Evan Stroeve wasn’t aiming to be the best. Instead, like thousands of other young Australians, he first got behind a bar to help pay his way through uni.

“When I was younger I enjoyed the social aspect [of bartending] … but I developed a hunger and a passion to progress creatively,” Stroeve says.

Stroeve got his start in Sydney at Darlinghurst bar Shady Pines Saloon, before moving to the famed Bulletin Place. It was at the latter where he worked with former World Class Bartender of the Year winner Tim Philips-Johansson, which only increased that hunger.

“That creative aspect grew pretty quickly,” Stroeve says. “I grew up in the country around farming and agriculture. Seeing how fresh produce and that connection with [the] grower manifests in menus and in drinks – it’s something I’m incredibly passionate about.”

That passion has seen Stroeve climb the ranks to become operations manager at sustainably-focused Re in Redfern, and perhaps made the difference when he was crowned Australian World Class Bartender of the Year in April. Now, this coming Thursday, Stroeve will be representing Australia in London (via video call) in the final round of the World Class Bartender of the Year global competition. The event is being live-streamed via the global World Class website.

For Stroeve, joining the competition is about more than just trying to be the best.

“Beyond superficial bragging rights, the appeal is you get to access certain elements of the industry that would otherwise remain hidden to you – my ability to travel [in future] and to engage in workshops and seminars and training and all those kinds of things,” he says. “Once you compete successfully in these [competitions], a lot of doors open up to you.”

The competition is structured as four challenges followed by a final, with each of the challenges built around a hero spirit. Competitors have to use their creativity and skill to complete the tasks. It’s not as straightforward as just grabbing a bottle from the shelf and getting mixing.

“For the Don Julio tequila challenge, I had to come up with a cocktail that utilises subterranean ingredients – things that grow beneath the earth,” Stroeve says. And it’s not just pure bartending, either. “The Ketel One challenge pushed us to create a bartender-led initiative. I created something called the Martini Syndicate which encouraged bars and restaurants to menu a Ketel One special with $1 going towards a chosen carbon offset partner. So we’re offsetting our footprint in what is often a very unsustainable or unconscientious industry. That offset partner was the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation.” To date Stroeve has generated $8,000 across 30 venues via the initiative to reinvest in the community.

The final challenge will see Stroeve and his fellow competitors engaged in a speed round called A Tale of Two Malts, in which they must make four cocktails from Talisker and The Singleton single malts. It’s a little different this year with everything being live-streamed, but Stroeve is taking it in stride.

“If you were doing this live you’d be doing it in front of 100, 200, 300 people – that element of nervousness is rounded off a little bit,” Stroeve says. “There are pros to it, there are cons to it. But either way there’s only so much in your control so you do the best that you possibly can and with what you can do.”

As for something to make at home while you watch along, Stroeve has shared with Broadsheet one of his deceptively simple cocktail recipes – the Orchard Gimlet.

“I wanted to create a drink that was hyper-accessible to people. It’s made with things they can get at the local supermarket, but it’s also championing what’s fresh and local and available,” says Stroeve.

It combines the bright, citrus-led flavours of Tanqueray No. TEN with dry sherry, sugar syrup, lime and a couple of less-obvious additions: fresh strawberry and parsley.

“We call it ‘muddled’ but you’re essentially pressing [the strawberry] into the tin to release all of its flavour,” Stroeve says, “and then fresh parsley, which … gives it this green, peppery edge. You put all that into a tin and then you shake it and then strain it into whatever nice, chilled cocktail glass you have at home and away you go.”

The Orchard Gimlet by Evan Stroeve
Makes 1
Approximately 1.42 standard drinks

35ml Tanqueray No. TEN
10ml fino sherry
15ml fresh pressed lime juice
20ml 1:1 sugar syrup
1 whole strawberry
8–10 fresh continental parsley leaves, chopped
1cm width cucumber slice

Measure lime juice into a jigger and then pour into a cocktail tin. Follow this with the sugar syrup to balance out the bright acidity of the citrus. Slice the strawberry from top to bottom, including the white flesh at the top (which provides a crisp, green-apple nuance to the drink). Place the cucumber slice flesh side down on a cutting board, and thinly slice.

Add all the diced herbs and fruits to the cocktail shaker, followed by the sherry, and then the Tanqueray No. TEN. Dry shake (shake without ice) the shaker for about 15 seconds to mix all of the solid and liquid ingredients together, then fill with as much ice as possible and shake until shaker is frosted and cold to touch.

To serve, fine strain through a tea strainer to eliminate all the solids. Garnish with a leaf of fresh parsley.

This story was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with World Class. Watch the World Class Bartender of the Year Global Finals award ceremony from 6am, this Friday July 9.