A bartenders trip to Jamaica
Andrew Wilkin heads to Jamaica for MIXOLOGY ONLINE with the bartenders from Buck & Breck and Die Goldene Bar.He was told to expect the unexpected. What happened?
The roads of Kingston are lined with marauding advertisements, just as with other cities, and alongside those plugging mobile phones, insurance companies and Usain Bolt, there are those for rum. Billboards shine a light on Appleton Rum’s Dream Weekend festival. Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum is the sponsor of the boxing reality TV show Contender, a bone-fide ratings knockout. And even hundreds of miles away, there are signs directing you to the Appleton Rum tour!
So, here’s what’s clear from the outset – the cliche is true. Jamaica really is in thrall to rum. And here’s the conclusion. Here’s the perfect place for a late winter bartender trip! Invited by Appleton Rum, Goncalo de Souza Monteiro of Berlin’s Buck & Breck and Klaus Rainer of Munich’s Die Goldene Bar both brought a junior with them, Mateusz Swiercz and Dennis Richter respectively. Some of Germany’s most esteemed bartenders were off to Jamaica.
Lets hit the official stuff first. Organization is undoubtedly nothing to sniff at, but press trips are usually defined by rigid itineraries, and a solo focus — promote the brand, nothing else! Here we have an exception. There’s no doubt Jamaica’s oldest rum producers got some excellent promo, but this time the aim was different: the development of young German bartenders in a foreign land.
We drove to the sweltering Appleton Estate within the islands cannily-named Cockpit Country, where the trio of heat, black clouds and rain showers are an afternoon mainstay, and an overcast sky was greeted with jubilation. Nestled within the lush, ultra-fertile valley were sugarcane plantations, stunning vistas and the water source, unfortunately blocked off, by what else — too much rain! A short tour of the distillery, and a rum tasting with their Senior Blender David Morrison, then followed.
A bottling facility was next up, where the casks are organised in racks — one of only two of their eleven bottling facilities to still use the rack system — with many jokingly tagged with cupid’s arrow. At the facility, one not open to the tourist tribes, all four bartenders signed a cask. As their careers evolve, so will their rum. Bartenders mature. Rum matures. It’s a simple, and poetic, concept. But that’s not it. Expect the paths of both the bartender and Appleton Rum to intersect at many points in the future — let’s call it side-by-side maturation.
The Jamaican backdrop
There you have it. A relationship between the rum and the bartenders was set up, and it will continue over the years. What structure this relationship will take is yet to be seen, however one thing’s for sure – Appleton plan to support the bartenders over the coming years in a big way. It’s a mistake however to look at this in isolation, as with anything, the backdrop played a big part in the experience of the four bartenders.
Here’s something key to remember. Regardless of their rum expertise, Jamaica is not a land known for expert mixology — even in the city of Kingston, bone-fide cocktail bars are few and far between. Jamaicans most commonly drink from Queues and Chasers, most easily explained as straightforward mixing with a spirit, and a “chaser”, which for example could be a juice or a fizzy drink. So, prior to journeying into Cockpit Country, we headed to Kingston’s visceral Coronation Market, the vendors protected from the elements by shaky gazebos, on the hunt for produce with four local bartenders. This produce, ranging from guava to the egg-sized june plum, was then used for mixing.
Yet, rather than a dog-eat-dog head-to-head, what ensued was a friendly cocktail showcase. Ideas and knowhow were shared. And as is customary in the Caribbean, bitters were out and fruits and vegetables were in. Sweet really was the order of the day here.
A drive to the coast also ensued. The Caribbean is often said to have invented the all-inclusive resort, and for all their benefits — it’s perhaps the easiest ‘holiday’ there is — a stay in one arguably equates to an impenetrable wall. A wall between you and the discovery of ‘real culture’. Lo and behold, the largely-private coastlines of Montego Bay and Negril were given short shrift, and we embarked on the two-hour drive towards Treasure Beach.
To the beach
On arriving in the area by car, a woman hoarded spicy crabs at our windows, and once we opened them, rival crabs were jostling for space in the car too. Jakes, a resort that since 1994 has been a bolthole for the rich and famous, allowed all and sundry to relax in their grounds, and was hosting an open air screening of a film for the local community.
The four sparsely populated beaches that consist of Treasure Beach revelled in the silence. We let out sighs of relief — this was still the real Jamaica. Kitsch is the name of the game here, from the name, to Jakes’ whimsical style, to the driftwood stilts of Pelican Bar — a bar standing alone a short boat ride out in the ocean, and taking it to back to basics.
The drinks are simple: Red Stripe, Heineken and rum punches dominate. But with a location like that, who cares?
And where there are drinks, there is of course food. The Jamaican cuisine served up many delights, albeit often in restaurants, for safety reasons, behind gates. At Kingston’s M-10 Bar and Grill, crab night commenced — with enough mess that a black bucket was placed on the table. There’s a lot of work involved with the unforgiving crabs, but the work to satisfaction ratio was defiantly skewed towards satisfaction.
Succulent jerk chicken, a particular joy at Kingston’s Scotchies, and patties, filled with beef or fish, also made themselves a daily presence. This was helped down by a Ting – a carbonated beverage flavoured with grapefruit juice. And, on many occasions, rum too! The two big brands serving up patties are called “Juici Patties” and “Tastee”. Marketing teams in Jamaica have got it right: keep your product names sounding finger-licking-good!
Looking at the astonishing vista at the Strawberry Hill resort, nestled in the Blue Mountains, provided everybody time for reflection. Buck & Breck’s Goncalo had one word: “unforgettable.” And even if it wasn’t — he’d never forget it anyway, not if that cask of rum has anything to do with it!
MIXOLOGY-author Andrew Wilkin was invited by Appleton rum to Jamaica. For further information regarding press trips please take a look at our transparency guidelines.
Foto: via Appleton