Ryan’s in the mix of it
IF RYAN ADAMSON had his way he would talk politics all day. The holder of a degree in sociology and political science from the University of the West Indies instead had to talk about rums and sours and cocktails when he sat down with EASY magazine last week Friday.
“I really thought I was going to go into politics or get involved in some thing community-wise. I was parish ambassador for St Joseph and I did a lot of community work,” said the 40-year-old past student of Alleyne Secondary.
He also holds an associate degree in bar technology and events management from the Barbados Community College hospitality institute.
“The event management is to give me an all rounded feel. As a mixologist I also wanted to see how events were planned and executed and how I could fit that into my field.”
Ryan had just finished his last exam at UWI when he got a call from Mount Gay to fill in for a bartender, even though he had limited skills. Since he saw that it was something he was good at he decided to do the associate degree.
That was 2011 and he is still at Mount Gay.
What changed his plans for politics? He wholeheartedly (and jokingly) blamed Chesterfield Browne.
“He [Browne] was Mount Gay International brand ambassador. And I saw him making cocktails for a photoshoot. It just awoken something in me. It was just a drink with a grapefruit and he was burning the skin . . .” Ryan said, as his mind took him back to that time and I sat waiting for the euphoria or remembering to subside.
“You can see how I was when I saw that?” he asked me. “I still get that feeling when I create something special.”
One of those creations allowed him to win Bartender of the Year 2016 and a spot on the Barbados Culinary team to Taste Of The Caribbean in Miami in June.
But the road to today wasn’t smooth. Ryan had to go over a couple of bumps as in losing his first competition in 2014.
“It was the MixMaster competition. I lost in the first round. It hurt. This was my very first competition,” he said.
Ryan’s competition skills were limited at that time. One of the reasons was that he could not take part in many mixologists competitions as many of them are product based, and not affiliated with Mount Gay.
“I thought my skills and drinks were good. But I recognised I had some flaws. So I tried to improve on them by entering National Independence Festival Of Creative Arts (NIFCA) in same year. Forgot an ingredient in the first round. Went home again. That hurt.
“I was so upset,” he said.
He said he told himself 2015 and 2016 would be his defining years.
“I started to believe more in myself and that I could achieve all my goals. So I entered NIFCA again in 2015 with a drink called Saturday Special.
It is a cocktail based on souse so all the ingredients of pickled onion, parsley, scotch bonnet pepper, cucumbers and I made a refreshing cocktail out of it.”
He got a silver medal and winning cocktail of the competition.
It was now time for all those who felt they were the best of the best to try their hand at making the Barbados culinary team to Miami.
“I was between minds if to enter or not. I didn’t want to suffer that disappointment again. I told Jamaal Bowen (who has won many mixologists awards and a past member of the team) that I wasn’t sure. Up to the night before the competition I didn’t say yea, I was entering.”
Ryan said he already had a cocktail done and was still playing around with the last one.
He decided to enter and turned up at Divi the morning.
“We were to prepare two cocktails for the judges in ten minutes – one alcoholic and one non-alcoholic. My non-alcoholic was called Sweet and Sour Two-Piece Bikini. The alcoholic was called Passionate Carnival Queen.”
In the first round were 12 competitors and the finalists were cut down to five.
Ryan made it out the first round.
“That was like a heavy sigh of relief. We came to Red Door Lounge for the finals last month and it was a mystery basket challenge. His winning cocktail was Spicy Jam.
“There was a mandatory ingredient of gooseberry jam and I used fresh ginger, ginger beer, Black barrel rum and Claytons Kola Tonic and lemon juice.”
The announcement was made that night and Ryan was sweating.
“I didn’t know how it would go. Philip Antoine who won last year was next to me. It was very emotional for me. He placed second and I came first. I told him I felt like I was going to cry,” Ryan said unashamedly.
He is now elbow deep into training for Miami (three days a week) and says training is going well, although it is an adjustment period.
“My way is to create in my head and then I make it and tweak it. They do it different here and it is also a group setting as there is the coach and the assistant and other bartenders who are invited to train with us.”
The team is working on three drinks and fine-tuning them – there will be a culinary, one is a twist on a classic and one is non-alcoholic.
Ryan has travelled extensively from Scotland to Amsterdam to Paris and when he does he makes sure to take in the drinking scene to expand on his knowledge and to also see what other mixologists are doing.
Ryan deals with rum mostly and says he has has strange requests to make different cocktails.
“My cocktails are limited to rum-based. What makes a good bartender is a good spirit and a good bartender.”
Ryan has created cocktails that have ended up on other bar and restaurant menus. He says he used to be upset about not being recognised but not anymore.
“My feeling is if you create something so good that others want to imitate it, let it go. I tell myself I make drinks for people to enjoy.
“I do it for love and give it to the world.”
As Bartender Of The Year he will be flying the flag high as the mixologist for Barbados.
“I want to take home Caribbean Bartender Of The Year. It is my first time so I want to do well. It is go big or go home.”