Interviewing the Legends of the Legacy

by James Stevenson

While attending the Bacardi Legacy Finals in San Francisco Beautiful Booze had the honor of interviewing two influential bodies in the hospitality industry, Dale DeGroff and Enrique Comas. In our article, The Ultimate Cocktail Award is a Legacy Earned. You can find a full run down of the weekends events. Here is an insight into the minds of these two charismatic gentlemen.

Dale DeGroff

What is your favorite part of the Bacardi Legacy event?

Witnessing the interaction between bartenders from different countries and cultures around the world. Spending time with them after the different events and speaking about what being behind the bar means to them. Seeing individuals who have been in the industry for no more than 4 years and who are rising fast within it because they are smart and passionate; and dream about competing in and winning competitions like this. The opportunity for bartenders to see things they may not have been exposed to otherwise; interactions with other bartenders, experts and of course Enrique whom is a world of knowledge and every bartender should take the time to sit down with him and pick his brain.

If you were competing in the competition again what is the one unique ingredient you would love to use?

Dale’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters™ naturally, after that my new darling in my repertoire of ingredients is Vermouth Bianco Ambrato. I also like hitting the top of a drink with a spritz of some Artisan Village Mezcal, Absinthe or Laphroaig. Not as to change any flavors in the drink but to add an exciting component when you take that first sip.

When competing, what do you think is most crucial?

Keeping it simple, it’s difficult to just be yourself for those few minutes in front of a group of people who are judging everything you do. In my early acting days we had a guest acting coach by the name of Tony Perkins and the first thing he said to us was “if you want to be a movie actor, the ability to forget for a brief few seconds that your face is going to be 9ft wide and 5ft tall screen you might have a chance at being a really good actor”. If you can just be yourself for those 8 minutes, be entertaining and friendly while creating a drink that tastes good you’re home free, be yourself and be confident, but make sure as to not come off arrogant. Fred Astaire used to go through a dance routine 1000 times before a performance to make everything so second nature and natural to be sure that when he was on stage could be uninhibited.

What inspires you the most to continue travelling the globe and doing what you do?

Being ALIVE! I have tended bar since 1974 and was a waiter and dishwasher before that; and throughout all that time I was trying to be an actor. Most of that time I didn’t have much cash, so I was working multiple jobs, I was a movie man, a chauffeur and so many things for so long. I ran a jackhammer to put myself through college and then moved to New York and immediately went to work.

During the time you were acting, were you in anything people might not know about?

I did 50 different voices in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back because they shot the movie in Norway and they had to replace all the recorded voices with American voices. A guy named Irvin Kershner hired us and directed us, which was astonishing, as we got to work with THE director of the movie. It was because he wanted the voices to be precise and always carrying the correct vocal emphasis; that was a fascinating and wonderful job. I was on the stage a lot and very proud of what I did, I performed in lots of different productions. I did a lot of voice-overs and it was a blast. I got to work with a lot of amazing people throughout that time. I sing a lot; I’m a saloon singer and sing in bars still. I did the Playboy cover in London and wrote a show called On The Town, encompassing the history of the cocktail in 4 drinks 6 songs and lots of stories. We performed in 45 cities around the country.

How do you feel about your position in the hospitality industry, for example, being adored by bartenders new and old all around the globe?

I am thrilled that young professionals look to me. The fact that these bartenders have found something they are so passionate about and want to dedicate their lives to is amazing and If I had any part to play in that then I ma honored. I’m sure there are a lot of parents whose kids were supposed to be lawyers or doctors who would like to see me hanging from the nearest light post. But putting that aside, I’m very proud there are a lot of people who are seeing this as a profession and not just a job to fall back on or to put them through college.

Enrique Comas:

What is your favorite part of the Bacardi Legacy event?

The bonds of brotherhood and friendship created between the competitors and seeing ambassadors come together year after year from all around the world. This is most prevalent during family day after the competition, where competitors and ambassadors who may only meet on a few occasions throughout the year, can relax and socialize more.

If you were competing in the competition what is the one unique ingredient you would love to use?

I am a passionate cook and love to use a lot of spices such as cumin or turmeric and more precisely spices characteristic of Middle Eastern flavors. I love playing with these in food and would love to see them utilized more in cocktails.

Which partition of the judging platform do you believe is most crucial?

What separates this competition from the others is the legacy element, where participants have the opportunity to demonstrate how their drink has the potential to become a legacy and demonstrate that the cocktail they created is liked by the general public; it is listed in other bars and people want to order and drink it. Entrants displaying that they have gone above and beyond to establish a legacy through promoting not just the cocktail, but themselves. This separates those who want to change their career from individuals who just want to display a competition entrance on their CV.

What do you love most about your career?

Being able to work for a company I am so passionate about. It is great that Bacardi is a family company though what is even better is that it is my families company. The ability to get up every day and do something I love in an industry that I love; I can’t imagine anything better. More specifically, for the past 7-8 years now I have been working in brand advocacy and I think communicating my passion to other people then seeing them get it; suddenly someone will recognize the story of the cocktail, the story of the brand or the quality of the product and it changes so much. Seeing those mental connections being made, and seeing others take pride in what I do fills me with joy.

What is your favorite annual event to attend aside from Bacardi Legacy?

I have attended the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans the past 2 years and also the On Tour segment of that. What I like specifically about the Tales of the Cocktail on Tour is that it feels a little more intimate and I like the fact that you have the opportunity to interact with a whole lot of bartenders from an entirely different culture. Also the Bar Convent in Berlin deserves a mention. I have witnessed it develop over the years into a very serious conference and bartending convention in the day and also exhibits some incredible events at night.

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