Last night (Tuesday December 3), I attended a tasting of Balblair vintages. We tasted five whiskies, 2003, 1997, 1990, 1983 and 1969, prefaced by a glass of Balblair’s base spirit.
The Havana-based final, which takes place every two years, was the culmination of a globally-contested competition and the centre piece of a series of festivities organised by the Pernod Ricard and Ron Cuba-owned brand.
The competition’s deciding round was contended by the aforementioned Escot - bartender and owner of Montpellier bar Papa Doble - the UK’s Ryan Chetiyawardana, and Australian Chris Hysted.
National heats had taken place in 38 markets around the world during 2011 and 2012 to form a field of 40 international finalists, including two wild card entries derived from a Facebook competition.
The bartenders competed over two days at a venue on the roof top of Hotel Sevilla in front of a 180-stong throng of industry figures, including rum and spirits experts; drinks journalists, writers and bloggers; Havana Club employees; and associated PR members.
Day one of the competition saw a semi-final in which all 40 contestants produced a classic rum cocktail using Havana Club Añejo 3 Años and an experimental drink using either Havana Club Añejo 7 Años or Havana Club Selección de Maestro.
On the second day the field was whittled to three bartenders. They were asked to repeat their semi-final cocktails, create a new drink from a surprise selection of ingredients and work a shift at the bar serving cocktails to the watching audience.
Points were awarded for appearance, aroma, taste, technical skill, knowledge, communication, image and the bartenders’ recreation of the style, service and professionalism of the Cuban ‘cantinero’ (bartender).
The judging panel for the final round comprised global rum ambassador Ian Burrell; mixologist Naren Young; journalist Klaus Rainer of Germany; Juan José González and author Fernando Castellon.
On winning the competition and taking home a prize of a bottle of Havana Club Máximo (costing around 1,500 Euros), Escot said: “It’s incredible to win this historic competition – we’ve seen 40 bartenders compete today.
“I made drinks like I make every day in my bar. Drinks that have complex flavours but are simple to assemble. I wanted the drinks to explode in the mouth.”
Ian Burrell said: “Escot’s drinks were the best. He won on technical ability. His cocktails were also transferable to bars and bartenders all around the world.”
The four-day event also included the launch of Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller’s book Cuban Cocktails. The cocktail historians hosted a seminar on the history of Cuban cocktails to celebrate the publishing of their book.