Fri | Aug 7, 2020

JWN Academy to mix, conquer at Taste of Jamaica

Published:Wednesday | November 21, 2018 | 12:00 AMKrysta Anderson/ Gleaner Writer

The highly anticipated annual gastronomic experience that is Taste of Jamaica is all set to whet and satisfy the discerning palates with bursts of creative and unique flavours. Looking to mix things up and conquer in the cocktails category this weekend, are three talented mixologists who are proud products of the J. Wray and Nephew Academy. Want to learn more about their juicing journey? Well, you're in luck! Here are the sweet and rummy punch profiles of Renee Watt, Randeen Thomas and Milton Wisdom.


Renee Watt


Age: 32

Graduated JWN Academy: December 2017, completing courses in Rum level one and two and bar operations.

Current place of employment: Murray's Fish and Jerk Hut as a mixologist

Been a bartender: Six years. I wanted to challenge myself at something else. My father was a rum lover, so growing up, I learned to appreciate the merriment of high spirits.

Fave drink to make: Jerk daiquiri. It's a reflection of our culture and it is so much fun to make. And it's an underestimated mix as well. When I create it for the first time, people exclaim, 'Jerk seasoning?' So I always smile. But they love it and return for more.

First place of mixing employment: Nan's Bar in Clarendon back in 2007. It was my first time working in a bar. I didn't know much. Fast forward to 2016 at Kaluga Restaurant. I was hired as a mixologist. It was a bit overwhelming at first. I was challenged to create mixes and I dominated. Hearing that the mixologist at the restaurant was female brought an even bigger crowd, and they all came out and had a good time. Everybody loves me. I was at work when JWN Academy came with the pamphlet for school. I enrolled last year. It's amazing being a female mixologist. People don't just say 'you're a woman', they treat you and your craft with respect.

Number(s) of entry into Taste of Jamaica: First time

Categories entering in the Taste of Jamaica Competition: Rum, vodka, non-alcoholic and a mystery basket.

Hopes for the competition: I entered to give the academy and my workplace more exposure. So I aspire to do all of that and I'm looking forward to the exciting experience.


Randeen Thomas


Age: 25

Graduated JWN Academy: November 2017. I've done courses - Wines 101, Aperitif level one, Rum level one by Master Blender Joy Spence and Rum level two, Rum master class with Senior Blender David Morrison, Bar Operations and Bar Supervision, and AE Product Knowledge.

Current place of employment: Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience as the Head Bartender/All Rounder.

Been a mixologist: 7 years. My mother and father were the main reason for this career venture. They were always making creative juices and I would steal it out just to drink. Also, I would often make my own mock-tails, so that led me to becoming a bartender.

Fave drink to make: Lifespan (leaf of life, mint, gin, ginger, simple syrup and lemon juice). The inspiration came from my mother, who made tea with it and I wanted to bring that life into a drink.

First place of mixing employment: Cafe Eurasia in Market Place back in the day, was where I started seven years ago in 2011. Theresa Sinclair, in Marketing at J Wray and Nephew, came to a bar that I was employed at and she introduced me to Christine Wood. From there, I did events. They had a J Wray and Nephew cocktail project, and Mixologist Milton Wisdom and I worked on it.

Number(s) of entry into Taste of Jamaica: first time

Categories entering in the Taste of Jamaica Competition: rum, vodka, non alcoholic and a mystery basket.

Hopes for the competition: I'm a creative bartender, so I would like to showcase my skills in a competitive manner. I want to win Taste of Jamaica, of course, but I want to bring Taste of the Caribbean Championship title to Jamaica - that has never been done before.


Milton Wisdom


Age: 30

Graduated JWN Academy: June 2015 with courses - Wines 101, Aperitif level one, Rums level one by Master Blender Joy Spence, Bar Operations, AE Product Knowledge and Media Training via Media Extraordinaire Fay Ellington.

Current place of employment: Cellar 8 as Head Bartender/Supervisor.

Been a bartender: 5 years. I had a passion for mixing drinks. Growing up in St Thomas, I used to get fruits and blend them up on the weekend, with my twist. I originally wanted to work on the cruise ship and enrolled in Caribbean Maritime Institute. But mixing was my calling.

Fave drink to make: Mojito

I love the intricacy of the flavours and the ingredients involved. It's a tricky mix, so you have to create that perfect balance of sweet, tangy and spiritually rummy. Mojitos are very versatile too, I'd twist them in many ways: passion fruit mojito, sorrel mojito, red wine mojito, white wine mojito and of course, the classic mojito.

First place of mixing employment: I was later introduced to Top Shelf Company or Hillrun Enterprises. I spent a year with them and then got introduced to J Wray and Nephew through Sean Gonzalez. There, I met Christine Wood and Pietro Gramegna.

Number(s) of entry into Taste of Jamaica: It's my second time entering the competition. The first time was a learning experience. It was nerve wracking because it was my first competition in front of an audience. But I soaked in the dos and don'ts. And it was good networking.

Categories entering in the Taste of Jamaica competition: rum, vodka, non alcoholic and a mystery basket.

Hopes for the competition: Last year, I got a silver medal in the vodka category for my the cocktail, Lobster Rose. So I hope to go one better this year and take home the gold.