The Botanist head bartender wins the Diageo World Class Canada title in Whistler
Jeff Savage is standing on top of the world. Literally.
On June 4, after three days of competition that took the finalists on a cocktail-themed scavenger hunt, through world history and deep into the spirit of the mountains, the head bartender of Vancouver’s Botanist Bar won the Diageo World Class Canada final in Whistler, B.C.
“It means everything to me,” said Savage, surrounded by mountain peaks and his cheering colleagues. “It means everything I’ve been working for the last seven years. It means everything.”
Savage goes on to compete for the title of the world’s Bartender of the Year this September in Glasgow, Scotland.
Placing second was Shane Beehan of Halifax. And rounding out the top four in the closely fought race were Vancouver’s Katie Ingram and Montreal’s Thomas Yeo.
Diageo World Class is the biggest, most prestigious cocktail competition on the planet. It was first held in the UK in 2009 as a way to showcase the spirits company’s reserve brands—Ketel One vodka, Cîroc vodka, Tanqueray No. 10 gin, Don Julio tequila, Johnnie Walker scotch whisky, Bulleit bourbon and Zacapa rum—but has grown dramatically since. Last year, nearly 10,000 bartenders from 58 countries competed.
Since Canada entered the Diageo World Class competition in 2013, our bartenders have consistently placed in the top 12 worldwide, making this country seriously one to watch.
This year’s national final was the biggest and most challenging yet. Instead of the usual four challenges, there were eight; and instead of a single venue, there were 14. Judging were previous World Class Canada winners Grant Sceney (2014), Global Cocktailian Lauren Mote (2015), Shane Mulvany (2016), global winner Kaitlyn Stewart (2017) and Chris Enns (2018), as well as guest judges Nolet Distillery Ambassador Dennis Tamse and Chicago bartender Charles Joly, the 2014 global winner.
“This is my attempt at showing the global team that Canada would be a viable destination to host the global finals,” says Michael Armistead, who oversees the Diageo World Class Canada Bartending Competition as National On-premise, Reserve and Sponsorship Manager. “The whole theme of the event is Destinations, and each challenge had a destination component.”
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Yesterday’s challenges up the mountain were epic – pictured here, @fatherofcups’ handmade brochure, accompanying his super cool mountain model (swipe left). Was so great to see the creativity from all the competitors yesterday across “Spirit of Mountains” and “Been Around the World” challenges. Best of luck to all the @worldclasscanada finalists, today is the day — two more challenges and the final event/announcement tonight. Before long, we’ll know Canada’s Bartender of the Year. #truespirit
Those challenges included an interview aboard the Peak 2 Peak Gondola and an Amazing Race-style scavenger hunt in which the finalists followed clues to venues in Whistler Village, where they undertook challenges such as rolling sushi then picked up ingredients to use in a cocktail back at the Four Seasons Resort. There were also dinners and social get-togethers, including a lively after-party at the Garibaldi Lift Co. Bar & Grill.
And then there was the final day, which included a blind tasting, a challenge that had the bartenders telling—and in the case of Ingram, singing and rapping—a history through cocktails, and a final speed round that took everyone by surprise. In a break from tradition, the top four were not the bartenders but the brands Don Julio, Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray 10 and Bulleit bourbon. These brands were featured in the drinks that all 10 bartenders had to make in a high-pressure final speed round.
“It’s a pretty intense three days,” Armistead says. “This will prepare the winner for the global challenge like never before. There’s a big support network who will get Jeff ready for the global competition.
“This has been an incredible year for the competition and we can’t wait to see Jeff represent Canada in Scotland in September. I know the entire bartending community in Canada will be behind him.”