We spoke to Ally Martin, one of the three UK finalists hoping to make it through to the eagerly awaited big gig in Sydney to find out.
First, a bit of background…
Here’s the deal: each year bartenders are challenged to create a cocktail that will stand the test of time, a modern classic if you will. All cocktails must be inspired by Bacardí Superior or Bacardí Carta Oro rums and contain no more than three units of alcohol. In total, no more than six ingredients can be used in the recipe and all of them should be commonly available around the world. That means no flashy rum infusions, fancy homemade bitters or show-offy shrubs and blends.
That’s the drink. Then there’s the marketing campaign. If shortlisted as one of the Three Most Promising in their particular territory, each bartender has six months to promote their drinks – getting it out there in as many ways as possible. That sure does separate the wheat from the chaff.
The hard work is worth it though. The global finals take place in Sydney which is pretty darned impressive. And for one lucky winner, there’s a hand-finished limited-edition luxury trophy; a money-can’t-buy trip to La Galarza, the Bacardí Mexico distillery to blend their own rum with the Maestros de Ron Bacardí; a world trip to some of the most inspiring bars around the world, plus bragging rights, obvs.
Little wonder why Ally and fellow UK finalists Matt Fairhurst (City Social) and Ben Davies (The Suburbs) have been working like proverbial troopers in their quest to do what Tom Walker did last year and bring the Bacardí Legacy trophy home.
Over to Ally:
There’s no shortage of bartending competitions these days, what’s the appeal to bartenders?
The good ones give you a platform to showcase your work. It’s no different from an artist staging an exhibition – they want to show their work to their peers and people outside the industry as well. For me, bartending competitions are a great way to show what you can do as well as giving you the opportunity to challenge yourself.
Why Bacardí Legacy?
It’s more about you as a person rather than your ability to simply make good drinks. This particular competition allows you to learn about the business of being a bartender which I’ve always seen as a huge positive. You learn about how to present yourself – how to develop your brand image if you like and so many other aspects of the job. All in all it’s an invaluable experience.
This isn’t the first time you’ve entered the competition, what have you learned since then and how do you think the experience has helped you this time round?
I came second in the Scottish regional heats a few years ago. I was fairly inexperienced then – I was actually bartending part-time. It’s different now. I see bartending as a career and I know more about drinks and flavours. Most importantly though, I know more about how these competitions work.
You need to be quite savvy. When I created my Bacardí Legacy drink three years ago I think I did some really cool things but I didn’t really consider how replicable my drink would be around the world. This time I spent a lot of time thinking about how easy the ingredients would be to come by on a global level – that’s what the competition is all about.
What was the inspiration behind your cocktail?
I was inspired by the cocktail and bar community which emerged over the past 10-15 years. I wanted to create a drink which took inspiration not from the classics but the trailblazers who set the cocktail revolution in motion. The Old Cuban, created by Audrey Saunders played a very important role in that. It was the first real rum cocktail for the modern era and came at a time when people first started using fresh ingredients in their drinks.
So how did the Old Cuban become the Young Cuban?
I knew I wanted to do twist on a modern classic – drinks from the 80s and 90s are quite misunderstood and I wanted to show how good they are. Two things were very important: the wine and mint. I substituted the mint with dill as it has a high level of complexity and wonderful fresh, green notes. And in place of wine, I added sherry to give it a different spin.
How important is the idea of creating a liquid legacy to you?
It’s a huge attraction. You work very hard in this industry and although it’s very hospitality driven and all about the guests, at the same time you work hard to come up with these drinks. The idea of creating a drink that people would make for years to come is incredible. Think of it like an architect who works on a building and once its finished, he can walk past it whenever he likes and say that it came from his brain. It’s the same for a drink. To be able to go to a bar in 50 years time and have someone make the cocktail I created would be very humbling.
The competition is a long process. Which part has been the most:
How willing the bar community has been to help make the campaign as successful as possible and for no personal gain – I’ve found that really fascinating. In fact. I didn’t know I had so many friends!
Social media. I used it before but not professionally and that’s something different entirely. When I started looking into it I realised how complex it is; there are so many aspects to it that I didn’t ever think about, like knowing the best times to use it, how to engage with people, that kind of thing. I’ve seen the power of social media and I’ll definitely be using it more in the future.
c) character building?
I’ve gained in confidence from this process. It’s come from putting myself in difficult situations. Presenting masterclasses in different countries isn’t something I would do ordinarily but it’s been great – you learn a lot about yourself and learn to do lots of things you didn’t realise you were good at. For me that’s been photography, graphic design, using Photoshop and branding. These things have all been very useful in the campaign but are also invaluable tools for the future.
Which of your initiatives have you most enjoyed and why?
I’m really enjoying the #100days campaign where I take a photograph of the Young Cuban in various locations. It’s got me to see parts of London I’ve never appreciated before, all from a lens.
What does being part of a competition like this involve?
A huge amount of hard work – it occupies your mind all the time. But the opportunities are second to none. At the end of the six month period I’ll have been to eight European cities including Moscow, Riga and Amsterdam, hosting masterclasses and guest bar tending – it’s been a truly amazing period.
We’re getting closer to the UK finals, how would you sum up the experience for anyone thinking about entering next year?
In the same way as working in a bar is much more than your ability to make drinks, Bacardi Legacy for bartenders is much more than just being able to make a replicable drink with Bacardi. It tests your skills in so many different ways – be that through social media, marketing, ingenuity, events or relationships.
It is for me the most worthwhile competition for bartenders out there. The opportunities and the exposure you get are second to none and the entire six months is pretty crazy but also pretty incredible. People often comment on how tough this competition is but I can assure anyone who is thinking about entering in the future not to think twice, because it’ll take you to places you’d never expect to go, teach you things you’d never expect to learn and you’ll meet a whole bunch of people you never expected to meet.
50ml Bacardí Superior Rum
20ml lemon juice
10ml Fino sherry
4 sprigs of dill
Shake ingredients over ice, double strain and serve straight up in a chilled cocktail glass.
Follow Ally’s progress @ally_martin and check the Young Cuban adventures on Instagram @young.cuban
Want more from the UK?
Check Tempting Fate with Matt Fairhurst
Golden Age by Ben Davies