Santiago Michelis is from Argentina. He left his home country and previous life as a product manager in a big consumer electronics company to pursue a full-time career in Europe doing what he loves, bartending.
“I landed in Ireland first, where I worked for almost a year, and currently I’m in London, still new in town, working at Happiness Forgets at Hoxton Square,” he says proudly. “The bar is a cosy basement, with a very classic style in drinks and great focus on service. It was actually one of my favourite bars before working in it, so you can imagine I am extremely happy. I am the newest member of the team having worked there for just over six weeks.” New he may be but inexperienced in the art of making good drinks he most definitely is not.
Santiago goes through to the BACARDÍ Legacy finals next week with his cocktail The Knot.
So Santiago, when and why did you decide you wanted to enter BACARDÍ Legacy this year?
I decided I wanted to enter the competition in June this year before leaving Ireland to come to London. I’ve worked hard since then to make sure I made the semi-finals. The main reason is that I believe I really have a story to tell through this drink, and BACARDÍ Legacy is a perfect vehicle to do this. Of course, the amazing experience, all the people you meet and all you learn in the process also drove me to enter.
What is it about this particular competition that appealed?
I believe anyone can mix some spirits and make a nice drink, but having a cocktail tell a story, making it mean something, is not as easy – in fact, only a few people can do it well. I believe this competition aims to that. BACARDÍ Legacy also represents what I think a drink should be: simple, balanced, easy to make and full of stories.
Have you followed the journeys of previous finalists (UK and/or global), and if so, who has stood out most for you and why?
I am lucky to have two friends and mentors who have been global finalists: Lucas Lopez Davalos from Argentina (2013, Puerto Rico), and Karim Mehdi from Ireland (last year in Sydney). What stood out most for me is the hard work they put into the competition. Karim made it to the Irish finals six times before winning, he is a great example of determination. For me, he possesses the same determination Mr Facundo Bacardí had when he arrived in Cuba.
Why is BACARDÍ Legacy such an important competition for you personally?
It’s different to every other. It challenges us bartenders to create a classic, a drink that will stand the test of time. It’s a competition from a brand with an epic story, a brand from a company that is still owned by the same family of this epic story… and then of course, all the massively talented bartenders who have been in BACARDÍ Legacy over the years also stand out for me.
Please describe your cocktail and the inspiration behind it.
My drink is called The Knot, and it is a fresh combination of the flavours of my childhood. The drink has fresh mandarin juice, honey, and Martini Bitter Aperitivo. It’s shaken and served straight up in a cocktail glass.
The Knot is based on the European diaspora and the sacrifice and adventurous spirit of all the people who populated Cuba, Argentina and the rest of Latin America in the past centuries, leaving everything behind. Facundo Bacardí’s is one of the most amazing and epic success stories of these people, and my family’s story is pretty similar and cool as well. These stories played a key part in my decision to leave corporate life and pursue my dream.
The Knot is a tribute to all of these stories. I don’t want to blow the surprise away, so details will be revealed in the final!
You’re permitted to use six ingredients in your cocktail, what’s the one ingredient (apart from BACARDÍ) that brings the x-factor to your drink?
Definitively mandarin juice. It’s such a fresh and special citric fruit – super tasty, complex and interesting. It’s also extremely popular back home, almost every big house has a lemon or mandarin tree in the garden.
You can choose from BACARDÍ Carta Blanca or BACARDÍ Carta Ora as the base for your cocktail, which did you go for and why?
I went for Carta Blanca – more for historical facts than for the taste itself, although it does work much better in my drink with its amazing and delicate flavour.
This rum is the masterpiece of Facundo, the drink that kept him working for months and trying different yeasts and distillations over and over again until he achieved perfection. This determination, this spirit of entrepreneurship is what drove me in the creation process of The Knot.
Why do you believe your drink has the potential to be the next BACARDÍ Legacy cocktail?
Because it tells a strong, real and heartfelt story. It is a drink that tells the story of all the people that populated a continent and marked the culture, history and drinking habits of lots of countries. It is a drink that all of us who have left home for a dream can identify with. It serves to remind us that with hard work and soul it is possible to leave a legacy. Last but not least, it is super tasty and easy to make anywhere in the world!
Who would you most like to see drinking it?
My grandfather, who believed in adventure more than anybody else.
What’s the best piece of advice you received during the competition?
If the story is honest, the drink will come to you alone. As naive as it sounded when I received it, my story came first. The flavours appeared alone when researching my past and my family’s story.
What would winning BACARDÍ Legacy mean to you?
An immense honour. Already being part of the final and being able to tell my story feels almost out of this planet!
45ml BACARDÍ Carta Blanca
25ml fresh mandarin juice
5ml lemon juice
15ml honey syrup (1:1)
12.5ml Martini Bitter aperitivo
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice. Serve straight up.
The BACARDÍ Legacy UK Final takes place on 10th November. Keep up to date at #BacardiLegacyUK.