By Vanessa Arrington | Associated Press
Havana - Like the rum that flows freely through their tropical drinks, the love of making cocktails runs in the blood of many Cubans.
Ever since the Prohibition Era, when Americans flocked to the island for alcohol, tuxedo-clad bartenders have been fine-tuning their skills at mixing drinks and presenting them with flair.
This week 10 of Cuba’s top bartenders vied for first place in the cocktail competition of the International Rum Festival in Havana, creating electric blue and fiery orange concoctions with an elegance that has come to define the island’s drink-making style.
‘You must give a touch of eroticism’
The current World Cocktail Champion, Sergio Serrano, is Cuban, and the island’s Ihosvany Machado is the reigning titleholder of the Americas. Machado’s Sweet Morning Star drink came in close second place on Wednesday to Yardo Gonzalez’s Ecstasy.
“From the first time I saw it, I knew I was facing a winner,” tasting judge Reinaldo Lopez said of Ecstasy, a blend of Red Bull energy drink, Drambuie liquor and Varadero rum.
Lopez was impressed by Gonzalez’s creative garnish of a passion fruit rind filled with other tropical fruits, as well as the drink’s unique aroma produced by the Red Bull. Not to mention the taste.
“It was so delicious, and just invited you to keep drinking,” he said.
The new cocktail is expected to appear on drink menus in Havana’s top bars and restaurants soon.
‘It was so delicious, and just invited you to keep drinking’
The ten finalists were chosen from 24 participants, including one Peruvian, who competed on Tuesday. The panel of judges consisted primarily of distinguished bartenders who have worked in Cuban establishments for decades.
Unlike the “flair” bartending of bottle-throwing made famous by Tom Cruise in the 1988 movie Cocktail, Cuba’s classic style is based more on poise and presentation.
Bottles are swirled instead of tossed, and impeccably dressed bartenders use large tongs to place straws and garnishes into their drinks.
Elevator-music versions of The Beatles’ Yesterday and Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Love You played as the 10 finalists competed.
“This is an art,” said Machado, who twirled his martini glasses and held out his pinky while pouring Kiwi Schnapps. “You must give a touch of eroticism, and develop your fluidity.”
Machado, 31, used to play baseball for Cuba. The competition’s winner, 34-year-old Gonzalez, is also a former athlete who competed in judo.
“One day I realised that life was more than getting hit,” Gonzalez said of his decision to trade judo in for drink making. - Sapa-AP