BACARDI Legacy Singapore 2018: The Top 3 Bartenders Share Their Wisdom & Advice

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10 Bartenders from all over Singapore came to compete at SKAI bar for the top three spots in the BACARDI Legacy Singapore 2018 semi-finals and they were distilled down to the ‘3 most promising’ competitors after a grueling showcase of cocktails and talent.

Here are the final three that have the honour of heading to Bangkok to compete in the next S.E.A leg:

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Along with the judges, we have Chee Wei De (The Single Cask), Anton Gornev (Hard Rock Hotel) and Eduardo Zamora (Mandarin Oriental).

For everyone in the bar industry, be it experienced bartenders or new barbacks, you never stop learning. Since I was invited to the BACARDI Legacy showdown for free drinks (thanks Mike and Denise), I might as well earn my keep by producing an insightful piece that everybody can learn from.

Whisking away the three winners right after they received their awards, I hoped to tap into their winning spirit (while the alcohol was still running high). Here’s what BACARDI Legacy Singapore’s top three had to share.

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What do you think gave you the edge over everyone else in the Bacardi Legacy 2018

Anton:  First of all thank you very much and I want to congratulate the other two finalists  too. I think the most important thing for all of us is the hard work and the challenges that we take as well as the welcoming hospitable attitude that all of us have experienced in the whole Singapore bartending industry.

It’s always about the passion that you have for your job and that’s what makes us different from other people.

Wei De:  as well am very honored to be here. I don’t think there’s any edge in anything I did, but I sort of brought myself onto stage and what I’m taught about bartending and hospitality. Everything is about the guest, what can you do in your drink and what can you do to make the customer happy.

Eduardo: Thanks so much Bacardi, I’m so blessed to be a part of this. To your question, maybe for me I just put my heart more and put my passion more and in everything you do, just look up to your inspirations and look up above, forward. Look to your challenges and voice, try for more and while doing it you need to be humble.

This separates us 3 from the rest of the group even though we’re proud of what we’re doing we’re still connected to our roots; still connected to a family, we’re still connected to the thing that we love and that is making people happy.

Which Bacardi product was the hardest to work with?

Anton: I think Bacardi products are easy to work with starting from the Carta Blanca which is suitable for any cocktail you want to prepare and finishing with the Bacardi Ocho which is suitable for cocktails that require barrel-aged, so I don’t think we can say that there’s an easy or difficult product to work with. First of all you need to adjust yourself to the spirit and you need to learn how to use it.

Secondly, once you learn how to do that then you can implement any Bacardi spirit in any cocktail you want to make.

Wei De: First of all Bacardi stands out from other rums, so there’s definitely a need to shift from the usual two-part strong, one-part sweet, one-part sour. You have to adjust your recipes according to Bacardi’s rum to make this rum shine through, when the rum shines through that actually produces a perfect product that can be related to everyone.

It will be delicious and people will go for more of this drink.

Eduardo: For me, things that are difficult are things that you don’t try, so the best way to enjoy a specific product is to try it and enjoy it by yourself and fortunately for me, my manager asked me to try everything and he just lets me go with the flow on what do you think is the best for you, what do you think is the best for the team, what do you represent, what flavors do you want to use.

I’m very fortunate that Bacardi has all these flavors so I’m just going to select the best suited for my team that we want to present.

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How is the Bacardi Legacy different from other cocktail competitions

Anton: I was already in the Bacardi Legacy back in UAE so I have this kind of experience. Compared to other bartending competitions I was participating in I found Bacardi Legacy has a more welcoming and a hospitable attitude to all the participants. I don’t want to say anything bad about other competitions, but it’s just always different and in the end any brand will look after the exposure.

What I like about the Bacardi Legacy is that they are always helping to expose the bartenders and the bars that they represent.

Eduardo: I have a flair bartending background so I’ve joined a lot of flair bartending competition, but this is the first time at the bar where you don’t need to entertain guest, you don’t need to put on a nice show like with music, you just need to be yourself and express what you want. Express what you have, express what you love.

The good thing about Bacardi is that they’re giving us a platform to do this to share ideas, to share our stories, to share our plans for the future and to have a better community as a F&B Family. I’ve joined competitions in China, Taiwan, Macau. Singapore is number one in terms of the cocktail industry and that’s why I’m here .

The first competition I joined, I lost so it only means you’re not good enough, you only have to look for improvement. Singapore is a very nice place to grow and improve to develop those hidden talents that we have as a bartender.

*It’s Wei De’s first ever cocktail competition so he sat this question out.

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What is the secret to keeping calm on stage

Anton: There’s no way to keep calm, there will always be stress, it will always be like it’s your first time but it’s all about the hard work and putting a soul into it, believing in yourself. Anyone will be shaking performing in front of so many people and it’s normal. All of us are human and it is human to shake and be nervous and be stressful. There’s no secret, you just have to believe in yourself and do what you do best.

Doing your best also means practicing and preparing yourself in advance, but it’s never about the nerves, you can never do anything about it. If you’re not nervous it probably means you don’t care.

Wei DeI was really nervous and I was shaking while doing my drink, but I thought of my judges and the spectators as my friends and I was practicing one month before this competition. I feel that if you bring your personality on stage and you believe in your story and you want to tell everyone your story, it will naturally come from your mouth.

