Havana journal by Andy Loudon
When the chance to enter the Havana Club Grand Prix presented itself, I decided that I was going to enter. The drink I was going to present was incredibly simple, something I had picked up from my 2 years at Colebrooke Row. It was a twist on what I think is the quintessential Cuban cocktail, the Daiquiri. It was early December in London and pretty cold and whilst a Daiquiri is a year-round drink I started to think about how good a ‘Hot buttered Rum’ can be in the depths of the winter. A mixture of spices, cinnamon, butter and rum can be an amazing combination of flavours and I wanted to see if this combination would maybe work in a Daiquiri. I decided to ‘fat-wash’ Havana 3yr old rum with unsalted butter and cinnamon (1). Fat washing is a very simple technique which helps to add flavour, such as cinnamon and texture to a spirit. Simply by making a burn noisette in a pan over a low heat and adding cinnamon you can create a cinnamon butter. Once the butter has turned brown and has a nutty aroma, after around 6-7 minutes, add grated cinnamon and then pour into a container with the rum. Place in the freezer overnight and the butter will freeze but the alcohol wont. Leaving you with the fat washed spirit. For the finished drink I then just made a Daiquiri(2), with fresh lime and sugar syrup.
First was the London heat held in the Punch Room at the Edition Hotel. Whilst I felt that I had a strong drink there is always a story to be told along with a cocktail. In the bar industry we are incredibly lucky to have such a rich history in terms of where spirits come from, famous bartenders, famous bars and famous people who drank at these bars. Story-telling is one of my favourite parts of bartending, if you can create a link between an emotion someone has or a memory, or a story you were once told and then try to bring that to life through a drink it really helps to bind the whole concept together. Ernest Hemingway was famous for drinking his Daiquiris at ‘La Floridita’ in Havana so I imagined what he would feel like living in a bitterly cold London during mid-December and what style of drink he would have. I concocted a story around these points and threw in a few elements of humour along the way and along with 2 others from the London heat, Nathan O’Neil from Milk & Honey and Alan Cartolano from Dabbous, went on to the UK final.
The UK final was held in a beach house in Angmering-on-sea just near to Brighton over 2 days in January. It’s an amazing experience when you’re at a national final as there is tension in the air for the first 30 minutes when you first meet everyone. Quickly though everyone settles in and gets to know each other. There were bartenders from London, Manchester, Brighton, Leeds and Scotland there and we were thrown straight into the first round of the competition where we had to make our drinks from each regional final and present them to the judges and also the rest of the competitors. Everyone would then vote for their favourite drink of that round.
The standard, as usual in these types on competition, was incredible. Drinks were varied from long, short to classic style drinks and there had obviously been a lot of work put into the presentations. It was also a great way of doing a national final as everyone was in the same boat straight away and it made us get to know each other further.
As we had our mystery second round the next day the rules were explained to us, we had to make a drink using Havana 7yr old which would be more of a sipping style drink and would express the qualities of the rum. We had a whole bunch of ingredients at our disposal that were meant to represent market style products. The twist with this round was that we could only use 3 ingredients per drink; however we could combine ingredients together to create 1 ingredient.
I quickly picked up apricot jam, cardamom, cocoa nibs, sweet vermouth, angostura bitters and of course Havana 7yr. I had far too many ingredients. So I tried to create and combine them together. In a pan over a hob I combined the 10g spoons of the jam, 0.5gcocoa nibs and 10g of angostura together with 100g sugar and 80g of water to create a spiced syrup. With the cardamoms I broke them up slightly added them to the Havana 7yr and then left them to sit there for just 30 seconds. I had got my ingredients painstakingly down to just 3. My spiced syrup, sweet vermouth and my cardamom infused Havana 7yr. I then made the drink(3) and pre-bottled it and left it chilling in the fridge before I served it to the judges.
As all of the competitors went up and sat down you could see nerves going, mine certainly were. Again I was happy with my drink and how I linked it back to the rum; it was interesting to see everyone coming up with such great drinks from such a wide variety of ingredients that we were given. When the judges announced the winners I never expected to win and when they mentioned my name as first place I couldn’t believe it. Then it suddenly hit me that I’d be going to represent the UK at an international competition and in Cuba no less!
By the time the Havana Club Grand Prix had come round at the start of June I had been offered the chance to help run a cocktail bar over in Bethnal Green in London. It wasn’t an easy choice to leave 69 Colebrooke row but after just over 2 years I felt it was time to experience something new. The cocktail bar is Satan’s Whiskers and the bar reminds me of many elements from different bars I have worked in over the years put into one place. It’s a style of neighbourhood bar that plays old school hip-hop and has taxidermy all over the place. The service is (hopefully) great and slick and the drinks are classic cocktails from around the world with a huge emphasis on fresh ingredients, from all the fruit we juice daily to the food we serve.
As I stepped onto the plane in London I could barely hold in my excitement at being finally able to go to Cuba. The flight is long but not too bad, 10hours, and there is plenty of time for rest. As we were flying over Cuba you can see how rich and fertile the land is. From pristine beaches along the north coast, huge palm tree swaying in the distance, reservoirs, lakes, grand open spaces with large valleys in the distance. We landed and stepping out from Jose Marti Airport you certainly get a feel for the heat and the humidity of Cuba. We were picked up in an old Chevrolet convertible. Obviously the top down. Which didn’t turn out to be the best idea, as from the airport to the hotel it rained intermittently but heavily all the way, though we didn’t mind, this was Cuba!
Driving through Havana you really get a feel for what Cuba is all about with architectural styles ranging from baroque colonial through art deco to massive soviet and eastern European style concrete blocks. The people immediately seem happy wherever you turn despite whatever troubles they may have. You can smell the aromas in the air; a salty quality coming from the coast line, a heavy clove style aromatic flavour runs through the streets near the markets. The range of music styles hits you walking through old-Havana, Latin, African, Cuban reggaeton all accompanied with a variety of rums available in the shops and cigars wherever you turn.
This was it, this was Cuba and this was the Havana Club Grand Prix.
The fat-washed Havana 3yo:
75g Pamplie unsalted butter
0.5g freshly grated cinnamon
stir continuously on medium heat until butter goes brown and nutty add cinnamon,
add to container with rum and place in freezer.
For the Buttered cinnamon Daiquiri:
50ml fat washed Havana 3yr
20ml fresh lime juice
20ml sugar syrup or 10ml
shake long and hard to open up all flavours, strain into chilled coupette glass, garnish with a lime wedge.
For the drink:
40ml cardamom infused Havana 7yr
20ml sweet vermouth
10ml spiced syrup