Master of the Craft at the MARRIOTT Aruba Resort and Stellaris Casino

I was invited as a spectator to the bartenders’ competition, Masters of the Craft, at the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino. The mystery ingredient to be included in  every cocktail created by contestants was tamarind.

Sweet-sour, gooey, earthy, distinct, challenging.

There were six talented and ambitious contestants, five professional bartenders from among the resort restaurants and bars, and one determined soul hailing from the Loss Prevention team. They were standing in front of a professional setup, the mis-en-place included all bar tools, different glasses, a cutting board, a lemon press, jigger, strainer, shaker, ice bucket, the works. The contestants were to demonstrate their skills presenting six different original cocktails to the jury of three knowledgeable judges.

The competition’s first prize? An entry to the CALA regional semi-finals, the winner of which gets to go to the USA corporate Master of the Craft competition.

Each of the competitor took 10 minutes to review and collect items needed from a rich panty stocked with fruit, veggies, herbs, spirits and beer; they then came up with a plan, creating their craft cocktail in just 10 minutes more. The judges got to taste some pretty delicious concoction.

Derry Palm (1st place)

Cocktail name: Italian Summer

Bacardi Rum, Cucumber, Mint, Apple, Cherry Syrup, Lime juice, Tamarind, topped with Prosecco

Derry had a nicely balanced drink; you could taste the ingredients, cucumber, mint and the Prosecco float was a light and effervescent delight.

Yokasta Felix (2nd place)

Cocktail Name: Harabe di tamarind. An uninspired name: Tamarin syrup.

Banana liqueur, Tequila Patrón Silver, Frangelico, Coconut Malibú, Lime juice, Tamarind purée

This highball cocktail had a nice fruity flavor to it, the sweet-sour tamarind puree on the bottom, clear tequila on top, tamarind puree crown.

Camilo Salazar (3rd place)

Cocktail Name: My Roots (mis raices)

Tequila Anejo, 2 dash bitters, Lime juice, Balashi Beer, Tamarind syrup, Grapefruit juice, Pineapple juice, this michelada-style Mexican-inspired cocktail was refreshing, and original. Adding the beer lent a nice local touch to the drink.

Compliments to the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino for investing time and resources in a craft cocktail contest — they had a cooking competition too.  The event raises the bar on drinks on the island and inspires original creations, trains bartenders and bestows recognition.

Over the past years, and I am sorry to offend, island bartenders have been cutting corners and using mixes for everything. I think they no longer know how to make a Pina Colada from scratch. It’s also a question of output, and manpower, a craft cocktail takes time to concoct while the mixes are instant, and deliver more profit.

So most bars tend to go with the flow, not making much effort. But craft cocktail lovers are a market, and they aren’t afraid to pay for their drinks.

One more: The local palate is sweet, which influences mixologists, and most craft cocktail ordered and made around the resorts are overly-sweet.

A craft cocktail seeks to strike a divine BALANCE between the elements composing the drink, none can be too overpowering.

Mixology is indeed an art form.

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June 29, 2023
Rona Coster