The USBG Legacy Cocktail Showcase, a.k.a. Bacardi Legacy, is easily one of the most recognized bartending competitions in the world. Unlike competitions that prize over-the-top, imaginative and often complex concoctions, Legacy highlights the drinks that could one day become the Cuba Libres, daiquiris and mai tais of our generation: modern-day classics that will withstand the test of time, with recipes that can be easily replicated at bars around the world. A victory at Legacy is one of the highest honors that someone in the craft cocktail industry can achieve — and this year, it went to a bartender who’d never set foot on a competition stage before.
In fact, Gn Chan wasn’t even planning on entering the competition when he first developed the recipe for his winning drink: it was all part of a friendly staff competition at Angel’s Share, where he works. “It started as an assignment in our bar; everyone had to make a drink using Bacardi Legacy standards,” says Chan, who started developing his recipe in early spring of 2015. “The hard part is, you have to choose [ingredients] that everyone can easily get, and you have to represent your story,” he says. Chan experimented with many iterations of his recipe — and, he adds, had quite a few misfires. But he persisted. “You have to keep trying and trying and trying, because you learn from the errors.”
Recipes must include and draw inspiration from Bacardi rums and feature Superior or Gold as the dominant ingredient. But beyond tasking bartenders to invent a drink that features Bacardi, Legacy has a few other challenges that participants have to meet: recipes cannot contain more than six ingredients total, and only three of those can be alcohol-based. Sub-recipes are only allowed if they are straightforward and easy to replicate: a simple infusion or syrup, yes, but that signature hibiscus-peppercorn-walnut-thyme shrub you make in-house? Not so much. (Oh, and no fire.)
While it may seem like these constraints would inhibit the creative process, Chan says they laid the groundwork for creating a successful recipe. “Some regulation, some limit — that actually helps you to create something,” he says. “Back in college, my major was industrial design, and my mentor and professor always told me that the best design always came out from regulation or limits or rules. That's what I believe, too.”
Chan’s winning cocktail, Venceremos, is proof that simplicity and creativity aren’t mutually exclusive. The drink combines Bacardi Superior with coconut liqueur, pineapple, cucumber, lime and sesame oil: essentially a twist on the piña colada that integrates a classic flavor pairing from Asian cuisine (Chan is originally from Taiwan — and raised in a family that doesn't drink, by the way).
As for the competition itself? Chan says he was definitely nervous, though as he progressed through each stage, he became a little more confident. By the time he reached the global finals for the top eight, he felt pretty good about everything. “I wasn't really nervous,” he tells us. “And then I dropped the shaker.” Though it obviously didn’t hinder him from moving forward in the competition, the misstep did remind him to be a little more aware (and, he says, definitely spooked him a little for the next round). But Chan came out on top with a unanimous decision from Legacy judges, which included the likes of Dale DeGroff, Julie Reiner, Bacardi Maestro de Ron José Sanchez Gavito, and 2015 Legacy winner Frank Dedieu.
So, a bartender who was raised in a non-drinking family, who had never set foot on a competition stage in his life, and who wasn’t even really planning on entering his drink in the first place takes home one of the highest honors in bartending. How? I asked Chan to share any words of wisdom for future Legacy hopefuls. “Believe in yourself, and try to dig out your story more,” he says. “At the end of the day, you're the only one who can express yourself the most, and that's the most important part for this competition, I think. Try to find a connection with your story, and with Bacardi's story. Try to find your attitude or spirit, and learn to express yourself in different ways.”