“If it’s good enough, it’s old enough”. That’s sort of the conclusion our mind reached after it processed the fact that the man who had just been announced as the second best bartender at the 2016 Havana Club Grand Prix had barely been bartending for a year. A year? “Not even that”, Lithuania’s Povilas Veilandas quickly added. If he saw our bemused look, he was too polite to let us know…
We tend to think that if you want to be a success at an important cocktail competition, some sort of experience is necessary. Clearly, the memo didn’t reach Povilas. It’s all the more surprising because the cocktail bar scene in his native country is equally young, as he confirmed: “It’s a work in progress, we’re constantly adapting. It’s still pretty much a Sex on the Beach clientele. And we don’t have much past in cocktails. I couldn’t say I’m a first generation Lithuanian bartender but second or third, yes”.
Things could of course change fast – after all, Russia didn’t have much of a cocktail scene 25 years ago, and look where they’re now -, especially if more precocious talent show up. Povilas is doing his part at Trinity, a bar and restaurant housed in an old Vilnius monastery. “Everyone’s always asking what sort of bar I work at and I came up with a definition that I quite like: it’s a tiki bar without tiki drinks. It’s tiki attitude: happy vibes, great hospitality, good cocktails, good music, a bit of a party”.
From Vilnius’ Trinity to the Cuban Holy Trinity (rum, sugar and lime – but if you didn’t know that, what are you doing here?), there was of course a huge distance to cover geographically. Culturally, maybe not so much… “It was a blast from the past, in a way. My country was occupied by the Soviet Union until quite recently, so there are a lot of things in common. My grandpa rode Soviet cars, Lada or Moskvicth. And in Cuba, they had the same cars! But what struck me the most is the attitude of Cubans – they’re always helpful and happy. How can you be unhappy in this kind of weather?” A rhetorical question, surely, for one used to the rigorous winters of the Baltic… It’s another personal connection that inspired Povilas when he designed his cocktail. “I’m a sports guy. I’ve been a BMX rider for years, and I used to box. At the facility where I trained, I had a poster of my boxing hero, Teófilo Stevenson”. Stevenson is a Cuban icon, the people’s very own Muhammad Ali (both men met in Cuba in 1978), and three-time Olympic gold medallist. Not a bad role model! “My cocktail was like a Punch, a Cuban boxer punch. I wanted to make a fusion of boxing, my Lithuanian passion for sports and my personal passion for Cuba in one drink”. We can barely resist the urge, so here goes: Povilas’ recipe sure knocked the jury out… Not enough to get first place, but the tall, blue-eyed blond bartender was not displeased by his performance: “You can always do better of course, but taking second place behind the Cuban cantinero is just great!”.
Tres y Medio
50ml Havana Club Selección de Maestros
30ml homemade bay leaves and allspice syrup
25ml fresh pineapple juice
20ml lime juice
2 dashes of angostura bitters
To make the syrup, boil 30g dried bay leaves, 10g muddled allspice and 500ml water for 12 minutes. Strain, add two parts sugar and let it rest for a day. Pour all ingredients into the shaker, add ice, shake, fine strain it on the rocks and serve in an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with bay leaves.