This year's Grand Prix winner tells it all about his future Cuban classic
When, rather perversely, we asked 2014 Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix winner Andy Loudon what his favourite cocktail was, excluding Cuban drinks, he just looked at us and let us understand that he was sorry not to play along: his favourite drink bar none is the Daiquiri. The Vieux Carré, a classic cocktail from New Orleans, a city creole enough for Cuban lovers to feel at home, came second. And so Andy impressed us too, a few hours after he had impressed the jury.
To take away the trophy and the Havana Club Maximo bottle (he was carrying it around the hotel lobby when we interviewed him; we were hoping he’d open it and let us have a drop, alas…) he first had to convince a very demanding jury that, besides mixing fantastic yet simple drinks, he got what Cuba was all about. “The thing that stood out more was Cuban culture, Cuban happiness. When I was creating my drink what I thought most about was Cuban artworks. Everything here is vibrant, pop art and multi-layered, multi-faceted”.
This is what inspired him to create both the semi-finals and the finals drink. In the semis, he came up with La Piña de Plata (The Silver Pineapple, Floridita’s first name), a classic mix of rum, sugar, lime and pineapple, to which he added Cuban white wine. “Cuban wine is not something you necessarily use in everyday life, it’s not very good by their own admission, but Cuban culture is about reusing the things around you. And the wine really lifted the other ingredients.”
The Piña de Plata helped him through to the final, where, on top of coming up with a new drink, he had to take part in the Cantinero Jam Session, judged by Cuban cantineros, the very same mentors who helped competitors all week long on their quest to find all about Cuban culture. “It was absolutely amazing. I haven’t made drinks that quickly in a long, long time”, says Andy. His group had to make 5 Mojitos has fast as possible. “I was next to the competitor from Cuba. We got along like a house on fire, it was really amazing to be next to him, and we finished at the same time”. A good omen, surely.
And yet, Andy felt very nervous before the results: “It’s a long way from when you present your drink to them actually announcing the winner.” Of course, you’re only nervous if you feel like you have a chance. So what was the drink that put him in such position? “José Marti is the national hero here and the Daiquiri is the star of the island, so I came up with the José Marti Especial”. A delightful twist on the Daiquiri, it brings together “all the experiences I had in Cuba, like the sea air, with fino sherry, or the spices, with cloves”. Very Cuban, simple, easy to reproduce yet multi-layered: it looks like Andy really came up with a new Cuban classic cocktail.
Back in London, Andy will certainly use a lot of what he learned in Cuba at Satan’s Whiskers, where he plies his trade under… Marcis Dzelzainis, Grand Prix winner in 2010. With two Grand Prix winners behind the stick, this self-defined neighbourhood bar “turns world bar”, Andy jokes. We will see him again in Havana in two years time, but what does the future hold for the Scunthorpe lad with ten years of bartending behind him (at places such as Manchester’s Socio Rehab or London’s 69 Colebrooke Row, no less)? “I just want to carry on what I’m doing and what I’ve done for the last ten years: being in a bar, meeting people, learning from people and just having a good time with the people that I am serving”. We’ll drink to that.
José Marti Special
40 ml Havana Club Añejo 3 Años
2 ml Ricard
15 ml Tio Pepe Sherry
20 ml lime juice
20 ml sugar syrup
Muddle the cloves in the bottom of the shaker. Add all ingredients, shake with ice and strain in a coupette. Serve with a straw.