Light misting rain coats the sidewalks and gray clouds keep the morning from truly waking up, but Cameron George is already behind the bar taking another pass at mixing a drink that could change his life.
“Go be perfect right now,” George tells himself as he preps the glass for his ‘Havana Hustle,’ a specialty cocktail that’s months in the making for the Bacardi Legacy competition. George won the Northwest regional late last year, and on February 13th he’s heading to Miami for this year’s American Finals.
If he wins there, the Hustle goes worldwide to Germany for the International Finals and a chance for George to become a company ambassador.
“It’s really about how perfect can I be in this presentation - how delicious of a cocktail I can make,” George said.
With a glint in his eye and a smile that could mistake him for Cam Newton’s younger brother, he channels a competitive fire that started when he played basketball at Portland’s Warner Pacific. He thrives on it.
“You’re up there and everybody goes silent. Nobody’s saying anything and it’s just your voice,” George said.
So what exactly is this award-winning cocktail, the Havana Hustle?
Calling it a riff off a traditional daiquiri, George’s version uses a special blend of chocolate sugars and habenero called ‘Hustle Dust’ for the rim.
“Coat the rim with orange,” said George. “That way you give something for the sugar to stick onto.”
From there, unique but accessible ingredients follow:
- ½ oz lime juice
- ½ oz Giffard banane de bresil
- ¼ oz Amaro di Angostura from Trinidad
- 2 oz Bacardi Ocho
- 2 dashes of Scrappy’s Bitters from Theo chocolate in Fremont
- 3 dashes maraschino liqueur
Part of the challenge of winning the Bacardi Legacy is fine-tuning a cocktail for flavor, but also with purpose and meaning. George feels he has the ingredients for both – and it starts with the name. With Bacardi’s Cuban and Caribbean roots, the spice and flavors have to connect. ‘Havana Hustle’ is inspired by the capital city, but also the fact that Bacardi’s founder Don Fecundo and his wife were avid patrons of dancing and music.
George said Fecundo’s wife Amalia was a fan of the afro-cubano dance called the Habenero, which is the inspiration for the sweet and spicy dusted rim for the Hustle. That sense of history also permeates the makeup of the drink’s components.
At the core? Salsa dancing.
“Three distinct steps,” George explained. One forward, one in place, and one backward. The cocktail represents all three because of his research.
- A step forward represents Fecundo’s use of charcoal filtration, which George notes was rare and revolutionary at the time Bacardi began.
- The step in place is Bacardi’s use of aging liquor with spice barrels and hints of vanilla.
- Finally, the step backward is Fecundo’s own sense of history, harkening back to his native Spain and the country’s distillation and fermentation methods.
George feels adding that compelling story and nod to history will help him. But even if the Havana Hustle doesn’t win, he’ll have made an impact. On February 7th, he’ll be mixing the drink at Rumba in Seattle, and all proceeds of the sales will go to the Carlos Acosta Foundation in Havana. The group has been working on completing a dance studio first commissioned by Fidel Castro in 1961. The work was never finished and the site has been all but abandoned.
A drink, a dance, and a chance to make a difference.
“It was really a way to use the stage, but really do something more than just make it about a cocktail,” George said.
He’ll weave the Hustle’s story and the fight to finish the studio as he blends the drink in front of 200 onlookers and competitors. A cocktail that could change his life - and the lives of others.