Behind the Bar Stick People

Who Won the Fair Trade Certified Cocktail Challenge

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Flor de Caña believes that producing delicious rum, which it has been doing for more than a century, isn’t nearly enough. They think it’s more important to make rum responsibly, using sustainable methods and all-natural ingredients. This philosophy is what made Flor de Caña one of the first spirit brands to earn Fair Trade Certification. Now the company is challenging bartenders to take that same approach to its cocktails.

Flor de Caña invited bartenders from around the country to share recipes featuring its 12-year-old rum and at least one other Fair Trade Certified ingredient. Hundreds of bartenders answered the call. The judges narrowed the field to 32 bartenders, who competed in regional competitions in Austin, Boston, Miami and San Francisco.

All 32 finalists created a delicious new rum cocktail featuring Fair Trade Certified ingredients, but only the four regional champions won a free trip to Central America. Discover how these talented bartenders earned the experience of a lifetime.

  • Austin

    Winner: Maxwell Berlin

    Home bar: Glai Baan

    Hometown: Phoenix

    Berlin was inspired by pinolillo, a traditional Nicaraguan drink made with cornmeal and cacao mixed with water. Berlin updated the classic by creating a roasted local cornmeal and white cacao syrup, which paired beautifully with Flor de Caña 12-year-old rum, caramelized coconut juice, spiced ginger and turmeric.

    The Manos de Oro: A Golden Pinolillo is the exact cocktail that the judges were hoping to discover. It shows that challenging yourself to only using Fair Trade Certified ingredients can push bartenders to come up with even more creative, delicious recipes.

    It took quite a recipe to earn Berlin a free trip to Central America, since Gehrig Bernstein (Alley Twenty Six in Durham, N.C.), Lance Bowman (Monnie Burke’s in Chicago), Trevor Cabal (Caroline Restaurant in Austin), Matt Cowan (La Cour in Mesa, Ariz.), Jarred Craven (Drink Well in Austin), Michelle Salgado (El Velvet Elvis at The Pershing Inn in El Paso, Texas) and Patrick Walker (Whiskey Dicks in Las Cruces, N.M.) also presented mouthwatering Fair Trade cocktails at the Austin finals.

  • Boston

    Winner: Jason Kilgore

    Home bar: Dear Irving

    Hometown: New York City

    “This cocktail came from the idea of having as little waste as possible. Then I thought, How can I make sure that every ingredient is fair trade?” Kilgore soon found that a twist on the Old Fashioned would be the best solution. The New York City bartender used Flor de Caña 12 year old rum as the base, and complemented the ultra-premium rum with Fair Trade Certified ingredients he had in his kitchen.

    Rather than adding bitters, Kilgore infused the rum with coffee and cinnamon. He also had bananas around, so he chopped one up and made an earthy, subtle banana syrup. Kilgore transformed every element of the Old Fashioned to keep it Fair Trade and created the Recursive cocktail in the process.

    Kilgore was the only bartender in the regionals at Hawthorne in Boston to win a free trip to Central America, but all the finalists put on an impressive performance. Michael Austin (Grey Ghost in Detroit), Phil Collins (Behind the Bookstore in Edgartown, Mass.), Raul Cueva (Blossom Bar at Sichuan Garden in Brookline, Mass.), Robert Ficks (Hawthorne in Boston), Jesse Hubbard (Great Southern Whiskey Bar in Columbus, Ohio), Johneese Jessen (The Poynt in Newburyport, Mass.) and Jonathan Killoran (The Barn Bowl & Bistro in Oak Bluffs, Mass.) showed just how much you can do with Fair Trade Certified ingredients.

  • Miami

    Winner: Kabir Akbani

    Home bar: Mandarin Oriental Miami

    Hometown: Miami

    Kabir Akbani (Mandarin Oriental Miami), Alexandria Biller (Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Co. in Gainesville, Fla.), Meghan McCaskill (Prato in Winter Park, Fla.), Tim Richards (Green Russell in Denver), Mike Scharnhorst (Prohibition in Charleston, S.C.), Eric Vincent (Sparrow in Fort Lauderdale), Jennifer White (Esotico in Miami) and Marco Zeledon (Metropolitan Hotel in Miami) all brought their Fair Trade cocktails to Sweet Liberty in Miami.

    It was an intense competition, but Akbani emerged as the front-runner once he shared his cocktail: the Magic City Old Fashioned. He combined Fair Trade espresso, spiced banana syrup and port wine with Flor de Caña 12-year-old rum to create an irresistible Miami-style Old Fashioned. That locally inspired recipe is what earned Akbani a free trip to Central America.

  • San Francisco

    Winner: Robert Kramer

    Home bar: The Brickyard Downtown

    Hometown: Chandler, Ariz.

    “Flor de Caña has a true passion for their craft, the environment and taking care of its employees,” says Kramer. The Chandler, Ariz., bartender put that same passion into his Fair Trade cocktail, the Caña Believe It?

    Kramer impressed the judges with a striking, balanced and wildly flavorful mix of Flor de Caña 12 Year, sherry, lemon juice, spiced banana brown sugar syrup and pineapple shrub. It was an unexpected flavor profile, but the judges showed how much they appreciated it by awarding Kramer with a free trip to Central America.

    That’s not to say it was an easy decision for the judges. Zachary Balaban (Studio at Montage in Laguna Beach, Calif.), Christopher Barragan (Petit Trois in Sherman Oaks, Calif.), Mitch Davis (Delarosa in San Francisco), Teresa Loughner (Grange in Sacramento), Adhei Martinez (The Black Cat in Los Angeles), Shawn Phillips (DNA Lounge in San Francisco) and Ryan Redondo (Tramp Stamp Granny’s in Los Angeles) all had a strong case for winning the competition. But every finalist will take home a valuable lesson. Good things happen when you work with Fair Trade Certified ingredients.