Rewind : The 2014 Grand Prix
Can you smell muddled, fresh mint? Can you hear the sound of the knife piercing through the grapefruit, the fresh lime squeezed into the shaker? Can you feel the cold of the ice? Can you already see with your mind’s eye the beautiful arc of the liquid as it’s being thrown from one half of the shaker to the other by a talented cantinero? If so, you’re just like us: you’re already projecting yourself three weeks forward, and you’re attending the 11th Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix way ahead of time. But do you remember what happened two years ago, at the 10th Grand prix?
It all started on a Monday, the 2nd of June 2014. The whole day was dedicated to “Cuban life, Cuban culture”: competitors and guests were introduced to Havana through a visit of the city’s landmarks, from the old town and the Museo del Ron to Vedado and the Plaza de la Revolución. And when the heat and the humidity got worse, everyone was brought back inside to attend fascinating seminars on the history of the cantineros or Cuban music (a subject on which Dave Broom could have talked all night long, or so it seemed at the time). In the evening, things were rounded out by Havana Cultura’s Dayme Arocena amazing concert. The second day was more studious, and you could feel the nerves of the competitors eager for the action to start. Maestro del Ron Cubano Asbel Morales explained the art of blending and the session was followed by workshops on the art of nosing and tasting. The afternoon was dedicated to modern applications for classic Cuban cocktails. The now traditional Havana bar crawl allowed everyone to relax a little bit (but not too much) at Floridita, Sloppy Joe’s and Bodeguita del Medio.
The 4th was the day of the semi-finals. All competitors had to go and buy their ingredients on Havana markets. Oh yes, the 10th Grand Prix was really turned into, in curator Anistatia Miller’s own words, “the world’s biggest black box competition”. And although everyone had been advised, most didn’t realize what the challenge entailed – you have to see a Cuban market with your own eyes to realize the sheer abundance we live in in the western world. That was the point when a lot of great plans had to be thrown out of the window: for many, it was sink or swim time. The 15 finalists were announced that very evening after disputed semifinals. And they were already thinking about their big day in front of the judges while the bartenders who didn’t make the cut were busy enjoying the city’s nightlife.
And so, on the following day, 15 talented bartenders tried to convince the jury their drink was the new Cuban classic. But you know the drill: there can only be one winner. Alessandro Palumbo, an Italian bartender then working in the Cayman Island, ended up third with a cocktail aptly called El Cantinero. In second place, we got Germany’s Indika Silva, with Doña Isabel. The overall winner, as you all remember, was the UK’s Andy Loudon – and we’ll talk about his winning drink next week. In under a month, Andy will be back in Havana to pass the torch. Feeling the pressure already?