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Bartender Matt’s award-winning perfect mix

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Shaking up the bar scene: Matt Francis took the top prize in the Absolut Bermuda Best Bartender contest (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Meet Matt Francis, the 27-year-old who’s shaking up the bartending scene.

He won the Stoli Cocktail Masters Competition last summer and recently took home the top prize in the Absolut Bermuda Best Bartender contest. His cocktail, The Absolut Certain-Tea, beat out four others in the January 12 event. The Devil’s Isle bartender tells us more ...

How did it feel to win the Absolut Bermuda Best Bartender contest?

A: It was a great honour just to be selected as one of the final five to compete in the grand final. It’s always fantastic to have the opportunity to meet and compete against some of the other fantastic bartenders on the island. For a small country we’re really fortunate to have so many skilled and passionate bartenders and each competition allows me to learn from each of them.

How did you prepare for it?

A: When it comes to creating a cocktail there’s always a lot of trial and error, especially if you’re trying to mix ingredients that you typically don’t see/taste together.

For every cocktail I make I start off with the primary alcohol — in this case Absolut vodka. I like to research and try the spirit on its own to work out its flavour profile and what flavours it reminds me of. Once I’ve got a few ideas I build on it from there, adding other flavours might complement the drink or bring out some profiles I can taste in the spirit. The process takes a lot of time and patience and quite a few leaps in imagination to find something that’s truly special.

Were there any challenges/hiccups along the way?

A: Although I’m a great believer in using fresh ingredients it can often bring some interesting challenges. With the peach purée I found the flavour of the purée would vary a lot depending on the quality and seasonality of the fruit.

Getting the infusion for the Earl Grey Vodka just right was tricky too. If I left the tea to infuse for too short a time, I wouldn’t get the right flavour. But too long and the vodka takes on a very bitter tannin flavour from the tea.

At what point did you know you had it exactly right?

A: There were several versions of this cocktail using different ingredients and different quantities. We ran the cocktail as a special at Devil’s Isle for six weeks before the final. This allowed me to get some great feedback from the customers and make some modifications along the way. All the customers who tried the final cocktail really enjoyed the drink, especially the variety of flavours in it, which complement each other really well.

Did you learn anything new this time around?

A: Patience is definitely a skill you need to hone as a bartender, as well as learning to ask for help/advice from others. It was a great help to have people there to try out my experiments and give me insights/pointers that I might not have considered.

Every competition that I compete in gives me a chance to push myself and learn what my strengths and weaknesses are. No matter how many competitions you do there’s always nerves. To me, the nerves show that you care about what you’re doing.

What’s next for you?

A: To have won two bartending competitions in my first year bartending on the island has been a massive surprise and a huge honour. Topping that is going to be pretty hard. I guess my next goal will be The Bermudian Magazine Awards, for Best Bartender and Best Cocktail menu. But even to be nominated in those categories would be a fantastic achievement for me.

Outside of that I’ve spent the past few months working really hard on the Devil’s Isle cocktail menu, introducing craft cocktails to the island and pushing my ethos of fresh and natural ingredients, so it would be amazing to get some recognition for it. There’s a few other really exciting potential projects in the pipeline too, so stay tuned!

Hits the spot: Matt Francis’s Absolut Certain-Tea vodka cocktail(Photograph supplied)
Award-winning tipple: the Absolut Certain-Tea vodka cocktail (Photograph by Akil Simmons)