Melbourne bartender Jack Sotti is having quite the run. Formerly of Eau De Vie and now managing the recently-opened Boilermaker House, Sotti is about to jet off around the world in the name of cocktails, thanks to his win at the recent Diageo Reserve World Class Finals in Sydney.
Before he packs his bags, we spoke to Sotti about preparing for competition, exceeding his expectations at the finals, and what happens next.
Broadsheet: How do you feel the final day went?
Jack Sotti: In all honesty, I feel like I consistently performed slightly above average, but I didn’t think I was a standout in any round. I really don’t think I smashed anything. I performed consistently and I was happy with that, but I didn’t expect to win.
BS: Not winning any of the five challenges, you had no anticipation you would end up here, with this award in your hand?
JS: Not at all. I felt I did well, and was confident in my abilities, but I also felt I messed up a few times. I was happy to feel as if I was in the top half.
BS: Can you tell us about your preparation in the fortnight before the competition?
JS: Aside from the fact I’m opening a bar, which is meant to be taking up all my time from 9am until midnight every day, this was a good shock to the system. We found out two weeks before the event that Dave Broom was coming down, so I did eight hours of study on whisky alone, then did about 12 trials of my World Class in a Cocktail, which was the one we had to present. Other than that I did lots of general study on Diageo drinks.
BS: Was there anything that really scared you in terms of these challenges? Was there anything you didn’t feel prepared for?
JS: I felt I could take everything head on, but one thing I was a little concerned about was the Veggie Challenge, because I don’t often work with vegetables. But I talked myself around by just thinking of vegetables as another flavour.
The beauty of the veggie round was nothing to do with the vegetables, it was the amount of choice. There were a million vegetables and ingredients, so the focus wasn’t on the spirit. It was a good challenge.
BS: Do you feel veggies are the future of cocktails?
JS: I don’t think they’re the future, but they’ve definitely got a place. An exercise like this, getting the top 25 bartenders in the country and educating them about vegetables in cocktails, will have a trickledown effect. And Darren (Robertson, judge and chef at Three Blue Ducks) is awesome. He’s a geezer.
BS: Tell us about your signature drink (The Conversation, which blended Johnnie Walker Double Black Scotch Whisky and Bundaberg Small Batch Rum)
JS: The long and short of it was that I wanted to create an Old Fashioned. I wanted to bring an innovative technique by diluting the drink using heat, as with a blazer, but then serve it chilled, so you get a concentration of flavours. I hadn’t seen it done before.
BS: Did the idea come from you, or from the Eau De Vie family?
JS: It did very much come from the family. I knew the concept, I knew I wanted to do a hot drink served cold, but the key was the chilling device. Something you could use in eight minutes, to take a drink from 75 degrees to three degrees in that amount of time. Back at the bar I just said, ‘Guys, I need your help’. We were scratching our heads looking at the ceiling, then we all just looked at each other, because sitting up there was this beautiful ornate display-still, with a condenser. It was like a light-bulb moment. I stacked the condenser with ice, water and salt. Salt was key, because it brought the drink down to sub-zero temperatures.
BS: Happy with the outcome?
JS: I personally feel I over-blazed the cocktail. The concept and the flavours were there, but I think it could have been stronger.
BS: Do you have any concept of what’s going to happen next? Is it blowing your mind you’re going to Cape Town?
JS: It’s a challenge I’ve never had to encounter before but I’m super looking forward to it.