Maybe you've heard rumblings at your local watering hole that your favorite bartender just won a competition and that winning drink is now legendary at said watering hole, a secret order for those in the know. But what is it with all these competitions exactly? Every year it seems like another one is created, luring more and more bartenders to enter the competitive circuit. For those not trolling the bartender competition notice pages, the most renowned cocktail competitions include Diageo World Class, Bombay Sapphire World's Most Imaginative Bartender, and Bacardí Legacy.
I was recently invited to Sydney for the Bacardí Legacy Global Finals, an overwhelming event to say the least. It was my first bartender competition, so I came in a little cynical and not knowing what to expect, whereas other writers who live on the competition press circuit seemed to know all the rules and many contestants from previous events.
The biggest question is, why would a bartender enter a competition? Exposure, of course. Competitions are the fastest way for up and coming talent to get their names out there, and winning opens doors for further opportunities such as brand ambassador positions or being invited to parties and events. Naturally, some bartenders enter the same competitions year after year seeking victory, and travel from one to the next in search of the big 'life-changing' win. For others, Bacardí Legacy was the first taste of what fame might feel like - photo shoots, interviews, and international plane tickets.
The cocktail is then presented to the judges who taste the drink, assess it based on the name, the technical skills of the bartender, aesthetics (read, garnish game), ingenuity & innovation, inspiration, product knowledge, and its ability to stand as a classic cocktail. It should be noted that the audience does not taste the drink.
Finals were held at Sydney's Town Hall, where the stage was set beneath a monstrous organ cloaked in red lighting. Surely, the finalists must have felt like heroes on that stage, flanked by enormous screens and surrounded by heroically lit Bacardí bottles.
The following day, Bacardí sponsored a party for all of the bartenders on Cockatoo Island, a casual Tiki BBQ - a party that Bacardí has mastered. Gone were the ties, the vests, the party dresses, and the carefully styled facial hair. The finalists were relaxed, no longer on edge nor eying their competition, instead they were friendly and enjoying the moment.
So - next time you order that secret cocktail at your local watering hole and it's proudly made with Bacardí - now you know why.