There’s still quite a wait before the wheels of the 2018 Havana Club Grand Prix’s are set in motion, but we’ll start this week’s article with a useful reminder: if you miss the national competition, if you don’t win it but feel you can do better or, quite simply, if none is organized in your country, you can still make it to Havana – and, if you’re good enough, book your place among the 13 finalists. Don’t believe us? Just ask Colombia’s Jhonny Rivera.
“I’m here because I’m the wildcard winner. It’s not more complicated than getting here the ‘regular’ way, it’s just different!”, says Jhonny, an ever-smiling bar, restaurant and hotel consultant from Cali. The principle is very simple: you log on Facebook, enter the competition’s page, fill out a test on Cuban culture, cocktails and rum and upload a recipe. The reality is more complicated: you’re up against talented bartenders from all over the world and your drinks are judged by none other than Jared Brown, Anistatia Miller and Havana Club Global Ambassador Meimi Sanchez.
“I just made a Daiquiri with Havana Club 7 Años and tamarind honey”, Jhonny told us. That ‘just’ is very modest, according to Meimi Sanchez: “The flavours were big, but not overpowering. It’s a simple drink that tastes so good you could actually have three of them. We thought Jhonny understood what the competition was about”. In Cuba, Jhonny went into another direction with the Guajiro. “I wanted to combine three Cuban classics in one drink. I was looking for the balance of the Daiquiri, the simplicity of the Mojito, and the sparkling notes of the Cuba Libre”. From his wildcard winner, he only kept tamarind, an ingredient common to Colombia and Cuba, which he turned into a homemade tamarind soda, a tribute to the refreshing drink the guajiros (field workers) have at the end of their day’s work. The judges were impressed.
If Jhonny was proud of his performance, most important to him was representing Colombia and Latin America on the global stage. “The wildcard winner could have come from any European country. They all have more cocktail culture than we do. It’s great to be able to show we exist. In my country, the cocktail scene is growing and clients are starting to understand what it is we’re doing. There’s a huge Spanish influence, so Gin & Tonic’s are quite trendy and they’re helping people get interested. We also have rums, but for us it’s a party drink, we buy a bottle and have shots with friends. Now, hopefully, we’ll be able to teach them about rum cocktails”.
And it was of course the trip of a lifetime, even for someone hailing from a country that has so much in common with Cuba: “We share music, rum and climate. I’m from Cali, the salsa’s capital. So you could think it’s not going to be ‘exotic’ for me. But it was… In a way, coming here allowed me to understand why we’re sharing so many things around the Caribbean. It was also a learning experience: they taught us how rum was made, how it was drunk, how it could be enjoyed. This trip made a huge difference.” And now Jhonny’s back in Colombia to share this experience with his clients. In 2018, you might be our wildcard winner, so keep your eyes open.
60 Ml of Havana Club 7 years old
5 Ml of Ginger/Rosemary bitters
15 Ml of Lime syrup*
Top with Tamarind soda*
Dry shake all the ingredients except soda, serve in a glass filled with ice. Top Up with Tamarind soda.
Tamarind soda (1 liter)
100 grams of Tamarind seeds
150 grams of white sugar
1 liter of pure water
Boil for 20 minutes medium temperature until the sugar disolves. Fine strain and let cool to 30°C or less. Add to syphon and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until temperature reaches under 5°C.
30 grams of lime peel
60 grams of white sugar
150 ml of water