Travelling internationally to stand on-stage, under spotlights, mixing drinks in front of an audience of hundreds isn’t part of a bartender’s regular job — but for two Montrealers, it soon will be.
Drahos Chytry (of Bishop and Bagg in the Mile End) and Arnaud Leduc (of Little Burgundy’s La Drinkerie Ste-Cunégonde and Le Mal Nécessaire in Chinatown) are North American finalists in the Bacardi Legacy cocktail competition, one of the most prominent international cocktail championships. They’ll be heading to Miami in February to compete for one of very few spots at May’s international grand final in Berlin. That’s a golden ticket for a career in high-profile bartending, not to mention a golden, diamond-encrusted stamp of approval on the winner’s cocktail creation and mixing skills.
Chytry took out the Quebec portion of the competition late last year with his drink, La Robustina — a divisive concoction, depending on your tastebuds.
“It’s a bizarre drink,” Chytry tells Eater, explaining that the name comes from the La Robusta coffee strain, native to Cuba. Coffee figures into the drink, but it’s not the only distinctive flavour: there’s eight-year aged Bacardi (a requirement, given the competition’s branding), fresh pineapple juice, sweet vermouth, olive brine, all served in a glass washed in absinth. Chytry admits that while he knows rum and coffee are a widely-accepted mix, there’s a lot more going on here.
“I was afraid because it’s not for everyone. It’s complex, it’s bizarre, but it works. People are mostly curious, they look at the ingredients and they’re like “what?”
Instead of the full flavour of extracted coffee, Chytry shakes the beans whole, lending the drink a less intense hint of coffee, melding with other ingredients.
“It has lots of layers of flavours, it’s definitely very complex, a bit fruity, a bit savoury.”
Mixing the drink on-stage in Miami is only part of the challenge — the bartenders also need to be public speakers, selling the drink and telling a story about it to the judges.
“I feel a little nervous now...it can get to you, as soon as you get to the stage you’ve just gotta do what you do every day.”
It’s not Chytry’s first outing to this level of a competition, but it is for Leduc. He moved through to the finals as a wildcard — a judges’ pick for a strong competitor who didn’t win his or her region.
His cocktail, La Triada, is a little less wild than Chytry’s, depending on how one looks at it. Leduc’s motivation was to enhance the flavour of the eight-year aged rum, drawing out the tastes that were already present — for him, he’s turning the mandated rum into the main spectacle.
“It’s how you can put this product on a pedestral, enhancing all the flavours and making a drink with it. It’s something you can already sip by itself but putting it on the next level.”
First up, that means sweet vermouth: “that allows it to linger on your palate creating those supple, full and fleshy after notes.” Then, detecting a need for acidity, Leduc added muddled pear, and almond (orgeat) syrup to build on a nutty hint he picked up in the rum, and lastly, Angostura bitters to tie it together.
Going into Miami, Leduc admits he’s a little nervous — not so much due to the public speaking part (his speech was a strength in the Quebec part of the competition, he says), but because of the calibre of the competition.
“It’s like if you’re in politics in the States, and the judge in front of you is Obama, or in hockey, and your judge is Wayne Gretzsky — it’s going to be one of those types of judges that’s going to be in front of me.”
But for Leduc, at least it’ll be strangers in the crowd judging his mixing and speaking abilities.
“I feel it’s less stressful than the regional in the way that I don’t know those 300 people, compared to Montreal I knew every single person in [the audience].”
In the lead-up to the competition, La Triada will be available at Tiradito, Le Mal Nécessaire, Cold Room, La Drinkerie, 132 Bar Vintage, Mile Public House (Brossard), and Le Bon Vivant.
Chytry’s drink, La Robustina, is available at Le Lab, Tiradito, Le Mal Nécessaire, Cold Room, 132 Bar Vintage, Mile Public House, Chez Dallaire, Burgundy Lion, and the Atwater Cocktail Club.
- La Triada [Official]