Competition

Here Come the Judges

Find out what judges from World Class Global Final in 2016 thought of the contestants. Ueno San and Alex Kratena are among those giving their view.

So 2016 World Class has come and gone – with a great winner in Jennifer Le Nechet and an experience of Miami that won’t be forgotten quickly. But now that the dust has settled, it’s time to get our judges’ and Team Captain’s views. How did bartenders surprise and delight and what mistakes did they make? If you’re thinking of entering in 2017, this article is definitely the one for you.

Alex Kratena

Formerly head bartender at London’s Artesian bar at the Langham as it was voted Drinks International Number 1 bar in the world, Alex is also the founder of drinks network P(our) and presents and consults globally.

 

What is the single most important quality that you look for in a bartender when they compete?

I want competitors to make me feel like I am sat at their bar, I want to see, feel and experience their personality.

Is there one aspect that is frequently missing when you watch competitors?

Many people this year didn't prepare for the speed round.

What has surprised or delighted you recently in competition?

I was particularly impressed by Aidan Bowie’s Martini garnish in the form of vetiver hand lotion.

What would be one piece of advice you’d offer to this year’s new (2017) contestants?

Stop focusing so much on all the elements around the drink: most importantly, it’s what's in the glass and whether it is delicious. 

 

Dev Johnson

Dev is the head bartender at one of New York’s most renowned bars, Employees Only, placed seventh in the World’s 50 Best, and was a Team Captain for World Class 2016. 

 

What is the single most important quality that you look for in a bartender when they compete?

The ability to make a well-balanced drink with an understanding of how the ingredients work in the cocktail.

How did the 2016 Global Finalists manage compared to previous years/other competitions? Did you notice any trends in their approach/things you hadn’t seen before?

I honestly haven't had much experience with the previous World Class competitions. I did notice that people were, probably unknowingly, sacrificing the quality of the drink for putting on a better ‘show’, or expounding on their knowledge of cocktails or ingredients without actually understanding how they work from extensive personal experience.

Is there one aspect that is frequently missing when you watch competitors?

A sense of comfort. A sense that they actually work at a bar and can engage with guests on any number of topics. I know that is hard to translate during a competition, but I believe there should be a sense of ‘I've been here before’ and ‘I can do this anywhere’.

Also, missing for a majority of the competitors was a sense of fun.

What has surprised or delighted you in competition?

I was delighted by the heart and care that went into everything the competitors presented.

What would be one piece of advice you’d offer to this year’s new (2017) contestants?

Make a good, well-balanced drink. Study the classics and try to understand why they are so simple and so good. Work on flavour combinations and be honest with yourself about whether they are actually drinkable, and can be put on an actual menu and make money because they are good drinks, rather than putting ingredients together that sound interesting but don't actually work together. But most importantly, make a three-dimensionally flavoured drink that tells a story to the taste buds and palate, a drink that is round rather than flat and singular.

 

Pedro Miguel Schiaffano

Pedro heads up the kitchen at Malabar in Peru, one of South America’s top restaurants where he highlights the plight and ingredients of the Amazon jungle with his cooking. Malabar has been nominated by Food and Wine magazine as one of the most interesting culinary experiences on the planet.

 

What is the single most important quality that you look for in a bartender when they compete?

Coherence and consistency overall, and at the end a really tasty cocktail!

What has surprised or delighted you recently in competition?

How young and well-prepared most of the European bartenders are. The camaraderie between them and the good vibes are great!

What would be one piece of advice you’d offer to this year’s new (2017) contestants?

Pay more attention to the flavour of the cocktails.

 

Laura Cullen

The Vice President Sales Manager of Pacific Wines in San Francisco, US, Laura was recently inducted into The Dame Hall of Fame; a select listing of those women who have had a major impact on drinks and bartending.

 

What is the single most important quality that you look for in a bartender when they compete? 


Composure. It is the quality that best indicates how a competitor functions in their own bar. Ingredients go missing, drinks spill: how do you handle that?

How did the Global Finalists manage compared to other competitions? Did you notice any trends in their approach/things you hadn’t seen before? 

