The Havana Club Cocktail Maestros Global Final takes place in Cuba in mid-April.

Havana Club, the leading rum brand from Cuba, has launched a brand new global bartending competition after a break from Havana Club Grand Prix, one of the oldest and most prestigious international cocktail competitions.

Named Havana Club Cocktail Maestros, the new competition is a celebration of teamwork, the art of bartending mastery, the spirit of hospitality and the brand’s signature creative energy. Bartenders were required to sign up as teams of two and create a Havana Club cocktail with two homemade ingredients in the entry challenge, Liquid Harmony, from November 20 to January 15. Applications were open to bartenders in Europe, Cuba and Brazil, while the China team was selected through Supernova Cocktail Grand Prix, a national bartending competition under the umbrella of SIP by Pernod Ricard China.

To help bartenders excel in the entry challenge, Havana Club put together four educational and insightful films called Maestros Sessions on its website. Each film features a unique topic with leading industry experts as its hosts, namely Liquid with Maestro del Ron Cubano Asbel Morales and Global Ambassador Alfredo Guerra, Flavour with chef Naz Ramadan, Hustle with bar duo Emilio Di Salvo and Keila Urzais, and Expression with legendary photographer Lateef Okunnu.

Bar teams who passed the entry challenge then competed in the National Finals and the Regional Final for the honor to represent their country in the Global Final. Now, a total of eight teams have been selected for the final showdown which will take place in Havana from the 15th to the 18th of April. Time to find out who will be crowned the first ever Havana Club Cocktail Maestros and take home the €10,000 cash prize!

Global Brand Ambassadors Explain…

There is so much excitement and curiosity surrounding the inaugural Havana Club Cocktail Maestros. How many bartenders have taken part? What makes it special? What will be waiting for the global finalists in Havana? DRiNK talked to Alfredo Guerra and Liam Holyoak-Rackal, Global Brand Ambassadors of Havana Club, to find out.

DRiNK: Can you give us an overview of the competition at this stage?

Liam: The response to the Havana Club Cocktail Maestros has been nothing short of incredible. We’ve been blown away by the talent and enthusiasm pouring in from bartending teams across the globe, with over 600 applications from 1,200 candidates, who have brought their unique flair and passion into the mix. Through a tough selection process including in-bar judging and national or European regional finals, we have now selected a strong group of bartending duos to take center stage in Cuba.

Alfredo: We’ve also been so impressed by the energy of the bartenders who have come together from different parts of the world to celebrate the spirit of Havana Club and their shared love of cocktails. We’ve now selected the finalists from eight different countries spanning from the UK to Italy all the way through to China who will come together to celebrate their craft.

Alfredo and Liam

DRiNK: What are the highlights of the competition to you so far?

Liam: I’ve been so impressed with the bartenders’ passion and willingness to learn. Seeing the teams work together to shake up innovative creations infused with their own unique enthusiasm and flair has been really special. Looking at the regional and national finals we can see how far they’ve come already. I think they’ve all walked away with a newfound appreciation for the art of flavour as well as nailing the ability to create an unforgettable experience through each meticulously crafted cocktail – a skillset that will come in handy in the final.”

Alfredo: As a Cuban, seeing bartenders from around the world engage with my culture has been inspiring and is a reminder of the power hospitality has in bringing cultures and people together. Sitting down with Maestro del Ron Cubano, Asbel Morales, for the ‘Liquid’ Session was another highlight as we chatted about Havana Club’s incredible portfolio and the art of Cuban rum making – I’m so excited for the finalists to soak up Cuban culture in April.”

DRiNK: What makes Havana Club Cocktail Maestros different from other cocktail competitions?

Liam: This is the first competition rooted in teamwork and collaboration, where bartenders have gone head-to-head through in bar-judging and various national finals to earn their spot, meaning they can thrive, grow and make memories together that last a lifetime. Havana Club has a story like no other and really is Cuba in a bottle, so this is all about drawing inspiration from our culture, whether that’s through infusing cocktails with local ingredients or celebrating the spirit of the island – it’s an experience that can’t be found anywhere else.

Alfredo: The Maestro Sessions educational video content was a game-changer and we worked hard to build a platform where bartenders can not only flex their creativity, but also learn and build on their skills. This competition is so much more than mixing drinks; it’s about nurturing the talent of bartenders from all corners of the globe.

And let’s not forget the perks – a cash prize of €10,000, a rare bottle of Havana Club Máximo Extra Añejo for each team member and the beginning of our relationship with all of the teams, but the winning team will be a part of the competition’s future for sure.

DRiNK: What does it take to be recognized as a Havana Club Cocktail Maestro?

