Havana Hustle: Seattle’s Bacardi Legacy Contender

Banana. Chocolate. Rich aged rum. Gentian root. Peppery spice. Intrigued? These are just some of the flavors dancing together in Seattle bartender Cameron George’s Havana Hustle, a semifinal-winning entry in the Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail competition. In a few weeks, he’ll be taking his entry to the U.S. Finals in Miami, and if he dominates there, on to Berlin for the Global finals in the spring.

I’ll be honest–I myself wasn’t very familiar with the Bacardi Legacy competition until early last year, when I received an out-of-the-blue invitation to attend the 2016 Global Finals in San Francisco as an “Influencer.” (Meaning: take and share lots of photos on my Instagram feed.)  My four day immersion in the event was incredible, and I came away inspired by the professionalism and hard work of the dozens of competitors from all over the world.

Each big-name cocktail competition is different and focuses on different things. With Bacardi Legacy, the central idea is to create and promote a recipe capable of becoming a modern classic, replicable at any respectable bar all over the world. And featuring Bacardi rum, of course. The competition isn’t about who creates the most exotic cocktail with insane ingredients. It’s about improvising within the framework of classic cocktails.  At the global competition last year, the typical cocktail had around five ingredients, most standard in any bar, plus one or two that might require a wee bit of prep time.

Havana Hustle
Havana Hustle
Havana Hustle
Havana Hustle

The competition is ranked by a small panel. At the global level, judges are big household names–within the bartending world at least—and included Martin Cate, Ian Burrell, Ivy Mix, Julie Reiner and Dale DeGroff at the 2016 finals. Over the course of seven minutes, each competitor makes their drink while telling the story of what inspired it. Another part of the score comes from an analysis of their social media effectiveness.

Part of the Legacy competition is how well you promote the drink via social media. Contestants at national level are given $1000 to create collateral marketing material, which might include a web site, Facebook page, coasters, business cards featuring the recipe, and so forth. Not content with doing just that, Cameron told me that the Havana Hustle will be used as a fundraising tool for the Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation, which is ”building in Havana a landmark Dance Centre of international renown that will be a source of inspiration and learning to aspiring young dancers.” Various bars around the Pacific Northwest (including Seattle’s Rumba, Cursed Oak, and Barrio) are featuring the Havana Hustle on their menu and will donate twenty percent of the profits to the charity. Cameron believes the money raised provides a valuable metric to gauge the success of the promotional part of his campaign.

Cameron George at Barrio

To win the Pacific Northwest Bacardi Legacy semifinals, Cameron, bar manager at Seattle’s Barrio, fended off other top bartenders from Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. When we met to talk about it after the competition, he told me his drink is a commentary on the intersection of Latin American culture and rum. Looking at the ingredients, it’s easy to see the Latin American connection beyond just the Bacardi 8 (Ocho) rum at its heart: Banana, Angostura bitters, lime, and a slightly spicy rim (dubbed “hustle dust”) that plays a vital role in bringing all the flavors together.

Havana Hustle

  • 2 oz Bacardi 8 rum
  • 0.5 oz lime juice
  • 0.5 oz Giffard Banane du Bresil
  • 0.25 oz Amaro di Angostura
  • 3 dashes Maraschino liqueur (~ 1/10 oz)
  • 2 dashes Scrappy’s chocolate bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice. Rim the edges of a chilled coupe with an orange slice. Immerse coupe rim about ¼ inch into the Hustle Dust (below). Double strain into the coupe. Float a dried lime slice.

Hustle Dust

  • 10 parts table sugar
  • 4 parts powdered baker’s chocolate
  • 0.75 parts Pasilla pepper powder
  • 0.5 parts Habanero powder

It’s easy to dismiss a sugared rim as eye candy, but the Havana Hustle’s “dust” provides the finishing touches to the cocktail’s flavor dance. While the rum/lime/sugar holy trinity of the daiquiri is the obvious starting point of Cameron’s drink, he’s also a fan of the old school crusta, which has a sugared rim as one of its key distinguishing features.  By using orange as the wetting agent rather than the traditional lemon, it brings in yet another flavor without using an additional ingredient. In this example, the orange essence combines with the baking chocolate in a classic flavor combo. And when you bring in just the right amount of spiciness, you have a cocktail that constantly shifts flavors, and keeps you coming back for just a bit more sugar(ed rim).

In case it wasn’t obvious from the above, don’t skip the rimming step! I have the luxury of a small container of Hustle Dust, courtesy of Cameron, but it shouldn’t be hard to approximate even without the exact pepper powders above. If you’ve ever had Mexican hot chocolate, that’s what you’re after: A nice balance of sugar and chocolate, with a noticeable but still pleasant spicy zing on the finish.

Havana Hustle
Havana Hustle

Cameron describes the drink’s flavor profile as light, citrusy, and airy, and I have to agree. When we met, he made one for me, and the next night I recreated it at home. They tasted remarkably similar–a hallmark of a good recipe–and a visiting friend was also quite enchanted by it. Daiquiri-like drinks typically use a lighter rum like Bacardi Superior, but in the Havana Hustle, the lush Bacardi 8 provides a warm, bass-note rhythm to anchor the orchestra of ingredients. The banana liqueur doesn’t jump to the forefront like it can in many cocktails and instead plays well in a supporting role. Ditto for the Scrappy’s chocolate bitters, which Cameron says is a subtle shout-out to his Seattle hometown, where they’re made.

The Havana Hustle is a cleverly designed cocktail, moderately easy to make, and fun to attempt picking all the flavors out. I’ll be rooting for Cameron in Miami, and hopefully in Berlin after that. And if you’re ever in Seattle, drop by Barrio. Cameron and his staff would love to make you one!

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