In light of BACARDÍ Legacy Australia’s announcement of the Three Most Promising for 2018, Drinks World sat down with each bartender to discuss their motivation behind entering, how they’ll be promoting their drinks and what they’re bringing to the competition.
Second cab off the rank is the incredibly passionate Vini Wang. With only two years experience behind the bar, Vini has already become a prominent face in the Australian competition scene. His skilful work at Hains & Co. in Adelaide and his determination and discipline in bartending are sure to see him go on to great things.
DRINKS WORLD: Vini, with so many cocktail competitions out there, what made you decide to enter BACARDÍ Legacy this year?
VINI WANG: BACARDÍ Legacy is by far the biggest cocktail competition, not only in Australia, but basically the world and the idea of making a modern classic, a simple cocktail that’s your own classic creation, every bartender wants to be a part of that. A lot of cocktail competitions I find look for that, ‘wow factor’ – often cocktails that are weird just for the sake of being weird. You can pretty much pimp anything out, and regardless of whether it tastes good or not, it’s ‘creative’. But BACARDÍ Legacy has always been a cocktail competition that rewards simple drinks with more thought gone into them. You have to find ingredients that are commonly available, hopefully, all around the world, and try to make a cocktail that’s never existed before with your inspiration behind it.
DW: So, why did you feel that this year you were ready to compete at BACARDÍ Legacy?
VW: With cocktail competitions, I do them to test my ability. I’m a guy who just wants to master the classics first. The simpler the ingredients get, which is true for most classic cocktails, I find that even a few drops, or a millilitre difference can drastically effect whether the drink is good, great, or exceptional. This requires a lot of practice. Every time I enter a new cocktail competition, it gives me an opportunity to continue this practice. I start daydreaming about my inspiration in my bar, try to make it and if it’s pleasant, I’ll join in to see how I go.
DW: How has your venue reacted to your selection as top three?
VW: (Laughs) They’re obviously happy with the result but every time I need to ask for another day off, they’re understandably hesitant. When I first got into a national scale competition, they were really happy about it because, first of all, I was a casual at the time. Now I’m a full timer they’re like, “Ummm Vini, you kind of have to spend a little bit more time at the bar!”
I’m trying to satisfy both sides of my work. I’m at the point where the venue is both happy for me, but would like me behind the bar at the same time. Sometimes they think they you should invest more time in the venue itself, rather than your own personal achievement, but they also cannot really ignore that there’s free advertisement when you have a good result in a national scale competition
DW: So, roughly, how many hours a week would you be dedicating to prepping and training yourself for BACARDÍ Legacy and the national finals?
VW: Well, preparation wise, not a lot of time, because the only preparation I need to actually do for this cocktail is choose the ginger. That’s it. I’m quite proud of my cocktail because of such minimal prep. And all the stuff I’m using is incredibly easy to source – wasabi paste that you can get in any supermarket, saline solution or salt water, orgeat syrup that you can get in pretty much any Bottle-O, limejuice and BACARDÍ.
In terms of preparing for the presentation, I have to spend a lot more time than any other person in the competition because English is my second language. I can’t just practice; I need to show other people my presentation to help me polish it up. Ask, “Does this make sense?” or “Is this sentence redundant?” When I adjust my words for people’s advice or criticism, it’s then not the sentence that I devised myself any more, so I have to practice the new expression. It’s hard, because then you’re not just saying it straight from your heart as you’d like to. That’s why my biggest issue actually when it comes to cocktail competitions is delivering the speech on time. Every time there’s like a seven-minute time or a ten-minute time limit on the presentation, that’s the most stressful part.
DW: Wow, so how long have you been in Australia?
VW: Four years ago, now.
DW: Did you know English at all before you arrived?
VW: A little bit, but nowhere near to the level I’m speaking at now.
DW: So what do you think your point of difference is from your competitors?
VW: In regards to the cocktail, obviously using an ingredient that is oriental forward, such as wasabi, is a real point of difference. Wasabi, I think, is the most extreme oriental ingredient, but also one you can find around the world. I’ve always been interested in using wasabi in a drink, but it never quite worked out how I wanted until my drink, Aja. It took about two weeks to do minor tweaks here and there, using different syrups to find the perfect balance. I’m extremely proud of this drink as it’s easy to replicate all around the world with very minimal preparation and, also, my father inspired it. I can speak from my heart about the inspiration, which is a beautiful feeling.
In terms of me as a bartender, I guess my style of bartending makes me unique. I’ve only been bartending for two years, but I dreamt about bartending for a long time and was visually inspired by the Korean and Japanese styles of bartending. My style of shaking is definitely in a more serious manner than other competitors. When compared to chefs, there’s a strictness chefs apply to their work that I don’t really find a lot of that when it comes to bartending. People think if they put whisky, sugar and bitters and just stir it and serve it, it’s an Old Fashioned. Even though it could be a terrible Old Fashioned without any philosophy going into it. I think that bartenders should be focused on finding the variations between drinks and trying to minimise them by practicing again and again. That’s why my style of bartending and the technique I use to make drinks is a little bit more strict than most of my competitors.
DW: How are you promoting your drinks during the ‘Most Promising’ period?
VW: I don’t have a separate Instagram account to my personal one, so I’m just reposting when someone else uploads a photo serving or enjoying my drink. I have a Facebook page, but after the marketing strategy meeting we just had I’m now considering making an Instagram page for the competition as well. I thought Facebook and Instagram were pretty much the same! (Laughs) I’m pretty horrible when it comes to that social media.
My other strategy will be using some of my international friends, in Singapore, Japan, Korea etc. to create my drink. I have a guy in Canada who is going to make my drinks as well! It’s exciting to have my creation shared with a person that I don’t even know. I want to focus on the Asian market, because most people in China, Japan and Korea don’t even know what rum is! It’s understandable because our culture is so different from the Caribbean. It’s basically the opposite part of the world.
In Korea, but even in Japan where bar culture is quite developed, the majority of people think that BACARDÍ equals rum and rum equals BACARDÍ. There’s no other rum. Because I’m using wasabi and ginger, which a lot of Asian people will like, I’m thinking of not only getting my drink into bars but into Japanese restaurants as well. This will, hopefully, see my drink gain traction with the Asian market in Australia.
In Korea and Japan, BACARDÍ Legacy is a thing, but I’m talking about the customers. Bartenders, obviously, know about rum but customer wise, they don’t really understand what it is. It will be great if my drink can kind of help people familiarise themselves with the spirit.
DW: Do you know what venues you’re going to try and target in Singapore?
VW: Singapore, I’ll try to target around four to five bars – places like The Other Room, Gibson, Cracker Jack etc. I’ve visited Singapore recently, so I have a few connections. None of the bars have started making cocktails, so we’ll see if they’re supportive.
DW: Vini, what do you want your legacy to be?
VW: I want my drink to be a cocktail that can show that even the most extreme oriental ingredient can actually be palatable, not just to Asians but all around the world. I hope to break the boundaries of what you can, and can’t use in a cocktail.
DW: What’s your favourite memory with BACARDÍ?
VW: I’ve been thinking but I can’t think of a bigger joy than now – making Aja. Up until creating this drink, I didn’t fully appreciate the quality of BACARDÍ because there are so many other rums that you can use. I tried my drink using other rums as well, and it just doesn’t taste as good. The light style of BACARDÍ helps balance out the other ingredients and promotes them to shine through, making a really nice cocktail. When a customer comes in and says, “This is the best rum drink I’ve ever had!” regardless of whether it’s true or not, that is, bar none, my greatest joy. It just makes me want to strive even harder.