Amaury Cepeda, from the small and appropriately named town Sancti Spíritus, several hours drive from Havana, has never left Cuba, but, in winning the 11th edition of Havana Club’s biennial cocktail finale, will now travel the world with the Pernod Ricard brand.
“His life will change forever,” Havana Club CEO, Jerome Cottin-Bizonne told DI shortly after Cepeda's name was announced amid wild celebration on stage at Cerveceria in Havana, Cuba.
The 42-year old family man, who works at Taberna Yayabu in Sancti Spíritus, is the first Cuban to win the Grand Prix since 2004.
“I have loads of emotions – I wasn’t expecting this,” Cepeda told DI through a translator. “I am crazy about leaving the country but the most important thing is that I better myself [through my travels].”
Judges of the competition - spirits expert Dave Broom; Alejandro Bolivar, head bartender of El Floridita; Thanos Prunarus of Baba au Rum, Athens; Scotty Schuder of Dirty Dick, Paris; Hidetsugu Ueno of High Five Tokyo; Renato Tato Giovannoni of Florería Atlántico, Buenos Aires; Andy Loudon, 2014 Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix winner – scored Cepeda's drink Cunyaya as a clear winner.
The cocktail, emotively inspired by the slave trade to Cuba, featured cane juice, sour orange, honey, rum and bitters (full recipe below) served in a traditional clay cup.
In second place was Lithuanian Povilas Veilandas. His bayleaf-garnished spiced rum drink was inspired by boxing – a popular sport in Cuba, while in third was Germany’s Marian Krause with his coffee, rum and lime drink, Cuban Circle.
Second and third placed bartenders took home a bottle of Havana Club Unión, while Cepeda was awarded a bottle of Maximo, worth approximately £1,500, and a bursary of unknown value to promote Havana Club.
The final round had been competed by 13 bartenders, the field narrowing from 44 the day before. In both rounds competitors were required to make their signature drink based around this year's theme of 'fusion'.
Joining Cepeda, Veilandas and Krause in the final round was a second German, Lars Bender, Switzerland’s Günther Strobl, Chile’s Diego Olivera, Denmark’s Terkel Kleist (who won the People’s Choice award), the UK’s Jake O’Brian, Italy’s Robert Pavel, Canada’s Shane Mulvany, Colombia’s Jhonny Rivera, Finland’s Eetu Topo and Ireland’s Stephan Wynne.
Cepeda’s winning recipe:
Sour orange: 7.5ml
Fresh sugar cane Juice: 60ml
Havana Club 7 Year Old: 45ml
Essence of Cuba Island Fruit bitters: 2 dashes
Method: Mix all ingredients and serve over ice
Garnish: Stick of natural sugar cane and sour orange spiral
Serve in clay cup placed on a small plate decorated with a tobacco leaf