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On the mojito trail

19 Jun
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Mojitos at More Vino.

Trinidad and Tobago recently held its first food awards in the form of the Jamaican import The Table Talk Food Awards. Over 100 restaurants, cafes and bistros were visited and their food and drink sampled.

As part of the awards, beverage sponsor AMCO, distributors of Barcadi rums, held a Barcadi Classic Mojito Challenge. Yours truly was among the judges selected to judge Mojitos in nine bars in North and Central Trinidad. Due to the short timing, we couldn’t hit up more bars unfortunately.

So of the numerous bars in Trinidad, we hit up Shakers on the Avenue, More Vino, Drink Bistro and Lounge, Hyatt Regency, Kava at Kapok Hotel, Toppers Bar, Woodford Cafe, Wild Olive Restaurant and The Rise Bar, the latter three all located in Chaguanas.

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The lone female bartender on our three days of tasting mixes up her mojitos individually

The seven judges were judging the concoctions based on

  • Balance
  • Flavour Consistency
  • Freshness of Ingredients
  • Appearance & Look and Feel
  • Garnish
Judges were also told to take into consideration the preparation methods of the bartenders, as well as their ability, attitude, charisma and passion.
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For those who don’t know what a mojito is, let me give you a quick run down. Said to have originated in Cuba, the cocktail contains:
  • White Rum
  • Sugar
  • Lime juice (or limes)
  • Crushed mint leaves
  • Soda water
  • Ice

Over the three days we discovered that no two mojitos are equal. While the original recipe calls for mint leaves to be muddled, some bartenders opted to just clap it to release the oils and one actually didn’t even bother to do anything with the leaves!

At one bar, margarita mix was used which gave the drink a bitterish taste and almost everyone had their own twist on the classic. In Drink! they substitute the simple syrup with Sprite. Note: Caribbean people have sweet palates so the sprite actually gives the cocktail a sweeter, tastier finish than the syrup.

At Toppers, we were served a Dragon Berry mojito, made with Dragon Berry Barcardi, at Woodford Cafe, they have a mojito called Saga Boy which is a classic topped with passion fruit juice and at The Rise, we were treated to a Sour Apple mojito made with Sour Apple Barcardi and Bols Sour Apple Liqueur.

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The Toppers bartender poses with his mojitos and his bottle of Barcardi Dragon Berry.

Most of the bartenders we interacted with were knowledgeable and passionate about their creations. Rodney, of the winning bar, The Rise, was perhaps more so than the others and really impressed with his professionalism, technique and his garnish, which, instead of the typical lime, was a stalk of sugar cane.

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A stalk of Sugar Cane in The Rise’s mojitos was a change from the usual lime and mint leaves garnish.

Chaguanas, where his bar is located, was once the centre of the sugar cane production in Trinidad and Tobago and the garnish was a good ode to that history as well as the history of rum which traditionally was made with sugar cane. Barcardi is made from sugar cane byproducts.

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Rodney, bartender of the Barcardi Mojito Challenge bar winner The Rise

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Dinner with Ron Zacapa

11 Apr

The second wave of the Trinidad and Tobago leg of the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year competition was held on Tuesday. The featured beverage was Ron Zacapa.

Mario Navarro, Global Brand Ambassador for the Guatemalan rum was in Trinidad to conduct training and oversee the competition which was won by Karlina Permell.

On Tuesday night, Navarro hosted a private dinner at Texas de Brazile, where specially invited guests, including yours truly, enjoyed a tasting session of the Ron Zacapa 23 and XO rums as well as a specially prepared menu of dishes made with the rums.

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The evening started out with signature cocktails from last year’s local finalist, the delightfully entertaining Stephon Scott.

ImageIn the private dining area, Navarro walked us through a brief history of Ron Zacapa, which he said has started the conversation about rum as a premium beverage.

He said the rum differs from others because it is aged above the clouds, 2300m above the clouds, which allows for a slow ageing process. The Master Blender is  Loreno Vasquez, who Navarro said, ensures the rum is blended to perfection.

He also explained the handwoven Petate Band that adorns every bottle, saying that is harkens back to the Mayan influence and with the purchase of each bottle, money is used to send children in Guatemala to school.

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Soon it was down to the best part, the tasting. The Zacapa 23, Navarro explained, uses four casks and is about character. On the nose, there were scents of raisins, spices, chocolate, and as my husband acutely recognised, it smelt like fruit cake. Navarro said it reminded him of rum cakes, which is basically the same thing.

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On the palate, the 23 awakened all the senses with the spices, chocolate mingling with a distinct almond taste which Navarro was surprised that we picked up.  The rum was very smooth and, as Navarro explained to me afterwards, is perfect for a younger drinker between 30 and 40 years old, who wants to discover new things and does not like to show off but simply wants to enjoy his drink neat.

The XO, he said, appeals more to women and is targeted to a over 50 consumer. It is more elegant, he said, is suited to a quiet evening at home and goes well with desserts such as chocolate.

On the nose the XO exudes dried apricots, nuts, and citrus. Smooth on the palate, there were flavours of chocolate, dried fruit, and spices.

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A complete meal made with Ron Zacapa rums followed the tasting. Appetizers were a choice between Chicken Kebab with a Ron Zacapa drizzle or  Zacapa Lobster Bisque.

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The Main Course was a choice between Papillote Tilapia with coconut spiced mushroom or a grilled top sirloin  smothered with caramelized onions infused with Zacapa 23 and served with garlic mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans.

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Dessert was either a Zacapa Papaya Cream made with ripened paw paws, cinnamon, vanilla ice cream and Zacapa XO or Chocolate Mousse Cake with Zacapa XO.

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