Whether yours is an Old Fashioned or Bourbon Sours, cocktails and the mixologists behind them are having a moment, with the days of girly Sex and the City Cosmos giving way to sophisticated creations to tempt any and every palate. This shift was celebrated on May 30th, with the World Class Ireland Bartender of the Year 2016 Final contested by six outstanding bartenders at the magnificent King’s Inns, all vying to be awarded the prestigious honour.
Three intense rounds were contested to choose an overall winner. First up was a pressurised 10 minute written exam with 50 questions on tasting notes followed by a Sensorium castle showcase performance during which the bartenders were tasked with creating an 1840’s Scottish castle experience. Finally, each bartender was assigned a brand from the Diageo Reserve portfolio and set the challenge of creating a pop-up bar, with a signature cocktail and props to deliver a unique experience with the drink.
Having excelled in these challenges, Andrew Dickey from The Merchant Hotel, Belfast was crowned as the winner of the coveted title ‘World Class Irish Bartender of the Year 2016’. Andrew will go on to represent Ireland in the World Class Global Final 2016 which will take place in Miami this coming September and will see him pitted against national champions from all over the globe, hoping to win the judges over with some Irish charm.
This year, the six finalists were put through their paces more than ever with the aforementioned complex challenges designed to test them on all aspects of bar tending including brand knowledge, precision, sensory experience, hosting and creativity before the judges’ watchful eyes. Competing alongside Andrew Dickey was Meath native Adam Walsh from Zozimus in Dublin, Croatian born, Ivana Sabljak of House Dublin, Clondalkin born Darren Geraghty who represented The Candlelight Bar in Dundrum, Stephanie Shen, bar manager of The Meeting House Dublin and Alan Petrovic, from Croatia, a bartender in KOH Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in Dublin.
World Class is renowned as the industry’s most prestigious and respected mixology competition, committed to celebrating and elevating the craft of bar tending, using the finest luxury spirits from Diageo Reserve – the brand’s luxury portfolio. Tasked with uncovering exciting new talent in the bar tending craft was popular chef and co-host of MasterChef UK, John Torode who joined the judging panel alongside industry experts Max La Rocca, European World Class Ambassador, Anna Walsh, World Class Ireland Winner 2015 and Ewan Gunn, The global BA for Haig Club.
Synonymous with sophistication and impeccable service, World Class bartenders are constantly pushing the boundaries of contemporary and experimental cocktail culture, striving to deliver ‘a fine drinking experience’ to their clientele. Throughout the rounds, the bartenders created exciting and experimental combinations using some of the world’s finest spirits from the Diageo Reserve Portfolio, including Ketel One vodka, Cîroc vodka, Ron Zacapa rum, Tanqueray gin, Tanqueray No. TEN gin, Bulleit bourbon, Don Julio tequila, Johnnie Walker Gold Label and Blue Label whisky and scotch whiskys Cardhu, Singleton and Talisker.
Chef and celebrity judge John Torode commented; ‘It has been amazing to witness the level of passion, creativity and outstanding skill here today. I was particularly impressed by their ability to combine and balance unique flavour profiles – a cocktail is a dish in itself!’ John says he was keen to take part in the judging process as the competition forces bartenders to push their boundaries and think outside the box with its various challenges, creating bespoke and original cocktails, which he finds really exciting.
On the ingredients of a winning World Class bartender, John was hoping to find someone who is ‘knowledgeable, interesting, willing to serve you your old fashioned because you like it but watch how you drink it, understand who you are, talk to you enough to understand your other interests in life and then introduce you to another drink and broaden your horizons without intimidating you, without making it difficult.’
A bartender, John was adamant, is more than someone who serves drinks. ‘Its very much about being in character. In all service industries you’ve got to make somebody feel as if they are special, if you fail to do that then you’re not doing your job, a chef should do the same.’
For John, a World Class Bartender has to be entertaining, funny and exciting as well as capable of creating cocktails which draw on evocative memories and provide comfort – not unlike the goal of a good chef, he muses.’ John believes his judging role in this competition is not that different from his job on Masterchef, commenting on the merits of various inventive flavour combinations in both.
While John says he is normally a whiskey and bourbon man, he noted particularly enjoying being presented with fine vodka and gin creations throughout the competition which have encouraged him to broaden his own drink horizons. ‘The elegance of it all is really exciting and that’s the thing about World Class, it is the elegance that goes with it.’
John feels that the World Class Drinks competition is transforming cocktail culture for the better – ‘I think what is going on is people are talking, word is getting around that it is alright for blokes to drink cocktails, and I think that’s a really big change in the last decade’, reverting back to the days of the rat pack in the 60’s.
After the grueling challenges and under intense scrutiny, Andrew ticked all the boxes for John and his fellow esteemed judges, ‘These bartenders really are world class. Andrew Dickey is a very deserving winner and I wish him the very best of luck in the Global Final in Miami in September’ he says.
Max La Rocca, European World Class Ambassador and John’s fellow judge commented; ‘Each and every one of the finalists have demonstrated their own unique ability and skill, not to mention passion and great ambition. It is always amazing to see fresh ideas and new talent. Competing in World Class is a great opportunity to help bartenders define and develop their skill set and I am sure that each of the finalists will go on to inspire other bartenders both at home and further afield.’
According to AnnMarie Phillips, On Trade Channel Director of Diageo Ireland; ‘World Class is a fantastic platform that celebrates the skill, creativity and passion of Ireland’s best bartenders. This prestigious competition brings together the best bars, the most talented bartenders and the most exquisite spirits from around the globe. World Class continues to transform fine drinking experiences and cocktail culture around the world and it is great to be a part of this movement. Having witnessed Andrew being crowned victorious she says ‘It has been an intense but exciting competition and the standard here today has been exceptional. We wish Andrew Dickey the very best of luck at the World Class Global Final.’
As well as international recognition as a world class Bartender, John believes the sweetest part of winning World Class Bartender of the Year 2016 is the trip to the Miami Final where ‘you’re going to be inspired and be among your peers, a group of exceptionally talented people who have the same interest as you, who love being a bartender, who love entertaining, who love conversation, and that can’t be anything else but the most wonderful experience.’ We wish Andrew the best of luck in September, when he will hopefully bring the World Class Bartender title home to Ireland.
For more information about Diageo Reserve World Class see www.diageo.com.