For all those who think a cocktail competition is just about juggling flaming bottles, the World Class competition comes as a refreshing reminder
The tension in the room was palpable. “Describe yourself in three words,” said Lauren Mote, Diageo Global Reserve brand ambassador. I was so invested in the moment that somewhere in my head, it was me standing there, all suit-clad and spiffy with a bow, presenting those three cocktails. “Truly world-class!” I had answered in my head. And with the oh-so-perfect-even-if-reeking-of-flattery response, I would have been declared the unanimous winner. “Ladies and gennelmen, no need for the other contestants… we have the winner already!” someone would have announced. The lights, bouquets, unending cheers from the crowd, the trophy—I clenched it tight, as they carried me all around the room.
Back here, in reality, I was standing a few feet from the stage, clenching my fingers into a fist, no trophy. That is how intense the energy was at the recently-concluded Diageo World Class, oops, I mean, World Class. It is a cocktail competition and is organised by the beverage behemoth, Diageo. But it has become a formidable giant in its own right, which is perhaps why the brand name doesn’t feature alongside, letting the competition come into its own.
I made it to the venue to see the final three battle it out. They were allowed one hour to prepare their ingredients from an array that was set up much like a marketplace. They had access to fruits and other ingredients, which they were free to blend, mix and alter any way they wanted. Once prepped, they were invited to the stage one at a time and asked to prepare three drinks. The trick was that the conditions that the drinks had to comply with were only told to them once they were en scene—one drink with JW Platinum 18 yo and another made with the infused element of beer. So this wasn’t about practising a recipe and then putting it together for the judges. One had to have presence of mind, a sharp wit and a quicker tongue to make sure that the judges were kept entertained from the time one started making the drink.
This was the second time I have made it to this competition. Long back, I had even judged a regional round. From what I saw then, World Class has surely come a long way. The competition is a lot more heated, the technique more polished, the drinks more precise and the boys showed an awareness and a skillset, which was resoundingly reassuring of being on a par with the global best.
I was told that this was also the first time that a lady made it to the top 10 finalists, which is a great sign for the industry—anything that breaks down gender barriers and promotes equality in employment opportunities is a good thing.
So for all those who think a cocktail competition is just about juggling flaming bottles or that the job of a mixologist is to mix alcohol with some fruit juice, well, I urge you to think again. A good bartender is like an agony aunt or uncle. They can be your companions in a new place, your guides while visiting a new town, your advisers down at your local, and friends when you are there for a drink by yourself. And these are but the essential but peripheral skills; the main one remains putting together a drink that preserves the essence of the base spirit, enhancing it by combining and layering it with other ingredients, all leading to one balanced refreshing sip, one that packs a heady punch without sending a burn-squirm down your throat. A good bartender is like a good chef, indispensable to the success of any bar.
World Class is not the only cocktail competition in the country/world, but it is certainly one of the finer and more popular ones. Apart from all the drinks and drama, it is also a good day for the industry to congregate for some glass-clinks and chin-wag. So till next year…
Meanwhile, the winner (oh, I almost didn’t tell you) Gaurav Dhayani is already busy greasing up his cocktail-shaking elbows for Berlin, where he represents India in the global finals.
The writer is a sommelier