What makes a modern classic? Enrique Comas & Jacob Briars share their advice

Enrique Comas, left, and his fellow judges.

It’s one of those things that most bartenders would love to achieve, yet very few do: creating a drink that echoes on down the ages, a drink that becomes a classic. It’s very much what the BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition is all about.

“There’s an appeal for a bartender at a certain stage of their career, where they think, ‘I too would like to create a modern classic,’” says Jacob Briars, one of the global bar industry’s most knowledgeable figures and the global advocacy director for BACARDÍ. “It’s a very hard thing to do, which is why there are so few of them.”

Someone who knows a bit about legacies is Enrique Comas, sixth generation member of the Bacardi family. He hosted a seminar for the BACARDÍ Legacy competitors that was all about how a drink becomes a Legacy — see his six points below — but for him it is a powerful thing. “If people remember you, you never truly die,” Comas says.

So what do you have to do to create a Legacy?

“The hallmarks of a modern classic are that it’s got to be fairly simple, yet also distinctive, and that’s very hard to do,” says Briars. 

“It has to be replicable enough that you’re able to copy it; if you’re the only person who can make it, then that’s great, it becomes a pilgrimage place, the equivalent of food at El Bulli — that’s a once in a lifetime thing.

“The other thing is, once you think you’ve got it, you’ve just got to make it a thousand times until you are completely sick of it.

“It mirrors how we judge BACARDÍ Legacy: is it original, is there an inspirational story which makes it interesting and curious, but
is it also replicable — can other people make it? People always say to me, ‘How can I win BACARDÍ Legacy?’ And I always say, make your drink 1,000 times. If you make your drink 20 times a night on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, for a whole diverse cross-section of guests, you’ll pretty quickly learn to refine, make little tweaks.

“We kind of think of people wanting to be hit by a stroke of genius. But actually it’s a process of taking a formula, building on it, taking ingredients away and adding ingredients,” Briars says.

Take a look at Enrique Comas’ advice on what to do to make your BACARDÍ Legacy drink a modern classic.

1. Make your BACARDÍ Legacy drink your signature drink

“Make it the drink that is associated with you. If you can make your drink so intrinsically linked to you, it becomes the thing that you’re known for, and that can be really powerful. Audrey Saunders and the Old Cuban… but today it is served around the world. Today when people think of Audrey Saunders, they think of the Old Cuban.”

2. Make it a destination drink

“How many people travel for food? Gastrotourism is growing incredibly, but so is cocktail tourism,” says Comas.

“The Tommy’s Margarita at Tommy’s Restaurant in San Francisco — people do a pilgrimage to come to this place, not just because of the amazing selection of tequilas that they sell but because they want to try the Tommy’s Margarita in the place it was created.”

3. Make it an occasion drink

“Think about making your drinks so synonymous with an event or an occasion, that people will always order it at that time,” says Comas. “One of the biggest? The Mint Julep. When people think of it they think of the Kentucky Derby. It wasn’t invented for the Kentucky Derby, but it became synonymous with it.”

Jacob Briars with Ivy Mix.
4. Make it a local hero drink

“If you really want your drink to become established long-term, start small and grow,” he says. “Make it your signature drink, then make it the signature drink of your bar, then get your local community to be making it, then think about your city, then think about your country and grow outwards.

“The Michelada: created in the  Club Deportivo Potosino in San Luis Potosi, and the idea is, this guy, Michel Ésper, wanted his beer served like a limonada —  lemon juice, salt rim, and soda water — but instead put beer in it. People started asking, “I want my beer Michel’s way, I want it Michelada.” It grew in a sports club in San Luis Potosi, it became popular there, it then grew out, it became a drink in the local area, it became huge in Mexico, now it’s huge in the US, it’s starting to appear on menus all around the world — but it started locally.”

5. Find passionate advocates

“If you’re lucky enough to find passionate advocates, who will go out there and take your drink with them, and get them to do the work, it can be even more powerful,” says Comas.

He says you should look at the example of the Cuba Libre. “American soldiers were the ones who actively took it out, Coca-Cola was part of their rations, everywhere they went they started asking for BACARDÍ to add to it — they created the Cuba Libre in Cuba, and they spread it around the world.”

6. The Holy Grail

“What happens when all of the stars align, when everything falls into place and all of these things happen simultaneously?” Comas asks. “The best example of this is the Daiquiri.

“Created by Jennings Stockton Cox, who went from bar to bar, teaching people how to make it  — he started local. Then, Admiral Lucius Johnson was introduced to the Daiquiri, and he fell in love with it. He took it to the Army & Navy Club in Washington, he became a passionate advocate for this cocktail and from there, it started to spread around the world. 

“At the end, we have Constantin Ribalaigua, who made it his signature drink even though he didn’t invent it. So much so, that he created five variations of this cocktail, to put on the menu of his bar La Floridita in Cuba, which became a destination place for people who wanted to try that drink. Here you have a drink that started local, was passionately advocated for by someone who fell in love with it, it became somebody’s signature drink, and it became a destination drink. All you need is to associate it with a particular day, like National Daiquiri Day, which now exists, and you’ve got the holy grail.”  

How to enter the BACARDÍ Legacy Global Cocktail Competition

Entries open soon, so follow the BACARDÍ Legacy Australia Facebook page to be kept up to date – https://www.facebook.com/BacardiLegacyAustralia.

New to the competition this year: the winner of the Bartender Magazine Bartender of the Year sponsored by BACARDÍ & De Kuyper will this year also win a wildcard entry into the BACARDÍ Legacy Australian Final.