The first-ever Jamaica Bartending Expo, which took place Sunday, March 12, at the Ranny Williams Centre, was a huge success, showcasing the best Jamaican mixologists on the island.
Over 50 of the island’s top bartenders participated in the event, celebrating Jamaica’s rich culture and history centred around displaying the country’s two bartending academies, JWN Academy and Bartending Academy for Spirits & Wines. Attendees were treated to classic cocktails from Select Brands and CPJ, modern innovations like Cocktails to Go, and unique creations made with the finest Jamaican and imported spirits, in addition to the welcomed Lasco iCool hydration station.
“The inaugural Jamaica Bartending Expo was a true celebration of Jamaican culture and hospitality,” said Dr Debbian Spence-Minott, the President of The Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) and the head of Bartending Academy for Spirits & Wines, “We were thrilled to see so many people come together to experience the best of our island’s mixology scene.”
The event featured various activities, including guest speakers and a cocktail competition, which saw bartenders compete for cash prizes and Jamaica’s Best Mixologist title. A panel of experts, including local industry professionals, judged the competition.
Armed with the tools of the trade, the six finalists each had to create themed cocktails for an expert panel of judges within six minutes and were assessed in four categories.
After three intense rounds, Ryan Mitto was crowned tournament champion ahead of Dr Matthew Duval and Raldeno Forbes. Mitto walked away with a grand prize of JMD60,000 and much more.
“The quality of the cocktails and the level of skill and creativity on display at the competition were truly impressive,” added Spence-Minott. “It’s clear that Jamaica has some of the best bartenders in the world.”
In addition to the competition, attendees could enjoy live music, food vendors, and a spirits pavilion where they could indulge in some of the island’s finest spirits.
“The spirits pavilion was a particular highlight for many attendees,” said Dr Spence-Minott. “It was a great opportunity to champion the bartenders while sampling some truly exceptional cocktails, responsibly, of course.”
The success of the Jamaica Bartending Expo has set the stage for future events, with plans already underway for next year’s event.
“We’re already looking forward to next year’s bartending week and expo,” said Dr Debbian Spence-Minott “We can’t wait to showcase even more of the talent and creativity that make Jamaica’s bartending scene so special.”
Esteemed judge and JUBAM secretary Omega Findlay extended kudos to the competing bartenders as they were very impressed with the mastery on display in Kingston.
“When you talk about creativity, I saw that in the competition across most cocktails. Trust me, they executed very well, and most of the criteria we judged on were there,” she said.
Also reflecting on the inaugural Jamaica Bartender Week, Findlay remarked: “I love the turnout! What we have done from March 6 until now, we have been around local bars showing them our appreciation to the bartenders. [The week] has been going pretty well. Based on this expo, we can see where bartenders are now recognised.”
Showering JUBAM with praise for its vision, seasoned bartender Ovando Gayle called the inaugural expo a great morale booster for the local industry.
“For sure, this is the platform where bartenders in Jamaica are being highlighted. We’re often not celebrated, so JUBAM took the time to do that, which is a great sign. The overall vibe is excellent, everyone is coming together, having fun, and that’s what mixology is all about in general,” the Buzo Osteria Italiana bar manager explained.
“The bartending industry needs to have more celebratory events like these where it’s not about being the best; we can come together and enjoy the moment. I see the expansion for sure, I’m grateful to be a part of bartending and mixology, and I expect the industry only to get better [in the future],” added Gayle.
A similar sentiment was echoed by Robert Collins, business development manager at Miracle Corporation, which distributes Jamaican-owned 24 Karat beer, who welcomed the expo as a needed jolt for an industry that suffered greatly during the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s great! When natural competitors can come together with a spirit of camaraderie in the interest of the mixology and bartending industry, Jamaica wins. It grows Jamaica at the end of the day, and I’m happy about that,” he said.
“Arguably, over the last three years, we faced this pandemic, which has been traumatic for the industry. I think this is a move in the right direction; we’re reaching a point where people are [clamouring] for more, and we need to showcase the spirits of Jamaica to the world. Educating our bartenders will take us to the next level, and this is a fantastic opportunity to do that,” Collins mused further.