Liam: A Havana Club Cocktail Maestro requires a combination of collaboration, exceptional mixology skills and a real appreciation for Cuban culture. It’s not just about crafting great cocktails, it’s about bringing your team’s own unique voice to the table and showing what makes you and your partner stand out, whilst also embodying the spirit of Havana Club.

Alfredo: I think it also takes a willingness to learn and grow. The competition isn’t just about what you already know; it’s about pushing yourself to new limits and embracing new experiences. It’s about being open to feedback, learning from our Maestros and your peers, and striving to improve all while building friendships along the way.

DRiNK: What can global finalists expect after they arrive in Havana in April?

Liam: After touching down in Cuba, our global finalists are in for an epic four-day trip where they will have the opportunity to soak up the vibrant culture of Havana. The jam-packed itinerary spans from educational trips, distillery visits and intimate tastings with the Maestros del Ron Cubano, and a range of competition heats. But no visit of Havana would be complete without a tour of the city’s most iconic bars. Cuban cocktails like the Daiquiri were made world famous by the Cantineros at places like El Floridita, so it’s only right we go and experience these drinks from the source whilst also checking out newer venues throughout the week.

Alfredo Guerra: Nothing gets me more excited than welcoming bartenders to my homeland with open arms, and teams will be able to socialize with local bartenders whilst pushing their mixology skills to the limit through a range of competitive challenges.

The Great Havana Hustle will turn the heat up, putting real-life hospitality skills to the test from hosting a bustling bar shift to backing their teammates, every task is a testament to their collective energy and teamwork.

And let’s not forget about the grand finale itself – the pinnacle of their journey where one team will rise above the rest to claim the Havana Club Cocktail Maestros title!”

DRiNK: The China team will be the only global finalist who hasn’t gone through the Havana Club themed regionals and national finals. Any words or advice to them before they head to Cuba?

Liam: I would say embrace this opportunity with open arms. While you may not have gone through the themed regionals and national finals, you bring a unique perspective and energy to the competition. Use this as a chance to show your talent, learn from your mates, and immerse yourselves in the vibrant culture of Cuba. Stay true to yourselves and above all, enjoy every moment.

That said, communication is going to be your strongest asset – remember to listen to each other, bounce ideas around and make sure both of your voices are heard. Collaboration is key so don’t be afraid to push the boundaries and see what kind of magic you can create. You’ve got this!

Alfredo Guerra: Soak up everything Cuba has to offer. From its rich history and warm hospitality to the vibrant global community of bartenders who share your passion. Let it all sink in and fuel your creativity as you serve up those final cocktails.

And most importantly – have fun along the way! Sure, it’s a competition, but it’s also about coming together and building connections within a network of the world’s best bartenders. And remember, no matter the outcome, you’re already winners for having earned your place on the global stage. So, embrace this moment and make the most of it. Cuba awaits!

Meet the China Team

As the winner of Supernova Cocktail Grand Prix, Platt Xu from 12-Bar Blues, Shanghai, is automatically qualified to enter the Havana Club Cocktail Maestros Global Final. His teammate was to be selected from the Top Six finalists of the competition. There were a number of factors in play here, including speech skills, understanding of the brand/product, teamwork spirit and English-language proficiency. And most importantly, his or her cocktail in the competition must have used Havana Club as the base spirit. Nick Zhang from N•Tender, Xi’an, stood out and won a ticket to Havana for the Global Final.

Platt Xu

Platt started bartending in 2018. He worked in a few bars of different styles before settling down at 12-Bar Blues, a community bar where he learned the importance of warm and detail-oriented service. To him, a cocktail must taste good and there must be a reason behind every element when creating a new recipe, from the combination of different ingredients to how it is presented.

Nick, on the other hand, only has more than two years of experience behind the bar, but his growth has been rapid. He took part in the Maker’s Mark Future Masters Cocktail Competition and was placed in the Top Eight just one month after he became a full-time bartender. Two months later, he participated in the 1800 Tequila Cocktail Competition and won the second place. Then he opened N•Tender in Xi’an last year, a cocktail bar that changes its theme and update its menu every season.

Nick Zhang

Both Platt and Nick are very excited about representing China in Havana. “This is a turning point of my life. I feel a bit anxious because we’re competing on behalf of China, but I’ve received support from many senior members of our bartender community. I’ll come well-prepared and do my best in Havana so that the world can see what Chinese bartenders have to offer,’ says Platt. Nick is also hopeful. ‘I’m grateful that SIP gave me the chance to take part in the Global final. I can’t wait to show off my skills and creativity on a bigger stage and compete with all these great bartenders from different countries!’