Rewind: The 2016 Grand Prix

26 Apr. 2018
The Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix. Do you remember what happened last time out?

In six weeks exactly, we will be bang in the middle of the 12th Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix. And from where we are as we type this, we can smell freshly muddled mint and basil, we can hear the sound of knives slicing the freshet citrus, we can feel the bracing coldness of the frozen daiquiris. We can almost taste the winning drink. Yes, it’s fair to say we’re pretty much looking forward to it. That’s because we were at the 2016 Grand Prix and we remember how great that one was.
It all started on the 31st of May, a Tuesday. Early in the morning, the competitors were introduced to the heat and humidity that Havana never seems to go without. After a refreshing glass of guarapo (fresh sugarcane juice), they took a tour of the Museo del Ron and then of the city’s old centre. In the afternoon, the serious work started: experts such as Jared Brown, Anistatia Miller, Hidetsugu Ueno, Tato Giovannoni or Dave Broom gave talks that shed light on the competition’s theme – Havana Fusion. From music to cocktails, every manner of mixing Cuban tradition with foreign influence was explored.
The second day was a bit more technical. It started at the distillery with a comprehensive tour and a tasting led by Maestro del Ron Cubano Asbel Morales. In the afternoon, Professor of Experimental Psychology Charles Spence explained the factors that impact our perception of food and drink – and how to gently manipulate it. If that wasn’t serious enough, the bartenders were then treated to a workshop on Cuban ingredients. You could sense the stress level going up: the competition was growing ever closer.
And so it began: on June the 2nd, the 42 competitors visited Havana’s produce markets to source their ingredients. They were then given a few hours to create their recipe – not an easy task, especially since they were not allowed to bring anything from their own country. In the afternoon, they presented their drinks to the judges. And then, the agonizing wait for the announcement of the 10 finalists…
Or was it 13? Apparently, the level was so high that the jury had no choice but to add 3 finalists. The rest of the competitors were disappointed, but at least they could relax and enjoy the Havana Cultura concert programmed for the night. The others not so much: they knew next day would be groundhog day – another market visit, another drink to make, and a jury to seduce yet again.
The drinks were quite frankly amazing, but we were bound to see disappointed faces when the winners were announced later that night at a craft brewery in the old harbour. You know the drill: there can only be one winner. Denmark’s Terkel Kleist received the People’s Choice Award. In third position, we had Marian Krause, from Germany, and in second, Lithuania’s Povilas Veilandas. Would Europe also get first place? Nope: the winning drink was Cuba’s very own Amaury Cepeda. Cheers and celebrations followed. Cigars were smoked, rum was drunk. Don’t think you need us to draw you a picture…
The 2016 Grand Prix had it all. It was not only seminars, visits and competitions. We had parties on the Malecon and in the garden of a beautiful 1950’s Miramar villa, jazz music from future Cuban greats and bands mixing reggaeton and salsa – we even had a tropical storm so impressive that it rained inside the beautiful salon 1930 of the Hotel Nacional where the finals were held. Many friendships were born that week and a good number made stronger. Pretty special. And you can be sure that the 2018 will live up to expectations. As always, follow this space for more on what will unfold in Havana next month!

François Monti