No-one was more surprised than me when I was asked to judge the NZ Bacardi Legacy competition. Spirits are an integral part of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust qualifications, but cocktails are not. Which is how I came to find myself in a room of 18 bartenders, whittled down from an initial entry of over 150. Each was asked to present two drinks; a classic Daiquiri and their own interpretation of a Bacardi ‘Legacy’ cocktail, a drink they believed would stand the test of time and be a worthy addition to the stable of iconic cocktails such as the Mai Tai, Mojito, Cuba Libre.
I had to google how to spell mojito which should tell you plenty about my cocktail knowledge. But fellow judges, Jacob Briars, Global Advocacy and Training at Bacardi, who’d flown in from New York (though is originally from NZ) and Dickie Cullimore, Luxury Spirits Ambassador at Lion were very welcoming and explained how the points were awarded; for the cocktail name, the bartender’s technical skill, inspiration, presentation etc with the majority of points awarded for appearance, nose and palate. So not too dissimilar from wine judging.
I have to say, I had the best time. I learnt that :
1. serious bartenders have arms full of tattoos.
2. everyone hugs each other at every possible opportunity
3. if you are at all nervous, a slight bend of the knees stops your hands from shaking
Despite clearly having less experience than my fellow judges, Jacob gave me little pointers; as each bartender had to make two glasses of his or her Legacy cocktail a judge should always taste both, to make sure of consistency of flavour. Indeed there was no sense of hierarchy and I felt a valued member of the team. Self important wine show panel leaders take note.
Eighteen different cocktails, 18 different presentations but in the end only three finalists. I actually felt a bit tearful as emotions ran high when the final three were announced. One of my criteria for awarding a high score was ‘could I drink a second one’? A resounding yes for all three.
Main Photo: The three finalists – Luke Sanderson (Mea Culpa), Venetia Tiarks (Fukoko) and Guy Jacobson (Ancestral). Courtesy of Topic Photography.
Disclaimer : There was no judging fee and I paid for my own taxi to/from the venue. Although I did accept a couple of perfectly made Daiquiri at the conclusion of judging :)