Eduardo: As a Christian I always pray and I always say in my speech to always remember your purpose, remember why you’re doing this in the first place whether you’re in a difficult piece of the situation, facing great stress. If you have your values beside you, you have your goals inside of you, whether the situation is against you, you can turn it around and make something beautiful out of it even though you’re stressed. 

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What is the biggest mistake that new bartenders make when they join a new bar

Anton: From my experience of seeing my colleagues and the bars I’ve worked in it, always depends weather the newbie has experience or doesn’t have experience. If a newbie already has experience the main mistake will be to show that you have so much experience.  For other people who don’t have experience, the mistake would be to not listen to those who have it and try to do something on their own.

When I join the bar industry I didn’t know anything and I was very lucky to have great mentors who taught me everything from the basics and I was listening to every single detail after those people told us more and more.

Wei De: When I first joined the bar, what I wanted to do was to make drinks but that’s not the case. Me mentors made me wash glasses and wipe tables for six days a week for a few months until I managed to  humble myself down, then they started to teach me. That’s when my ears start to open, I started Googling more about bar products and increasing my knowledge.

I was taught by many other experienced bartenders and I managed to get to where I am now

Eduardo: Being open-minded whether you’re very good at one thing or it’s your first time. Always remember the opinion of others because the world is not about you alone, it’s all about the friends it’s all about the community that you’re living in. So be open and be creative. Doing something that you love will bring you far and always get inspiration from your heart.

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What kind of personality do you think a bartender needs

Anton: I think everybody only needs to perfect his own personality. It’s not about having something in particular that everyone needs to follow, you can’t follow someone’s personality you have to perfect your own. I know many bartenders who are very famous in the world, they are super quiet and you can even feel as if they are shy behind the bar, but they’re not shy, they’re just very concentrated with doing the drinks. Iit doesn’t mean that they are bad bartenders, but they just have their own style.

Wei De: You have to be yourself, you need to be observant. If the guest is down, you have to cheer them up. Most of all you have to listen so maybe try to prod your guest. It’s not listening just to respond, but listening to take in what they’re trying to say and trying to step into their shoes.

People go to bars nowadays because they need a drink, maybe something is happening in their lives and they find comfort in a drink – we try to provide that extra mile so it makes them cheerful.

Eduardo: The best personality is your personality. You need to be yourself all the time if you’re shy you’re going to be the best shy person working, if you’re going to be loud you’re going to be the very loud one, but the very good one.

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Do you think bartenders who don’t drink alcohol can be a good bartender

Anton: As mentioned before I was working previously in Dubai. UAE is a Muslim region and I’ve met a lot of Muslim bartenders who do not consume alcohol due to their religion and you know, there are plenty of decent bartenders. They do not even taste the cocktail from the spoon they just have this kind of feeling for the balance of the cocktail. It is definitely difficult to do so because how can you train yourself to balance the drink, you have to try it but if you can’t try it for certain reasons then you need to do it in a certain way which I don’t know how.

New cocktails are probably much more complicated, but the classics I’m sure they can do it.

Wei DeWhen you create cocktails it’s to sell, and to let your guest drink. If most of your guests like it, it probably works.

Eduardo: For me it is very difficult, as of now I am not really that convinced that they can do it. For you to express something you need to be able to feel it,  taste it.

Buuuut I don’t know how they do it, they’re very damn good if they can do it. In my humble opinion, I’m just not hundred percent convinced that it is possible. If they can describe without tasting it, that’s very very good skills bro.

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What do you think is trending in the Singapore cocktail scene now

Anton: I think one of the biggest trends not just in Singapore, but worldwide is sustainability. The second trend is getting back to the basics. So a few years ago bartenders were experimenting with unusual flavors, a lot of homemade ingredients, infusions, distillations but now it’s going back to simplicity the way how classic cocktails were created.

For the past few years Gin is still booming but Rum is getting back enormously and new distilleries making rum are opening and getting back on the stage.

Wei DeIt is definitely sustainability. The carbon footprint of oranges or citrus that is produced and what method of transport it is taking, whether it releases a lot of carbon monoxide. Secondly, minimalistic drinks and drinks that involve a lot of fortified wine, vermouth, port or even Sherry.

I work in a Whisky bar and Whisky’s on the rise. Australians are distilling their own whiskey, gin definitely and mezcal. People are infusing botanicals into mezcal to make it more floral too.

Eduardo: I believe in sustainability, that’s very true not only in the bar but in the food industry as well. We need to take sustainability as a serious problem.

Smoke and mirrors are gone; doing elaborate garnishes are slowly dying, maybe we’ll let the drinks speak for themselves more. You can enjoy the drink without garnishes it is more about the taste, the spirit than appearances.

Gin, rum and mezcal are already flying, we have a lot of underrated mezcal in the bar. But the one ingredient I want to emphasize is kombucha because it’s very local, you just need to learn how to do it.

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What is one advice you will give to someone who is joining the next Bacardi Legacy

Anton: Believe in yourself no matter what happens.

Wei De: Give your best. Seek inspiration from within.

Eduardo: Be humble but ready to rumble.

The three most promising competitors who have won the BACARDI Legacy Singapore semi-finals will be progressing to the S.E.A Finals held in Bangkok in early 2019. Congrats to every competitor who took the time, effort and balls to compete. Serve me up some good cocktails if you spot me at your bar please.