Meet the Bartenders Jet-Setting to Barbados for Mount Gay Rum’s ‘A Taste of Home’ Cocktail Competition

Over the last few weeks, hundreds of bartenders across the country have shaken and stirred original cocktails inspired by the places they call home for Mount Gay Rum’s “A Taste of Home” cocktail competition, sponsored by VinePair and with Collectif 1806. Inspired by Mount Gay Rum’s connection to Barbados, the island where the prestigious rum has been distilled since 1703, competitors were tasked with crafting one-of-a-kind cocktails that utilize local ingredients and emphasize sustainability.

Now, after the regional competitions, the six finalists are gearing up for an exclusive trip to Barbados, where they will explore the brand’s home and compete head-to-head for the national title. To learn more about the finalists — and their winning cocktails — keep reading, and be sure to follow @mountgayrum and @collectif1806 on Instagram to discover who wins the “A Taste of Home” cocktail competition.

The Bartender: Patty Dennison

Region: Northeast
Works at: Grand Army Bar
Hometown: Atlanta
Cocktail: Peachy Keen

Photo Credit: Joanna Lin

Inspired by her Southern upbringing, Patty Dennison combines two iconic Georgia flavors in her “Peachy Keen” cocktail: peach and cornbread.

“Growing up in Atlanta, we always had cornbread in the house,” she says. “Whether it was something we had with dinner or toasted for breakfast, it was a staple in my household.” Summer road trips to visit her grandparents required a pit stop at a nearby peach orchard, after which Dennison and her grandfather would spend the afternoon canning fresh peaches so they could enjoy the seasonal fruit all year long.

“My mom would bake cornbread [and] we would top it with the preserves and broil it to caramelize all the sugar,” she recalls. “These are the flavors that remind me of home.”

Dennison earned an associate degree in culinary arts and a bachelor’s degree in hotel administration before falling in love with bartending during college. She worked at a popular New York City bar where she discovered her passion for rum. “It’s maybe the only spirit I enjoy drinking neat and something that I always gravitate to,” she says. “Moving forward in this competition would mean a lot to me because rum is really what made me love bartending and this industry. To visit the [Mount Gay Rum] distillery and learn about where the rum is made and the culture of Barbados, that would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Check out Patty on Instagram: @pineapple_patt.

The Bartender: Graham Essex

Region: Midwest
Works at: Gibsons Italia
Hometown: Chicago
Cocktail: 6 Corners

Photo Credit: Sammy Faze

For Graham Essex, the “6 Corners” cocktail encapsulates his experience growing up in Chicago. “North, Damen, and Milwaukee — the Six Corners. For almost my entire life, I have called these streets home. Just off of this intersection is where I grew up, fell in love with creating cocktails, and was first introduced to Mount Gay Rum,” he says.

From weekends spent downstate surrounded by open space, corn fields, and farm country to the industry bar he would frequent after a particularly grueling shift, Graham’s experiences in the Windy City can all be seen in the recipe, which also honors those who inspired him the most.

“I’m just a Northside Chicago kid who lucked into doing something he deeply enjoyed super early on. Falling in love with the service industry and cocktails is such a gift and privilege,” he says. “Honestly, I’m just so thrilled to compete with so many talented people who nerd out about the same things I do. To be able to travel the world because of one drink I made inspired by my upbringing would be an incredible treat.”

Check out Graham on Instagram: @gsxbar.

The Bartender: Melanie Getman

Region: Northwest
Works at: Copra
Hometown: San Francisco
Cocktail: Brass Monkey Revival

As a multidisciplinary artist, business owner, and first-generation Chinese-Portuguese American, Melanie Getman drew upon her far-reaching roots to craft her cocktail.

With 14 years of hospitality experience, Melanie decided to reinvent an old favorite: the Brass Monkey. “Often pre-batched and slung en masse to crowds at the raucous dance parties of my youth, I wanted to keep its rebellious and quick, pourable nature but in an updated and sustainable revival of sorts,” she explains.

