The level of skill was consistent across all competitors – exceptionally high.
Michito Kaneko from Japan was crowned the world’s best bartender at the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year 2015 competition, held in Cape Town, South Africa.
After four days of challenges, judged by leading figures in the world of bartending, Michito was picked out from an original complement of 54 contenders.
“When I heard my name, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I was in total shock,” said Michito at the gala awards dinner on 5 September. “I’m very happy to have won. But I must remember that even though I am the World Class champion, I must stay humble and true to what I love.”
In the final ‘Cape Town Shakedown’ challenge held at the city’s V&A Waterfront, the final six bartenders had to create a pop-up bar to reflect their personality and bartending style.
Michito looked to his own name for inspiration. Michito means ‘Man on the Road’, so he incorporated the iconic Striding Man of Johnnie Walker into the theme for his bar, and called it ‘The Travelling Bar Man’. The installation was covered in maps and treasure chests, and Michito took visitors on a journey from Scotland to France to Japan with his creations.
“Michito was the personification of Japanese hospitality,” said Spike Marchant, World Class judge and global brand ambassador. “His cocktails across all the challenges were subtle, harmonious, and impeccably calibrated. He is a complete professional and produced a sustained level of excellence throughout the competition.”
As World Class Bartender of the Year, Michito will have the opportunity to travel the world as a global brand ambassador for World Class, and gain a degree of celebrity status. Plus, as part of a recently announced partnership between luxury resort group One&Only and Diageo Reserve, Michito also wins a trip to the One&Only Palmilla resort in Los Cabos, Mexico.
Michito was inspired to quit his job as a construction worker to become a bartender 13 years ago after tasting cocktails in the most famous bar in his home region of Nara, Japan. Three years ago he opened his own bar in Nara – The Lamp Bar – where he is the manager and sole bartender.
During the gala ceremony, the top performers from each of the five first round challenges were also honoured. Jurgen Nobels of Belgium earned top scores in the ‘Against the Clock’ test; Kenneth Bandivas of the Philippines took the judges on a journey of flavour during ‘Around the World’; Tyson Buhler of the USA delivered a perfect pair of cocktails in ‘Night and Day’; Filip Navratil of Slovakia dominated in the ‘Street Food Jam’; while champion Michito served up a trio of masterpieces in the ‘Future, Retro, Disco’ challenge.
Israel’s Ariel Leizgold, who was among the top six finalists, also delivered a standout performance during the ‘Cape Town Shakedown’ where he created a 'Secret Garden’ that was a “sensory joy and a cocktail paradise”, according to the judges.
“It was almost impossible to predict who the top six would be because the level of skill was consistent across all competitors – exceptionally high,” said Marchant. “It was the toughest competition we’ve ever had the honour of judging.”
Johanna Dalley, Global Director for World Class said: “These are incredibly talented professionals whose skill is on a par with the world’s best chefs but who also deal directly with the public on a nightly basis. They have the flexibility to create great drinks that to the exact specification of each and every one of their guests.”
In elevating the craft of bartending, Diageo Reserve World Class has become a leader in setting trends and standards for fine drinking experiences in the best establishments worldwide.
Against the Clock – Jurgen Nobels (Belgium)
This challenge put the bartenders under immense pressure, and only the very best were able to pull it off with style and panache. Jurgen made a pressure-cooker round look deceptively easy. His range of ten cocktails encompassed a sensational goat’s milk Bloody Mary twist called a “Mèèèèry” (his spelling to emulate the sound of a goal) and a brilliant Boulevardier variant.
Around the World – Kenneth Bandivas (Philippines)
Bartenders were asked to tell the story of their homeland and South Africa through cocktails. Kenneth took the judges on a journey of flavour from the Philippines with the exotic taste of Bittermelon and Palawan fruit, to Cape Town with a deftly made Marula and Zacapa cocktail.
Night and Day – Tyson Buhler (USA)
Tyson Buher hails from one of the great cocktail bars of the world, and he showed his exceptional skills by producing the Café Brulot Celeste using Don Julio 1942 and Cameronbridge Estate cocktails with Tanqueray No.10. He delivered the spirit's character perfectly with a display of cocktail mastery.
Retro, Disco, Future – Michito Kaneko (Japan)
Michito Kaneko went time travelling in this challenge, starting in the past with ‘The Judge’ – a Bulleit and Tanqueray No.10 cocktail, through to disco with his Tiny Bouquet masterpiece. He completed the journey in the future with a Cîroc experience combining sauternes wine and a secret ‘sunshine’ spray.
Street Food Jam – Filip Navratil (Slovakia)
This was one of the most demanding food-matching challenges World Class has ever staged. Snook, stinky bokum, kudu, boerewors, chakalaka, and Malay prawns were the mystery South African dishes confronting our bartenders. Filip tackled the intensity of the dishes with cocktails that demonstrated his ability to master extremely tricky food and drink combinations.
Cape Town Shakedown – Ariel Leizgold (Israel)
Without a doubt this was the toughest test of all. Twenty-four hours to open your own pop-up bar at the end of the world’s most intense cocktail competition against a field of six extraordinarily talented bartenders. The winner of this challenge had to master design, ambience and three cocktails to produce a compelling and professional environment. Ariel created a ‘Secret Garden’ that was a sensory joy and a cocktail paradise.
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