World Class 2021 is one of the most anticipated events by bartenders each year. This year, Diageo India, which organises the bartenders’ competition in the country, has changed some of the criteria and already completed the first couple of regional rounds. All that’s left is to pick the national winner in a competition to be judged by the likes of Yangdup Lama, Director of Sidecar, Speakeasy and Three Barstools, Shatbhi Basu, Director of Stir Academy of Bartending, Kapil Chopra of Eazydiner and food and drinks columnist Vir Sanghvi.
We spoke to Evonne Eadie, National Reserve Brand Ambassador, Diageo India to learn more about World Class 2021 and what to expect. Excerpts from an interview.
Please tell us more about World Class 2021?
World Class 2021 is on a mission to inspire people to drink better and create unforgettable experiences in the process. Whether at home or in a bar, World Class encourages consumers to think and care about fine drinking in the same way they care about fine dining. The platform has supported, trained and inspired over 300,000 bartenders across the globe over the past ten years, while partnering them with the world’s finest spirits – the Diageo Reserve collection. The platform is also the authority on the drinks industry whom consumers look to for information on the latest drinks, trends, cocktail recipes and industry insight. Over the last decade, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have seen cocktail culture flourish into a rich & exciting industry, propelled by a community of individuals that have dedicated their careers to hospitality and impart their passion for great drinks, great food and great service onto their guests every day.
What are the main changes that have come this year to World Class?
The main change has been to how we have accepted entries. In previous years, participants were selected by a jury and invited to participate. This year, we have opened entry to bartenders from all over the country to submit their cocktail recipes online. Not only did this allow us to see the talent of many bartenders, but it also allowed us to begin the competition and ensure we adhere to social distancing guidelines.
How have contenders adjusted/ managed the changes in the 2021 avatar of World Class thus far?
The level of competition and the standard of entries has been exceptional. We have been flooded with incredible flavours and images across both social media. It will be a fierce competition moving forward as the level of creativity and technique is set very high.
Tell us how the cocktail challenges such as Waste Not, Want Not and The Botanical Journey were conceptualised?
Each year our team of Global Brand Ambassadors work to create educational studio modules that address and educate on trends and techniques in the F&B industry. From each of these modules, a set of challenges are created. This process allows the World Class platform to educate and inspire bartenders as they will need to attend the studios in order to succeed in the challenges. This year World Class Studios have been made available online through the Diageo Bar Academy Website adding to the hub of incredible information accessible for anyone working in bars or restaurants.
Please share more details about the consumer version of the competition and what consumers can expect from the platform?
While we are not expecting consumers to compete, we have several activations planned where consumers will be able to experience World Class serves from our finalists. Our aim is to raise the drinking culture, so consumers understand that a drink is just as important as food when dining, and what better way to experience that, than tasting cocktails created by India’s best bartenders.
Will previous contenders/ winners such as Devi Singh Bhati also have a role to play in the current edition in any way?
Yes, Devi and other previous national winners will play an instrumental role in mentoring our finalists. Their insights and experience from previous global competitions will assist in preparing this year’s competitors to showcase India at the Global finals in Madrid, Spain.
What are some cocktail trends that have emerged as a result of competitions like World Class?
Ongoing trends that play a key role in World Class are sustainability and community as it is important to challenge bartenders to think about how they can make an impact on the world around them. Often what starts as a small idea can grow into a product/service that can positively impact the environment, community, or both. Devi for example worked with local fruit sellers to turn their over-ripe produce into syrup that could be sold to bars for use in cocktails. It reduced waste and provided a new revenue stream for the fruit sellers. New trends we are seeing this year are no and low alcoholic serves, cocktails on tap and mouthfeel in drinks.
As a global competition, how far has Indian bartending come over the years?
India has a huge variety of bars. Many that are providing serves and experiences in line with the best bars in the world, and this number is increasing year on year. What competitions like World Class do, is draw attention to the skill and expertise of bartenders, and educate consumers on the importance of drinking well and drinking responsibly. By showcasing Indian talent on a global stage, we aim to change the perception that drinks are secondary to food and draw attention to the importance of cocktails as an integral part of dining and entertainment occasions.
Will we see new trends and healthier cocktails this year?
We are seeing lower alcohol serves rising in popularity, this follows global consumer trends where people are drinking less, but drinking better. We are also seeing a merging of bar meets kitchen, where culinary techniques are being adopted by bartenders as a way to manipulate flavour and texture.
How important is World Class 2021 in the overall context for the bartending industry in India and the world?
World Class is the Olympics of bartending. It challenges all aspects of a bartender through a series of challenges from speed rounds, to blind tastings, to mystery boxes and presentation. The World Class Bartender of the Year is someone who can not only make a great drink but can host guests, think on their feet, have a keen sense of taste, a creative mind, and ultimately, provide an amazing experience for the person who is sitting in front of them.
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Priyanko Sarkar is the Founder Editor of Gurgl.in. He has been a writer for over 15 years and this site is his attempt to document India's growing beverage sector with impactful and interesting stories. His favourite drink is Vietnamese Coffee and his favourite spirit is Turkish Raki.