Bartenders strut (and shake and stir) on awards night

Updated: 2014-04-13 07:33

By Xu Lin (China Daily)

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They stroll down the red carpet one-by-one, approaching the awards platform like fashion models or best-actor nominees, as spotlights beam down from the ancient beacon towers of the Great Wall at Juyongguan in northern Beijing.

They are 11 of China's young and talented bartenders, claiming honors after the China final of Bacardi's Legacy Cocktail Competition. The spotlights not only illuminate winner Xie Jun from the Park Hyatt Shanghai and the 10 runners-up, but also the rum sponsor's signature bat logo.

"I'm so thrilled!" exclaims the 32-year-old Xie, who proudly holds high the torch of the championship.

"I attribute my winning to my good preparation for the competition. I like making cocktails because being a bartender is very cool."

He will go to Moscow for the global finals in May to compete with winners from all over the world.

"It is incredible that people share the beautiful moment with everyone around the world on top of one of the Seven Wonders of the World," says Dean McHugh, managing director of Bacardi China Limited.

When mixed with soft drinks or wines, Bacardi rums, which originated from the Cuban city of Santiago in 1862, make many classic cocktails, such as the mojito and the Cuba libre. Launched in China in 2013, the competition aims to inspire talented bartenders to make new and impressive cocktails that will - like the Great Wall itself - stand the test of time, McHugh says.

Bartenders strut (and shake and stir) on awards night

From August to September last year, the 11 bartenders stood out in the regional finals in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu. In the China final, they had to prepare two cocktails for the judges while introducing themselves and their cocktails via photos and videos.

"Xie is very well-skilled. I am sure that his drink will stand up against all the other drinks in Moscow," McHugh says.

Xie's entry is called Original Connection. His inspiration, he says, was that in the past, before the popularity of mobile phones, people were most closely connected with each other at tables. Xie says Bacardi Superior white rum from Cuba represents the North America continent, while the Baron Otard VSOP Cognac from France he uses represents Europe and his homemade spice syrup is Asian style.

"I hope to connect the world with this cocktail," says Xie, who has been a bartender since 2003.

The competition also reflected some Chinese elements. For example, two candidates used traditional Chinese wine vessels - respectively the gourd and the zun, a bronze wine goblet with three legs used in ancient times.

Han Guoli from Chengdu, Sichuan province, won second place with his Bat Glory, inspired by his love story with his girlfriend. Wang Yuwen from Tianjin took third place for his Bacardi Spirit cocktail.

The winner Xie says that when he first learned to make cocktails in a bar, he found it amazing because he knew little about it. But he soon became obsessed with it. At that time there was not so much information about cocktails on Chinese websites, so he had to brush up his English and search on English ones.

"Things are different now because of the information explosion," he says.

His secret to success is to maintain his passion and perseverance, he says. His inspiration comes from life, such as chats with friends and things to eat and drink. Whenever he sees some unknown leaves or plants, he wonders whether those can be used in cocktails.

Now that it is springtime, he recommends cocktails with plants, flowers and spices, such as roses and thyme.

"What they need to do to win is to make sure they are well-prepared," says David Cordoba, global brand ambassador of Bacardi rum. "You need a good recipe, which is simple and easy to produce. You need a great, short and cool name for the cocktail, and a nice story for it. "

"Bacardi is one of our priority brands in China," McHugh says of the rum label that features varieties such as gold and dark. "We've worked with some popular Chinese TV shows such as Ipartment 4. It's very successful. We are looking for new shows and music festivals to work with this year," he says.

"That's why we are developing cocktail culture. You can share that moment with friends and enjoy the experience of what the drink brings. We want to engage people looking for something new."

While cocktails have been around for centuries, the beverages are still relatively new in China, he says, though they're growing in popularity.

"You see a lot more small bars and pubs opening in China. It is growing rapidly in China so we run the competition to help build the trend and expand the consumer needs. We're already planning next year's competition," he says.

(China Daily 04/13/2014 page8)