Andy Loudon's Words to the Wise
At the 2014 Grand Prix, Andy Loudon, at the time working at London’s Satan’s Whiskers, won the competition with a fantastic new Cuban classic: La Rosa Blanca. It was the first Grand Prix organized under the current rules (drinks can only be made with ingredients available in Cuba), so Andy is in a great position to understand the issues that will face this year’s finalists. And since he judged the 2016 final, he also knows what will be expected of them. When we asked him last week to share a few pearls of wisdom, he sent us such a detailed message that we thought we’d share it with you in its entirety. Cantineros, read it, it will be very helpful…
« Firstly and most importantly, my number one tip for every competitor would be to read the brief. Then read it again, and again. And again. Making sure that your drink and your presentation hits the brief perfectly is key for winning the cocktail competition. I like to think of a cockail in a competition as a dissertation of sorts. The brief is your title or your question and your drink is the answer. Make sure it relates back.
Wake up fresh in the morning. It's Cuba, the bars are great, you're surrounded by friends and bartenders from all over the world, the weather is fantastic. The temptation is there to stay out, get drunk, party... But that hangover in the morning will affect how well you can take in information and inspiration from the seminars, tours and guides. Party when you win.
Be able to explain everything that you've done for the drink. How you've made a syrup, how you infused the product, what techniques you've used. Why have you fine strained it, why is it served in that particular glass…. Build a story around the brief, relate everything that you can back to the brief, even if it's tenuous. Everybody loves a good story behind a good drink. Be a story-teller and use different approaches to bring that story to life.
Think outside the box and then jump back into the box. Do with your drink what no one else is trying to do, but remember that everybody knows how to make syrups and infusions. You don't have to follow the same path. Think of key flavour combinations that really showcase the expression of rum that you're using. It has to be replicable, so sometimes simplicity is key.... Take notice of what the popular flavours are within the group, lots of people use honey, coffee, be original. They're delicous but very easy ingredients to reach for as a bartender. Have a back up plan: From the moment you step foot off the plane, inspirations and thoughts should be gathering momentum. A notepad in your pocket at all times is your best friend. Take your own bar tools. Using equipment your comfortable with will help you make better drinks. Plus you never know what kind of equipment you can find anywhere else in the world.
Have fun, smile, ask for feedback from everyone who tastes your drink, shake hands with all the judges and everybody else you meet. »