Battle of the rum mixologists

Sylvanus Johnson’s mango dipped in chili piquin —a pepper, sugar and salt mixture (tangy but not hot) is the final flourish for this savory rum cocktail.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

It’s the second year in a row when mixologist Vincentian Sylvanus Johnson will compete in the June finals of Caribbean Week New York’s Mixologist of the Year.

A battle of six mixologists took place at Roof at Park South Hotel on May 15, the first round in the competition. Using Seven Fathoms, other rums and additional ingredients (some secret), they used their spirits’ artistry to create unique, flavorful and hopefully winning cocktails.

The score tied between the top two. The other finalist Dani DeLuna will compete with Johnson at Caribbean Week’s Rum Rumble on Thursday June 8.

At the bar, three judges focused on the mixologists listening intently to the narratives as they went into action one at a time, concocting their cocktails.

Judging criteria included the stories behind the drinks as well as the tastes.

Last year Sylvanus Johnson won at the semi-finals and finished second overall.

Sylvanus Johnson was born in St. Vincent and The Grenadines, hailing from the town of Biabou and immigrated when he was six. He grew up in Brooklyn and has lived in New York for 22 years.

What’s his connection to rum? “I have a love for rum above all other spirits,” he said. “I also enjoy the flavors of the burnt sugar cane that give rum notes of vanilla, nuts, pineapple, and spice,” he added with a knowledgeable flourish.

Bartending for nine years, how did he get into bartending? He was “mentored by a family friend who got me a bar back job when I was nineteen,” he said. “I tried to learn as much as I could about spirits, bartending, and food from the people I worked with and became a bartender.”

Dani DeLuna stands behind her special (secret) syrups and additions that she is using for her winning creation.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

He rattled off a list of bars he tended. You can find him at Westlight in the William Vale Hotel in Williamsburg and upstate in Hudson, NY at Backbar.

What goes into the winning drink — he calls Darow, named for his grandmother — that made him a finalist?

This savory cocktail featured Matusalem and Seven Fathoms rums, green mango puree with cholula hot sauce, salt, and pepper with charred green bell pepper and lemon juice, in a labor intensive invention.

“The flavors are seasonal and Caribbean, inspired by memories I have of eating green mangos with chili sauce, lemon and salt,” he said.

He served it over crushed ice with a flamed bell pepper rosette and mango dipped in chili piquin —a pepper, sugar, salt mixture (it was tangy but not hot).

The other finalist DeLuna’s cocktail was named Mark V — a large-format Barrel based on how they drink Planter’s Punch in the Cayman Islands!

Organized by the CTO, Caribbean Week (which starts June 4) New York is the largest, most engaging regional tourism activity in the city. Events take place at Wyndham New Yorker Hotel except for the sixth annual Rum & Rhythm Benefit, June 9, at Capitale, which raises monies to go to scholarships and study grants to Caribbean students pursuing studies in tourism and hospitality and related subjects.

Caribbean Week showcases the sights, sounds, colors, culture and unique holiday experiences of the Caribbean and during the week attracts tourism officials, artists, investors and other strategic partners.

With competition judges, the Rum Rumble finalists—Sylvanus Johnson and Dani DeLuna hold bottle of Seven Fathoms rum, used as the base for the cocktail.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

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