For those of you that don’t recognize the name, Diageo is a global leader in beverage alcohol, and is known locally for producing Captain Morgan Rum. Diageo’s ‘Learning Skills for Life’ hospitality program has been offered in the United States for several years, but has more recently expanded to St. Croix. The annual program is designed to teach students both life and business skills needed to secure employment in the hospitality industry. This 8-week course is offered through UVI, and the students selected to participate get to learn hospitality skills in the restaurant and bar environment at balter, then complete 40 hours of internship.
Since the program is sponsored by Diageo, there is a focus on bartending for this course. However, Patrick pointed out that the program has been designed to encompass all the major areas of hospitality including: food and beverage service, customer relations, and food and alcohol safety. In fact, once they have completed the ‘Learning Skills for Life’ hospitality program, all of the participating students will have earned their ServSafe® certification from the National Restaurant Association.
While I was there to observe, Patrick quizzed the UVI students on some of the most common cocktails they would be asked to make as bartenders. For each cocktail, the students had to know the ingredients that made the drink, the garnishes, the preparation, and the type of glass in which the drink is served. After reviewing the quiz with the students and answering their questions, Patrick split the students into two groups for the hands-on portion of the class. During this part of class, each group of students was given three cocktails to make and they were asked to put their own spin on each of the drinks to give it a unique signature. They then had to present the cocktails to Patrick, explain how they made them, and explain what they did to put their twist on them. Not only did the students do a wonderful job on creating the cocktails, but they were very creative with their signatures.
In addition to teaching the standard bartending techniques, tools and recipes, Patrick also gives the students time each week in what he calls the ‘mixology lab’. During the lab, students are given the chance to experiment with creating their own signature cocktails based on what they have learned. For those of you that don’t know, balter is known for using locally grown and sourced ingredients to create their cocktails. The balter staff squeezes fresh juices, scratch-makes bitters and syrups, and infuses their own liquors for their ‘farm-to-bar’ cocktails. This passion for showcasing fresh, local ingredients is being passed on to the UVI students. In fact, I was pleased to hear from several of the students that they were experimenting with infusing their own liquors and making their own bitters at home. This adds a very important layer of creativity to the class, while also reminding the students of the wealth of local ingredients St. Croix offers for their use.
As someone who enjoys a creative and well-made cocktail, thank you to Diageo and balter for offering this amazing program to the next generation of St. Croix’s bartenders. And to the UVI students who are participating in the ‘Learning Skills for Life’ program, we look forward to seeing what you bring to the island’s hospitality industry.
– Jennie Ogden, Editor