Simply the best

Vancouver’s Kaitlyn Stewart named world’s best bartender at Mexico City comp

Kaitlyn Stewart, bar manager at Vancouver’s Royal Dinette, won the prestigious Diageo World Class competition on Aug. 24 in Mexico City. More than 10,000 bartenders from 57 countries entered the global competition. Diageo World Class photo

The winner of the Diageo World Class competition is widely considered the best bartender in the world. And right now, the best bartender in the world is Vancouver’s own Kaitlyn Stewart, bar manager of Royal Dinette.

“Participating in the finals — and representing Canada — was amazing enough, but to finish the week as winner… I’m so delighted!” says an exuberant Stewart, or, as her friends and fans know her, Kait A Roo.

This is a huge win, not just for Stewart, but for Canada, Vancouver and cocktail culture in general.

Those of us who’ve been involved in the scene as it’s exploded over the last decade or so know how much talent and skill is out there. Now the rest of the world does, too.

Stewart is the ninth bartender, second woman, and first Canadian to join the World Class Hall of Fame. To get there, she joined more than 10,000 bartenders from 57 countries in worldwide regional heats. The 55 winners of those contests gathered in Mexico City last week for a tough four-day competition. On the 23rd, Stewart made it to the final along with bartenders from Australia, Turkey and Denmark. Then, late on Aug. 24, came the announcement the cocktail community was breathlessly waiting for: “She won!”

“She is the personification of everything World Class means — prestige, community, deliciousness, hospitality, family, love and passion,” says competition judge Lauren Mote, the Vancouver bartender who won World Class Canada in 2015 and recently became the Diageo Reserve Global Cocktailian. “She accepted each challenge with grace and personality, and succeeded each level with humour and humility.”

Stewart and Mote were joined in Mexico by their fellow World Class Canada winners Grant Sceney from Vancouver (2014) and Toronto’s Shane Mulvany (2016), as well as Michael Armistead, the Diageo Canada brand manager. The team pulled all-nighters to help Stewart prep, posting their adventures online while Canadians from coast to coast cheered her on.

Without a doubt, the enthusiastic support from Canada’s tight-knit and proudly collaborative bartending community helped push her to the top.

This is, after all, no ordinary competition. Even the perpetually upbeat Stewart says, “It’s been a grueling week, taking on the toughest challenges against some of most skilled bartenders I’ve ever met.”

The competitors were tested on every significant bartending skill with challenges that spoke to major trends in cocktailing: speed, creativity, immaculate technique, gracious hospitality and a knowledge of the classics, as well as incorporating culinary skills, creating eco-friendly drinks and even translating complex drinks into a simplified but elevated home cocktail experience for what Mote calls “armchair mixologists.”

It’s all part of Diageo’s mission to educate bartenders the world over — and inspire people to drink, not necessarily more, but better. That’s why the worldwide spirits company launched World Class in 2008, making it the biggest and most important cocktail competition in the world, using spirits from the Diageo Reserve luxury portfolio (Johnnie Walker, Ketel One, CIROC, Don Julio, Tanqueray No. Ten, Bulleit, Zacapa and collection of single malts including Singleton, Talisker and Cardhu).

“Cocktails are on the up now more than ever,” Stewart says. “And to be at the forefront of that, pushing forward the idea of using better ingredients and better recipes to create even better cocktails, is something I’m really passionate about.”

Now she will spend the year travelling as a global brand ambassador for Diageo Reserve. Or, as Mote says, “Kaitlyn’s mine now – I will take her for the year and make all of her goals and dreams come true.”

Meanwhile, the next best bartender in the world may be shaking up drinks in a bar near you, dreaming of 2018, when the 10th annual Diageo World Class competition will be held in Berlin.

We’ll drink to that.

—by Joanne Sasvari

Make Kaitlyn’s Diced Pineapple Cocktail.

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