WINNING isn’t everything but it will send you on a trip to Berlin if you’re Joe Harper, who will soon head to the German capital with Bacardi to take on the best in the world in a rum cocktail showdown.
Harper, who works at The Century Bar at Gleneagles, booked his place in the global final, which will take place on May 28, after wowing judges in the Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition northern Europe final at 1 Embankment in London last November.
Since topping the UK pool, Joe’s been riding the rum train across the country campaigning to promote his winning cocktail, named Pilar, to bartenders and consumers alike.
Despite his success, Joe admits he was a little apprehensive about entering this particular cocktail comp in the first place.
“[Legacy] has been one of those intimidating competitions, you almost don’t want to enter it when you see the people who are there,” he said.
You learn so much seeing other bartenders’ routines, people are so passionate.
It’s a good thing Joe did enter as he’d soon find out his Pilar – a twist on rum cocktails Air Mail and Missionary’s Downfall – struck the “playful and elegant” note he was going for just right, impressing Bacardi judges.
Joe said the creation of Pilar was something of a “lightbulb” moment at work as colleague Tom Jolly, bar manager at Gleneagles, worked on his own entry. But like most lightbulb moments, it follows years of hard work, with the first sparks coming close to a decade ago.
“I kind of started (in the on-trade) by accident at uni, pushing ten years ago now,” said Joe.
“I kinda fell into it as a way of financing myself. I was really lucky because the guys on the bar taught me how to make drinks.”
Like many in the trade, what started as a stop gap became a career for Joe, who said he “got the bug” and wound up working in restaurants in London and the south east after graduation.
Joe told SLTN he views that stint of work as the “second formative part of my career”, honing his skills working for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant group in venues including Union Street Cafe and Bread Street Kitchen. “I met a lot of people I consider to be mentors there,” said Joe.
It was in his time down south that Joe paired up with Tom Jolly, and, just under a year ago, headed north to man The Century Bar at Gleneagles.
With close to ten years in the on-trade, it’s fair to say Joe has seen a few changes, perhaps none more than in the level of customer knowledge.
Joe said if you’d told him ten years ago customers would be specifying spirit brands and even weighing in on bitters when ordering he wouldn’t have believed you.
And with great customer knowledge comes a great cocktail sales opportunity, which rum in particular could be well-placed for.
“Rum, maybe more than other (spirits) is so varied,” said Joe.
“Rum can give you drinks that are playful and fun or more opulent or even drinks you may associate with another spirit entirely.
“Aged rums for example work well in an Old Fashioned.”
The diversity of drinks that can be created by rum is unquestionably broad, and this is possibly most evident at cocktail competitions like Legacy, where Joe reckons he’s learned plenty.
“Being in the competition you learn so much, seeing other bartenders routines,” said Joe. “You meet so many people who are passionate.”
There will no doubt be plenty more when he heads to Berlin this spring.
• 40ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
• 30ml RinQuinQuin à la Pêche
• 20ml lime juice
• 20ml pineapple syrup
• 6-8 mint leaves
• Top with soda
Shake and fine strain into a Coupette glass with a mint leaf garnish.
• 50ml Bacardi Carta Oro
• 15ml freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1 tsp honey
• Champagne to fill
Pour rum, lime juice and honey into a mixing glass and add ice.
Stir and fine strain into chilled glass.
Top with Champagne and garnish.
• 37.5ml Bacardi Carta Blanca
• 12.5ml peach schnapps liqueur
• 25ml freshly squeezed lime juice
• 50ml freshly squeezed pineapple juice
• 12.5ml sugar syrup
• 12 fresh mint leaves
Pour rum, schnapps, fruit juice and syrup into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, strain and garnish.