Havana Club Canada is searching for 20 Canadian bartenders to take a trip with them to Cuba.
We got the opportunity to catch up with Donnie Wheeler by phone to chat about the upcoming contest and selection process.
So tell me about this particular contest;
So this is the Canadian Cantineros Contest of 2017′ by Havana Club. Cantineros being the Spanish word for bartender. I am basically taking a bunch of bartenders to Cuba, and I am trying to think of how to get them there.
In the last 2 years, I have taken 24 in 2015′ and 20 in 2016′ and roughly the same amount this year. We divided it into 4 trips in 2015 and last year it was one group of 20 which was very unique. A collaboration with our brand team and everyone in Cuba to get everyone down there.
So what is the structure of the contest? Initial submission and then what happens after that?
It is a digital comp. It is difficult to do a Canada-wide comp with 20 winners. The first year we had a physical comp, and the presented in front of 3 judges and drinks were scored and prizes were awarded. At the end of it, I through a wrench in the process by saying YOU ARE ALL GOING TO CUBA. It was my Oprah moment. You’re going to Cuba, you’re going to Cuba, we are ALL going to CUBA!
So what is different?
A digital comp has its bonuses and detractors but at the end of the day, younger bartenders don’t necessarily fare well in a comp situation. Making drinks for 8 minutes in front of 3 judges is both never racking and does not necessarily represent a bartender. So what I have done is taken that aspect out of it. Let’s be honest, some of the “traditional” comps are quite boring. The audience can’t see what is going on and the only people who are tasting the drinks are the judges.
Instagram is certainly the most widely used social media, so I asked them to create a variation of an Old Fashioned with ingredients that are readily available in a typical grocery. Post the video of you either making the variation, discussing it or talking about the process in a 30 second or less video on Instagram.
What has been the most surprising thing that you have found from the submissions using this medium?
Well, it has been about bringing it back to basics. The first year was based on the Daiquiri. I am wanting bartenders to get a little more education on where we come from. Cuba is unique in that it was a place that led the cocktail scene globally for a long time and is still considered the home of several classics.
The submissions show people’s passions, and the outlet of Instagram really has those coming through.
What about your scoring system? Do you use a standard system? Anything you can reveal?
The Presentation is important. We may have bartenders from the markets sneak in and taste them first hand if need be, but I don’t want to reveal too much on that front.
There are 2 other parts to this. The multiple choice exam, I will send with google docs. It is a quiz based on unique Havana Club Content, bartending as well as Cuban history. At the end of the day, I want them to find this information on the
Part 2 is a multiple choice exam, I will send with google docs. It is a quiz based on unique Havana Club Content, bartending as well as Cuban history. At the end of the day, I want them to find this information on the net because it will all be available online somewhere.
Part 3 is a “passion piece”. Passion is something you can’t teach. The first year I asked “Tell me why you want to go to Cuba”, year 2 was “Tell me about you?”.
This year is about Canada’s 150th birthday. I would like to foster a unique relationship between Canadian and Cuban bartenders in Havana. The Cuban Tourism board and Cuban Consulate is on board.
I want Canadian bartenders to tell Cuba “Why they love Canada!”. They can use their own unique vernacular and express themselves.
Sounds like the competition will be fun and it seems that it certainly is unique among a huge class of competitions and contests for bartenders these days.
Is there anything you would like to tell young bartenders to help them to a path to victory?
First and foremost, do what you can do. People try to enter too many competitions at once and it can’t get a little ridiculous. It is hard to be so passionate when they got four different directions.
The inside track is if you have questions, just ask me online and I will respond honestly. At the end of the day, I want bartenders to learn about Cuba, learn about Havana Club and learn about themselves.
The greatest part of the trip from last year is that there is still a Facebook group of the participants from 2016, and they are still active with each other. They have started guest shifts coast to coast.
I want to be a part in building Canada’s bar community and my conduit is Havana Club. It’s there, every city has their own community and PRIDE. Pride can be great, but it also has caused some barriers. I would say that this is why Canada is still under-recognized globally.