with Canadians, Ian Storcer and Drahos Crytry, wrapping up the tour of Puerto Rico. It was an amazing opportunity to see first hand the home of Bacardí and meet all the fellow competitors from across Canada and the United States. It won’t be long until we all meet again in February to have the chance to present our Legacy in Miami.