James Grant was among 50 bartenders from across the world to participate in the finals of the 12th Diageo World Class competition, which was held virtually for the first time. TravelDine catches up with jury member Tristan Stephenson to find out more about one of the world’s biggest bartending competitions.
The finals of the Diageo World Class Competition 2021 saw James Grant from Canada emerge the winner. Grant was among 50 bartenders from around the world to have qualified for the final round. India’s Rohan Matmary was representing the country at the final round. While Diageo had initially planned to have the finals in Madrid, given safety considerations, the event was eventually held online. The 12th edition of Diageo World Class was the first virtual one to be held.
The live-streamed competition was on for five days during which the contestants were tasked with several challenges such as developing a Johnnie Walker Highball inspired by their home cities, creating a sustainable Ketel One vodka cocktail, putting together a subterranean-themed Don Julia Tequila drink and participating in a speed round.
Alongside the competition, the five days also saw virtual events for consumers, including a cocktail-making session with actor Stanley Tucci.
The jury panel for this edition of the Diageo World Class competition had stalwarts from the industry such as Hannah Sharman, Anna Sebastien, Charles Joly, Siobhan Payne, Tristan Stephenson and Dave Broom.
We got a chance to catch up with Tristan Stephenson, award-winning bar operator, bartender, chef, journalist and best-selling author of the Curious Bartender series of books.
TD: Diageo World Class is a platform to further the industry’s knowledge and set an example in terms of trends. What is different about this year? How are the themes for the current year relevant to how the industry will shape up? What do you look for in the one that will emerge as the champion of the global competition? What are the expectations from the winner, going ahead?
TS: As a judge I’m simply looking for someone that scores points in relevant areas. The person who wins World Class is the one who manages to score highly in most if not all areas across the various rounds of competition. It’s not uncommon to judge rounds of World Class where a competitor presents really well and speaks at length on a topic, but the score sheet criteria need to reflect their presentation otherwise they may not score highly.
TD: Given that we’ve been through extremely turbulent times in the recent past, what would be your message to those aspiring bartenders and mixologists about the future of the industry?
TS: My message would be that we now have a time to reopen and reset our industry, and an opportunity to try new things. There appears to be a thirst for great drinking experiences amongst consumers, so let’s do what we do in a safe and professional way.
TD: While sustainability is a major conversation right now, as we emerge from the pandemic, how do you see this affecting future cocktail trends?
TS: I think sustainability should infiltrate everything we do behind the bar and it needs to be a part of every programme. I hope that one day we no longer need to discuss sustainability as it will be baked into every element of hospitality.
TD: What should those aspiring to participate in future World Class competitions bear in mind?
TS: As with my previous answer, the top competitors are the ones that score highly. My best tip is to know the challenges and know the score sheets and to build a presentation that maximises point scoring.
All images courtesy Diageo