Report by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
PORT-OF-SPAIN, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO — “I want to win.” Those are Oliver Stern’s words as he heads into the Global Cocktail Challenge, a competition that coincides with the annual Carnival in this Caribbean nation of 1.3 million people.
Stern is the mixologist at the Toronto Temperance Society, a speakeasy in the city’s Little Italy neighbourhood. He won a competition in November against two other notable bartenders to represent Canada at the event sponsored by Angostura, the rum maker best known for its aromatic bitters.
Being part of the Global Cocktail Challenge means Stern has to out-bartend 10 of the world’s finest mixologists to claim a title that will include a $10,000 cheque and the opportunity to represent Angostura at events around the globe.
“I’ve been practicing,” he said during a preliminary session on Friday at the House of Angostura distillery plant. “You never know what the judges might like, but I’m happy with the recipes I’m going to make.”
Canada’s Top Bartender Aims for World Domination
He said he’s been trying the drinks out on his customers, including buying them for guests willing to help him perfect the recipes.
Anyone who has visited the Toronto Temperance Society, or TTS, knows Stern is about precision and flavour. He will be the penultimate contestant during Sunday’s competition, which will wrap up around 6 pm Atlantic time. Stern will make two drinks: the Trip Flip, a TTS favourite, and Burning Embers, which he has made more than 100 times. Both drinks will have one of Angostura’s rums as the base alcohol.
“The competition helps to get people interested in our brand and in the quality of premium rum,” said Robert Wong, Angostura’s CEO. The company’s aromatic bitters — which contains 44.7% alcohol per volume and includes vegetable extracts and sugar — have been a staple cocktail ingredient for decades. But Angostura’s high-end rum products have gained a following. In 2013, the company plans to increase its marketing efforts in Canada, Wong said.
Angostura has the benefit of Salvatore Calabrese, one of the world’s best-known bartenders and a judge for the Global Cocktail Challenge. Calabrese, who gave a mixology seminar on Thursday to the competing bartenders, is famous for producing the world’s most expensive and oldest cocktail, a drink that sold for 5,500 British pounds (about $8,700) and featured cognac from 1788, among other ingredients.
Stern is the first Canadian finalist in the Global Cocktail Challenge and hopes his strategy of relying on recipes he’s already mastered will lead to a victory. Recalling that there’s a blizzard in Toronto while the temperature in the Trinidadian capital is soaring above 30 Celsius degrees (86 Fahrenheit), Stern said he’s not going to complain even if he doesn’t take home the grand prize.
“Everyone will say they’re already a winner just for being here, but it’s true. I want to win, but at the the same time this is a great opportunity.”
More About the Global Cocktail Challenge
When: The competition begins Sunday, February 10 at 2 pm Atlantic time (1 pm Eastern) and takes place at the House of Angostura just outside of Port-of-Spain.
More About the 2013 Trinidad Carnival
What: The Carnival in Trinidad is the most lively and colourful in the Caribbean. More than 1 million visitors are expected to attend the event that takes place prior to the Christian holiday of Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of lent. The Carnival, which includes masquerade parties, has been going on since the late 18th century, when African slaves would gather to make fun of European landowners.
When: This year, the Trinidad Carnival takes place on Monday and Tuesday, February 11-12.
More Mixology Contest Coverage
- Read how Oliver Stern — and Vacay.ca’s Adrian Brijbassi — managed to make it to Trinidad for the competition
- Check back with Vacay.ca for more coverage of the Global Cocktail Challenge and the Trinidad Carnival
More About the Toronto Temperance Society
Location: 577A College Street, Toronto, ON (above Sidecar restaurant)
Admission: To enter the speakeasy, you must either be a member ($285 per annual membership) or be accompanied by a member.
Contact: For more information on becoming a TTS member, email email@example.com