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VIDEO: Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines' First Cohort

Thursday, January 17, 2019

In August of last year, Debbian Spence-Minott launched the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines at the Trade Centre on Red Hills Road. In November, the first cohort of students was enrolled and on Thursday, January 10, they graduated from the programme. The ceremony, attended by the students' families and friends, supporters of Spence-Minott, members of the local wines and spirits industry and tourism officials, was the fruit of Spence-Minott's passion, hard work and dedication.

Spence-Minott is a seasoned wines and spirits educator. She gained her knowledge through her steering and overseeing of the Mot Hennessy portfolio in Jamaica, opening the Campari academy and working closely with bartenders islandwide. These roles allowed her to see first-hand the issues that the local bartending industry faced. These concerns led her to open the academy and subsequently launch the Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists.

Last Thursday saw 10 students (two of whom were in absentia due to work here and overseas) graduate from the intensive six-week programme. More than half of the graduates achieved distinctions (over 90% on final assessment) and three received mixologist designations — two junior and one senior. For the six weeks, students spent 63 hours doing theory and practicals completing modules that included: the role of the bartender, safety and hygiene, customer service, classic cocktails, beers, rum, wines and fundamentals of the adult beverage industry. During the ceremony, it was announced that at the 2019 iteration of the Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards there would be a new category — Bartender of the Year.

In his response on behalf of the students, FJ Genus noted that locally there is a misconception about the role of bartenders. The profession goes way beyond “pouring drinks in a cup”. A good bartender can play the role of therapist, matchmaker and confidante all while creating “concoctions of pleasure”. Guest speaker Christelle Harris, marketing director of Hampden Estates and director of the award-winning Terra-Nova All-Suite Hotel, stressed just how integral the bar is to the overall dining experience and that both the academy and Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists are steps in the right direction as “the industry and economy need it”.

Locally, bartending is not widely regarded as a legitimate profession. Spence-Minott is on a mission to change that. Cohort by cohort the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines will produce talented bartenders and mixologists. Soon, Jamaica will have a robust cocktail culture spearheaded by certified and well-trained bartenders and mixologists. And there will be Spence-Minott, the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines and the Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists to thank for that.