World Class is so different to other competitions I’ve seen, as there are so many components for which the competitors have to prepare. That being said, I saw a number of competitors weave a recurring theme throughout all of their challenges. I thought this was a smart strategy as it simultaneously displayed uniformity in theme and individuality in personality.

Is there one aspect that is frequently missing when you watch competitors? 

Forgetting to be a bartender. I’ve seen so many competitors shut down, lose eye contact and miss the opportunity to be in the moment. Engaging the customer is the cornerstone of a good bartender that should extend to judges in a competition.

What has surprised or delighted you recently in competition? 

Camaraderie: these are competitions yes, but the amount of support I’ve seen competitors give each other is definitely on the rise, and it’s wonderful. From lending a forgotten/lost/broken tool, to helping source ingredients, to an encouraging word. Community, that’s what’s up.

What would be one piece of advice you’d offer to this year’s new (2017) contestants?

Bring everything you have to the competition, and leave it all on the bar. If you have not thoroughly designed and practiced your plan, you will not effectively implement it at competition. Similarly, over-rehearsed ‘canned’ performances are not going to get you to the end. Prepare, prepare, prepare – then on competition day let the very best elements of who you are shine.

 

John Lermayer

The mastermind behind the cocktail menu at The Florida Room at Delano in Miami and winner of the Bar Chef Challenge at Tales of the Cocktail in 2008, John is the owner of Sweet Liberty, based on Miami Beach, it won Best New American Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail in 2016.

 

What is the single most important quality that you look for in a bartender when they compete?

Natural talent and heart… nothing that seems too rehearsed. 

How did the 2016 Global Finalists manage compared to other competitions? Did you notice any trends in their approach/things you hadn’t seen before?

It far exceeded anything I've witnessed before – the degree of difficulty is extremely high. 

Is there one aspect that is frequently missing when you watch competitors?

I feel that too often competitors forget to bartend and don’t treat judges like guests. 

What has surprised or delighted you recently in competition?

The emergence of Asian bartenders: they are making big waves. 

What would be one piece of advice you’d offer to this year’s new (2017) contestants?

Prepare, prepare and prepare. Then relax and let it flow. 

 

Hidetsugu Ueno

Based at Bar High Five in Tokyo, Ueno San is one of the world’s top bartenders, famous for his ‘hard shake’ technique and ability to carve ice diamonds – as well as being able to create fabulous drinks.

 

What is the single most important quality that you look for in a bartender when they compete?

To see how they connect their routine/story and their drinks.

How did the 2016 Global Finalists manage compared to previous years/other competitions? Did you notice any trends in their approach/things you hadn’t seen before?

Not 100% sure because I only saw 50% of the finalists' presentation, but ‘ecology’ was the word most of them focused on and it wasn't what I expected – most probably because of the type of the challenge I judged.

Is there one aspect that is frequently missing when you watch competitors?

In World Class 2016 they were able to prepare all the drinks they made before they came to the Global Final. So, I don’t think I saw their real abilities. Maybe this is the wrong answer, huh... the bartenders who did well had trained and continuously practiced their routine.

What has surprised or delighted you recently in competition?

The younger generations of bartender are thinking not only about their drinks. They have huge hearts to think of their future and the next generation as well. Which is very impressive and makes me smile and feel relaxed at the same time.

 

Roberto Berdecia

A partner in La Factoria in Puerto Rico, voted 45th in the World’s 50 Best Bars, and president of consultancy service Cocktail Laboratory, Roberto is also a former Puerto Rico World Class winner.

 

What is the single most important quality that you look for in a bartender when they compete?

Everything is important when you are looking for the best bartender in the world, but it’s essential to have a great personality in and out of the bar.

How did the 2016 Global Finalists manage compared to previous years/other competitions? Did you notice any trends in their approach/things you hadn’t seen before?

2016 was very impressive compared to previous years and definitely compared to other competitions. Bartenders improve every year and this year was no exception. Bartenders all around the world are more concerned about their waste. They are using fresh juices but at the same time using the skin, seeds and leaves for oils, bitters, vessels and shrubs that have been forgotten about until recently.

Is there one aspect that is frequently missing when you watch competitors?

