Mr Allan Brown will forever be known as the winner of the world’s first cocktail & sound pairing competition. With his Frank Sinatra inspired serve My Way, the 29-year-old bartender from Rotterdam displayed a keen sense of taste and atmosphere. “Getting recognition from professionals motivates me to pursue my dreams even harder.”
His triumph was an unexpected surprise. As Mr Brown told me before, he didn’t think he’d stand a chance. But here he is, sitting across from me in a cozy coffee bar in Amsterdam’s red light district: the proud ‘grand winner’ of the first Sir Edmond & Sound Cocktail Competition. To get to know him a bit better, I fired a bunch of naive What-questions his way.
What was the start of your journey like?
“I was born and raised in Aruba and started my career at age sixteen in a beach bar. When I came to Rotterdam to study Small Business and Retail Management, working in hospitality was the obvious choice. At a Mexican restaurant I learned how to make basic cocktails like the Margarita. Everyone advised me to go to Breakaway. They have a very good bar program and can teach you from scratch how to be a bartender.”
What did you learn at the Breakaway Café?
“Four years ago I started as a dishwasher before moving on to being a waiter and finally ending up behind the bar. I had to learn one hundred different cocktails by heart only to be able to join the training period. My manager Rick de Groot taught me everything I know and allowed me to develop both my knowledge and bartending skills. Instead of swimming and bodyboarding, my favourite pastimes in Aruba, I became obsessed with making cocktails. I learned to approach my drinks as an experience.”
What do you mean by that?
“A cocktail isn’t just about the taste. It also has to look good and smell good. The Sir Edmond & Sound Cocktail Competition proved that music also contributes to the experience. Winning it is a motivation to do more competitions and pursue the next step: becoming a bar manager. I would love to be able to execute all my ideas and compile my own cocktail menu one day.”
What inspires you?
“When I’m travelling I always try to visit different cocktail bars. Whatever catches my imagination, I try to translate into my own creation. I recently had some really good experiences in Cologne and Barcelona. In Cologne I ordered a cocktail that looked like beer, which served as inspiration for a drink I created for the cocktail competition of a Dutch genever brand. Other sources of inspiration are YouTube, fellow bartenders and tastes that remind of Aruba – tropical fruits like tamarind, water melon and mango.”
What is the secret to being a great bartender?
“You have to be an entertainer. You have to be able to keep a guest at your bar. That’s the hardest part, everything else you can learn. It’s something that you’ve got to have in you, and I think I do.”
What did your preparation for Sir Edmond & Sound look like?
“When I first tried Sir Edmond, I was surprised by the smooth taste. Vanilla goes with almost everything. That’s both an advantage and a challenge, because how do you complement the vanilla notes? I consulted an encyclopedia of tastes and found the entry on vanilla, which mentioned figs. The entry on figs mentioned walnuts. Those three became my starting point. For the sour note I used lemon juice, for depth Angostura. It was good but lacking one final touch. After experimenting with different sherry’s and even coffee beans, I decided on Averna, an Italian amaro. Then it was perfect. Having a signature serve like My Way is every bartender’s dream.”