If you’ve enjoyed an excellent cocktail at an Australian bar over the past few years, there’s an ever-increasing chance you’ve tasted the work of a World Class bartender.
What is a World Class bartender? It’s not just an adjective; it’s an official status. “World Class is the world’s biggest cocktail competition,” says Tim Philips, owner of Sydney’s Bulletin Place, Dead Ringer Restaurant & Bar, and the 2012 World Class Global Bartender of the Year. “It’s the most influential,” he adds. “And the one bartenders want to win the most.”
Every year, countries around the world hold a national World Class bartending competition. A winner from each is crowned and sent overseas to battle it out for title of Diageo’s World Class Bartender of the Year.
What many Australians don’t know is that since it began in 2009, the international competition has had a profound effect on the quality of local drinks. Participating bartenders are constantly working to increase their knowledge and skill-set, so punters are getting a better drink in their glass.
“The standard here is so high,” says Philips of the Australian bartending scene. “We have lots of clued-in, career bartenders who share a passion for bartending. To make the top 25 or even top 100 World Class Australian bartenders is a huge achievement.”
Winning the competition in 2012 has assisted Philips in opening two bars as well as allowed him to represent World Class while travelling, experiencing bars and bar culture in other countries – something that gives him a unique perspective on the World Class effect in Australia.
“I’m very proud to be an Australian bartender because I think we’ve got one of the best industries and scenes in the world,” he says. “To be a representative of the Australian bartending culture, that’s one of my proudest achievements.”
Charlie Ainsbury, co-owner of Sydney bar This Must Be The Place, was this year’s Australian champion. For the second time in two years – in 2014 he finished in the top six at the global finals in Scotland – he’ll represent Australia at the World Class global finals in Miami this month.
“World Class is more than a cocktail competition,” says Ainsbury. “You’re tested on every aspect of your bartending: personality, presentation skills, creativity, technique, speed, efficiency. They’re looking for the entire package – everything a bartender should be. To be a prime example of that in Australia is a huge, huge compliment.”
For the 2016 World Class Bartender of the Year global finals the best bartenders from over 55 countries will face a series of challenges. The first four challenges are designed to whittle the group down to just 12. From there, a “speed round” will require the top 12 to mix a range of cocktails in 10 minutes. The final round requires the top six to set up and run a pop-up bar.
Because he competed in 2014, Ainsbury knows a little about what to expect. “I know I’m not going to get enough sleep, for one thing,” he says. “And there’s the nerves. But it’s worth it. To win is a huge honour.”
“Everyone brings all their new tricks to World Class,” says Philips. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase new techniques and all sorts of smoke and mirrors – anything new that might be out there at the moment. There’s definitely some eye-opening stuff you’ve never seen before, which is cool.”
Philips says one of the best things about the competition is it makes bartenders confident in their own abilities. It also helps people see bartending as a viable profession, rather than just a handy skill.
And what does Philips think of Ainsbury’s chances this year? The former global champion is blunt: “I don’t think there’s a better representative of our scene in Australia.”