I always missed the wow factor.

What has surprised or delighted you recently in competition?

It’s always a delight to meet bartenders from around the world that have the passion and persistence to get to the competition. The creativity that some of them have is amazing.

What would be one piece of advice you’d offer to this year’s new (2017) contestants?

Practice, read, learn, create and surprise – but do it with passion.

 

Steve Olson

One of America’s foremost experts and commentators on hospitality, Steve has consulted for Gramercy Tavern in New York, voiced Virtual Bartender kiosks in stores across the US and worked for as a World Class judge since 2012.

 

What is the single most important quality that you look for in a bartender when they compete?

Energy and passion. I assume at this level that all competitors should have fantastic technique, and I assume that each bartender has practiced long hours, and is perfectly prepared. If this is not the case, that bartender has already been ruled out. At this level, and assuming great technique and preparedness, I want to know who that bartender is, and I want to feel their energy.

How did the 2016 Global Finalists manage compared to previous years/other competitions? Did you notice any trends in their approach/things you hadn’t seen before?

Every year the overall level of knowledge and skill seems to increase, and the lowest common denominator gets higher. Yet at the very highest level of the competition this year – the finalists – I did not see that same level of increase. This was perhaps because the bar set by previous winners and finalists was already so high! The most important part to me is that the world of crafting cocktails as an art form is definitely expanding and spreading to all nations, as even the newest entering countries are achieving great results.

Is there one aspect that is frequently missing when you watch competitors?

I would have to say that there is an overall lack of self-confidence, and then over-compensating for this, which usually leads to mistakes and lack of attention to fine detail, or even worse, braggadocio to cover for the lack of self esteem.

What has surprised or delighted you recently in competition?

That overall level of improvement in nations that have not had a cocktail culture for as long as others is a lovely surprise, but not unexpected.

However, the most important occurrence that completely delights me (but does not surprise me at all) is that a woman has finally earned the title of World Class Champion. We have had very strong women compete in the past, but we have never had enough women competing. The industry is evolving, and women are taking on a much bigger and more important role than in years past, but for this competition to crown a woman is huge for all of us. For a woman to earn this crown speaks volumes, because as you know, as a woman, she was working against all odds for her entire career. CONGRATS TO HER, AND TO ALL, as this is a major turning point in the craft of bartending.

What would be one piece of advice you’d offer to this year’s new (2017) contestants?

Practice. Prepare. Study. Taste. Think through every possibility and take advantage of every opportunity. And then? Be yourself, be humble and yet confident in who you are and what you do. One last thing: seize the moment, and enjoy it! This is the experience of a lifetime, one you will never forget, so make every second count.

 

Spike Marchant

Meet Mr World Class! The founder of London’s Alphabet bar, kicking off the burgeoning bar scene in the capital in the 1990s, Spike has devised many of the Challenges for competitors at World Class, smoothed their way to competition, and compères the Global Final event.

 

It’s been fascinating reading through the comments of this year’s judges. One of the strongest impressions I get is that the judges want to see the bartenders working in a way that emulates their real experiences, crafting cocktails as authentically as possible. 

This is more about creating that sense of hospitality in action, so they feel they are simply looking at a fantastic professional working in their natural environment, hosting guests and making great drinks. As Lauran Cullen said “Engaging the customer is the cornerstone of a good bartender that should extend to judges in a competition.” One of the mantras of World Class is that ‘this is not a cocktail competition, this is a bartending competition’ – and this perspective reinforces that idea.

Another theme that came across which has become important to the ethos of many bars is sustainability. Quite a few bartenders, including Global winner Jennifer Le Nechet, presented a holistic vision about the way we use ingredients and products in our drinks. Ueno San who has been with us from the very beginning of World Class, put it eloquently: “These younger generations of bartender are thinking not only of their drinks. They have huge hearts to think of their future and the next generation as well.”

Of course the standards at World Class are exceptional and it is good to read that we are seeing new countries at the Finals delivering the quality of drinks that we expect.

Finally some of the words that appeared several times were camaraderie and friendship. Many lasting friendships have been forged at World Class and that sense of community is one of the most important things we have ever achieved.