Talented bartender James Crinson from Wanaka is set to compete in the Global Finals of the prestigious Bacardi Legacy cocktail competition later this month in San Francisco after taking out the New Zealand Finals in February. We get the inside scoop on the world of mixology from James himself and have a sneak look at his beautiful Te Anaka cocktail
What was the inspiration behind your beautiful Te Anaka cocktail?
The biggest factor for me when thinking about inspiration for a Legacy cocktail was the desire to showcase and represent Wanaka - the place I now call home – as it inspires me every day. Because NZ has access to such amazing, fresh produce, I started out with honey sourced from a local apiary, which I felt was the perfect ingredient to reflect my home and the drink’s origin, and matches perfectly with the flavour profile of Bacardi Carta Blanca. It’s also a lighter, healthier way to sweeten the drink – something that people are becoming much more conscious of, and that I think is going to become a bigger trend in coming years. From there I added sherry - a massively trending ingredient in the cocktail scene around the world at the moment, but also an ingredient that has been around for many years. It has a deep and rich history and is a fascinatingly complex drink, which really plays a massive role in creating an excellent balance in my cocktail. I then had to make sure that all of these ideas and inspiration came together to create a drink that was not only delicious, but had the potential to stand the test of time and become a classic cocktail that’s loved for many years to come - that’s really what Bacardi Legacy is all about.
How long did it take you to get to Te Anaka from when you first started playing around with ideas?
We get challenged a lot by customers at Lalaland, so I tend to make a lot of drinks on the fly, and I had already been playing around with Te Anaka’s main ingredients (Bacardi, honey and Fino sherry) in different cocktails for a while, so had really come to understand them and their difference nuances. I started thinking about what I would do for Bacardi Legacy, thought about the characteristics of these ingredients, and went to work the next day and pretty much came up with the recipe I have now - it took two attempts and I had the measurements right. Bacardi has an excellent dryness that lends itself perfectly to cocktails; it has vanilla notes that work wonderfully with honey, slight dry apple nutty notes that work perfectly with the Fino sherry, lemon juice adds the sour element, which balances out the sweetness of the honey (and the two ingredients are an age old match for each other), egg white is used in a lot of classic cocktails and is an amazing way to bind flavours together and create good mouth-feel. Finally, there is a salt-water spray over the top as a garnish; this was something that came a bit later, after I had got through the first stages of the competition. Salt is an amazing thing that massively enhances flavours and this really makes the drink stand out, adds something a little bit different and makes you want to go back for more.
What are your top tips for people wanting to start getting creative with cocktail making at home?
Learn some classic cocktails and start playing around with the ingredients. They are classic for a reason and the measurements used in recipes that have stood the test of time are a great platform to start with and then build on. I’m massively inspired by food. Chefs have amazing palates and really understand flavour profiles, and there are a lot of things in food that really transfer to drink. For example when you think of Asian style food, you think of lime, coriander, ginger, chilli - an amazing combo of flavours! Throw some gin in the mix there and you have the potential for an awesome cocktail. I also have my little bible, The Flavour Thesaurus. I read it all the time when I need to start making a menu or enter into a competition. It has some weird and wonderful combinations in it and goes into a lot of detail about flavour.
New Zealand seems to be starting to make quite a mark on the food and drinks scene worldwide, why do you think this is?
I think Kiwis have extremely good palates for food and drink. We have amazing fresh ingredients to work with, and love being the David in the David and Goliath situation! We’re a very young country too, which means we’re not steeped in tradition - allowing us to be this kind of melting pot of influence from around the whole world. We’re really proud of our food and cocktails, and have fantastic talent in the industry who are always striving to improve and get better and better, so NZ is definitely holding its own – and even starting to pave the way – in the hospitality industry. The cocktail scene specifically is rapidly growing both here and internationally, it’s an international trend and NZ is doing it well. The tourism trade is huge here as well, so hospitality in general has to be on point. It’s really exciting to be able to take a slice of NZ to the global stage in the form of Te Anaka.