Some of the world's acclaimed cocktails can be enjoyed right here in Trinidad and Tobago—in fact, coming from one of the world's top mixologists, you better believe it!
On Carnival Sunday at Angostura House, on the Eastern main Road in Laventille, Daniyel Jones impressed the world with his elegant cocktail compositions—shaking and stirring his way to first place, beating out ten other competitors from across the globe in the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge (GCC).
With signature ingredients which include Angostura five-year-old rum, mace-infused simple syrup, yellow chartreuse, Portugal liqueur, Angostura aromatic bitters and smoke from fresh cinnamon baked soaked in Angostura aromatic biters, Jones impressed the world so much so that renowned cocktail connoisseurs, including his mentors, lauded his skills and ability to fuse ingredients for his winning concoctions.
His success, he acknowledges, did not come easy, as the competition was fierce and the judges' standards of excellence were extremely high. He nevertheless pulled it off to come up with a perfect concoction called "The Charmer". Jones also impressed with an elegant rum cocktail called "Smokey Bitters".
Jones, 30, who manages his company Martini Makers Ltd, alongside his fiancée Marisa Leiba, keeps a step ahead of his peers in the industry—he spends his days (and nights) thinking cocktails—imagining how this ingredient might blend with that one and thinking up flavour combos.
He plans to revolutionise the cocktail industry, starting first right here at home and then internationally. His job as Angostura's Global Brand Ambassador (a contract he also won as part of the Global Cocktail Challenge) is the platform in which he intends to do so.
His aim is to show the world that some of the best cocktails come from T&T, noting that many people associate the Caribbean with "pink and sweet" cocktails, he says he intends to change that view.
He says right here in T&T there is a melting pot of ingredients that can create some of the world's signature cocktails. This cornucopia of ingredients is what gave him the advantage among a slate of international competitors from Africa, Russia, United Kingdom, North America, New Zealand, Ukraine, India and Jamaica.
His inspirations to create signature cocktails come from various directions. In the same way a chef takes time to create a meal and is meticulous in creating the right balance with his flavours, so too does the mixologist when crafting a cocktail. There is a thin line between a bartender and a mixologist—Jones acknowledges the two, but he insists, however, that he is a mixologist.
He explained that mixology has become a more commonly used term in recent years and is generally accepted to be a refined, higher study of mixing cocktails and drinks than the everyday actions of a bartender. Most of his knowledge in the world of mixology comes from personal research. The mixologist says there is no learning institute in T&T or the region to facilitate further development of his craft.
Jones says one of the memorable aspects of the competition which he will never forget was when his mentors and judges, Salvatore Calabrese and Hidetsugu Ueno, lifted their hands in praise for his accomplishment after tasting his cocktail brew. "I gave myself a personal challenge when I knew Salvatore and Hidetsugu were coming. They are my mentors, so I was really looking forward to meeting them. I felt so challenged. Salvatore is known as a legend. I asked myself how I could impress my mentors. And it was so rewarding for me at the end of creating the cocktails to see both of them raise their hands and applaud my creations. That was it for me," Jones says.
"I'm a Caribbean boy. We grew up having so many influences in our culture; so you really want to entice international judges and allow them to embrace your Caribbean flavours. But you also have to remember that they have an international palate so they may prefer a dry cocktail as opposed to a sweet cocktail. I did a lot of research going into the competition. By understanding their palate profile you can create the right cocktail and give them a memorable experience. As global ambassador, I intend to showcase to other mixologists the versatility of the iconic ingredients we have in T&T," Jones says.
"The art of mixology is really a deeper understanding in flavour profiles, techniques and understanding and what it takes to create the perfect martini and the prefect cocktail. A mixologist has a lot more knowledge as the average bartender. There is a very thin line between them—a mixologist will be able to identify classic spirits. I am considered as a mixologist."
"There is no institution that allows you to develop greater knowledge in our craft. There are basic bartending courses offered but I have learned my skills through research. Caribbean bartenders are not privy to most of the mixology trends. The Caribbean is synonymous with pina coladas and daiquiris, but I always do my personal research. I always ensure that I am up to date with the current trends, equipment and techniques. I have a wide library that I have built on my own. I have innovative equipment that I've purchased; everyone was impressed with my personal equipment at the competition."
"I worked hard and I am very grateful. When you look at presenters in the cocktail arena you don't have Caribbean bartenders being showcased internationally. I really wanted to showcase my understanding. I practised, I researched and I felt that if I could find a way to fuse Caribbean flavours with the international palate I would stand out," Jones says.
Jones also showcased the calabash bowl and a swizzle stick—utensils indigenous to T&T. He did it intentionally, he says. "So you have a calabash bowl and a swizzle stick being featured as part of a mixologist's selection of tools. For me that was another highlight of the competition. I wanted to showcase those utensils," he says.
"I have reached this far by having a genuine love of bartending and the craft of mixology. When you are crafting a cocktail you have to remember who is going to drink this cocktail—the craft lends itself to create something that is going to stand as a classic. I am embracing the versatility of the craft. A good knowledge of classic recipes allows you as a mixologist to create your own creation by a standard that has already been upheld. For instance, I would take the classic martini and do a Caribbean variation of it using
classic spirits, but with the inclusion of bay leaf."
Jones is also focused on taking his company to the next level. "My fiancée and I own our own company, Martini Makers Ltd; we also offer professional bar services. We've been in the business for five years and the company has been doing great. We are looking to capture much more of the market share. I'm looking forward to increasing the skill level of bartenders. One thing with this competition is that it challenges you to ensure that your skill level and product knowledge and understanding of mixology is at a high standard," Jones says.
Jones is also an advocate for drinking responsibly. "I always advocate drinking responsibly. Embrace alcohol in the same way as you embrace fine food. Alcohol should not be seen as a drug. When you look at it as a drug you are taking shots with the intention of getting intoxicated. Liquor should not be used in excess. Jones, who was named T&T's Bartender of the Year in 2011, made it to the GCC finals where he won Best Rum Cocktail and placed fourth—in that year he also competed in the regional competition, Taste of the Caribbean, where he also won Best Rum Cocktail and Most Creative Cocktail.
In 2012 he again won the National Bartender title, but didn't qualify for GCC although he competed in Taste of the Caribbean, wining Best Rum Cocktail, Best Vodka Cocktail and Most Creative Cocktail.
In 2013, he finally made it to the finals again, this time copping Best Freestyle Cocktail and the overall title of the GCC winner.
"Embarking on opportunities like this is a milestone. It's an achievement to pursue mixology," Jones said.
For further information on Martini Makers Ltd, Jones can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org