At each Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix, one of the competitors doesn’t come through the regular national heats. Instead, he submits a recipe online. The recipe is reproduced by a professional bartender in front of a jury of drinks experts tasked with picking the Grand Prix’s Wild Card. In essence, he competes in absentia against bartenders from all over the world. Usually, he comes from a country were no national selection was organized.
This year was different: Nick Sourmpatis is Greek and Greece always sends someone. The thing is, Nick competed and came short. He wanted another shot. “I came second. Two of my judges told me that my drink was very innovative and forward thinking and persuaded me to submit my recipe for the Wild Card competition. I came up with reversed El Presidente, but instead of vermouth, I made wine from pomegranates, and then fortified it with Havana 3 años infused with spices and herbs. For the sweet part I reduced PX sherry into a syrup”. And that’s how he won it.
That Greece is a country strong enough to send two bartenders to the global finals should be expected: it boasts an amazing bar scene. Many are surprised: after all, it’s a crisis-hit country so where’s the money for good booze? Nick has got an answer: “Many tourists come to Greece, all year long. The level of bartending around the world is very high, and many clients that come to our bars have previously visited many great bars. I think that pushes us to raise the level of our service. And although the economical crisis is always present in Greece, we fight, we spend, we believe!” Another factor, according to Nick, is the Athens Bar Show, one of the most popular events in Europe’s cocktail calendar. “Since the event is so recognized, I find myself, a not very well known bartender, having the chance to hang around and sometimes work with some of the world’s most famous bartenders”, he says.
Undoubtedly, Nick also gets to learn on a daily basis, working side by side with other Greek bartenders. The Clumsies, the place he calls home, is number 6 in the World’s 50 Best Bars list. “Working here is a dream for every Greek bartender. When you work with the best, you can only get better! We are a family and we help each other in every way. We just launched our latest menu, a collaboration between every bartender on the team”.
One could also say bartending runs in the blood as Nick’s brother, Alex, is a very well-known bartender himself. In fact, Alex competed at the 2014 Grand Prix and has been part of the event’s Bar Team since then. “He was the first person I called when I was told I was awarded the Wild Card”. But all he got from his brother were congratulations: “He didn’t give me any advice or help because he was there for work and it would have been unfair. I love his professionalism so much!”
You will not be surprised that Nick fell in love with Havana – and plans to come back. “With 4 other competitors, we said we’d travel to Cuba to celebrate our friendship”, he told us. Yes, competitions should also be about that – creating links and celebrating a profession. Before he heads back to the Pearl of the Antilles (it may be a while), Nick will be busy becoming a better professional. He said that the Grand Prix made him even more enthusiastic about bartending. Bartenders are creative people, competitions are a learning experience and you can’t create if you don’t learn. “Mixing cocktail is something creative, and it helps you understand your limits, it makes you brainstorm and think outside the box”. Nick got his first job as a waiter a little over a decade ago. With this attitude, who knows where he’ll be ten years from now.