What inspired her most, though, were the Pacific madrone trees native to the San Francisco Bay area. “When the Spanish settlers first came upon these shrubs, they named them manzanita after their small, apple-like fruit, which Indigenous people had used to make cider with for many years,” she says. “It wasn’t long before the Franciscan friars — the city’s namesake — followed suit. More tannic and tart than their larger look-alikes, I immediately imagined the light astringent apple flavors tying in perfectly with the sweeter, caramel apple and warming spice notes in the Mount Gay XO Triple Cask Blend.”

Check out Melanie on Instagram: @wideeyedwanderlust.

The Bartender: Marco Pastanella

Region: Southeast
Works at: Bar Kaiju
Hometown: Bari, Puglia, Italy
Cocktail: Radici

Photo Credit: Laine Zim

Marco Pastanella has lived in cities all over the world: London, New York, New Orleans, Charlotte, and now Miami. But Bari, Italy, is the place Pastanella truly calls home. “Italy is known for many things, especially the food, wine, and drinking culture. It is also known for its slow food methods. Sustainability is a part of everyday life in Italy — you respect the land and what it gives you,” he says.

This innate perspective lends itself perfectly to his submission for Mount Gay Rum’s “A Taste of Home” cocktail competition. “I grew up watching my mom making stocks from vegetable discards, baking breakfast cakes with leftover fruit, and using leftover wine to create homemade liqueurs. I’ve taken all these methods with me and put them into practice,” he says.

Inspired by the way olive trees and vineyards coexist in Southern Italy, Pastanella’s “Radici” incorporates tasting notes reminiscent of the region’s summertime staples. “This cocktail reminds me of home,” he says, “not only because of the delicious ingredients but because of the sustainable practices I used to create it.”

Check out Marco on Instagram: @in_rum_we_trust.

The Bartender: Jesse Rodriguez

Region: Southwest
Works at: The Ordinarie
Hometown: Hollister, Calif.
Cocktail: 1868

Photo Credit: Karl Steuck

Jesse Rodriguez was raised in a small farm town south of the San Francisco Bay Area, and his respect for his roots helped inform his “1868” cocktail. “I come from an agricultural community where we grow food for consumers locally and nationwide,” he says. “That’s why it was so important for me to use local ingredients from around my hometown on my journey to create this cocktail.”

The name “1868” is a nod to the year that his hometown of Hollister, Calif., was founded. The cocktail itself is Rodriguez’s interpretation of a Black Manhattan, one made with local California ingredients and Mount Gay XO rum. “When I think of home, I think of the fall and the harvest festival, but mostly, I think of the hard-working individuals who take pride in their trade and craft coming together as a community.”

Check out Jesse on Instagram: @doublej_rod.

The Bartender: Chris O’Neal

Region: South
Works at: St. Joe’s Bar
Hometown: New Orleans
Cocktail: The Bayou Handshake

Photo Credit: Olly Mide

A self-proclaimed nomad and seeker, Chris O’Neal has lived everywhere from Europe to South America. He says he discovered his passion for mixology in Miami before moving to New York to learn from “some of the best bartenders and hospitality experts in the world.” His journey eventually led him to New Orleans, where he resides today.

The “Bayou Handshake” exemplifies O’Neal’s “localvore” mentality. Every ingredient in the cocktail is produced within 110 miles of his home, and most within 25 miles. “I have personally met the producer of each and every ingredient — save the good folks at Mount Gay Rum, which I hope to remedy soon — and purchased each ingredient directly from the producer. Loving a place means loving its people, and vice versa.”

O’Neal has worked in an array of establishments, from dive bars to high-end restaurants and everywhere in between. “Moving forward in this competition would give me the opportunity to show how great the produce of Louisiana is and how much can be done in the cocktail space with a handshake and a short drive out to the bayou.”

Check out Chris on Instagram: @chrisoneal.nola.

Follow Along!

Don’t forget to follow @mountgayrum and @collectif1806 on Instagram, and keep an eye out for the winner’s announcement!

This article is sponsored by Mount Gay Rum. The Mount Gay Rum ‘A Taste of Home’ cocktail competition is sponsored by VinePair.