Although Singapore takes the title, Canada once again shakes up the world’s biggest cocktail competition
Note: This is the third in an Alchemist series following Diageo World Class 2019 from planning the competition to the National Final in Whistler and through to the Global Final in Scotland.
He came so close. Vancouver’s Jeff Savage made it to the final eight at the Diageo World Class Final. And he won the Singleton State of Mind award. But in the end, the diminutive Bannie Kang from Singapore took home the ultimate prize.
“Am I dreaming?” she asked the crowd as golden confetti rained down in Glasgow, Scotland.
At the September 26 final, Savage placed among the top tier, an impressive showing among the talented pack of 53 finalists from all over the planet. (Some 10,000 bartenders entered this year, making it by far the planet’s biggest and most prestigious cocktail competition.)
“Jeff represented Canada extremely well from a professional and personal standpoint. And Canada should be very proud,” says Michael Armistead, who oversees the Diageo World Class Canada Bartending Competition as National On-premise, Reserve and Sponsorship Manager.
Earlier, Savage, who is the head bartender at Botanist Bar in the Fairmont Pacific Rim, won the national title in June. Remarkably, he was the third bartender from the Fairmont Pacific Rim to win World Class Canada. (The other two are Grant Sceney, 2014, and Chris Enns, 2018.)
“Jeff winning the National Final proved that the Fairmont Pacific Rim has demonstrated a strong training program, and it’s got a brilliant bar program that produces high-quality cocktails in volume,” Armistead says.
The final leg of the renowned bartending competition began on September 21 in Schiedam, the Netherlands, home of Ketel One vodka. All 55 bartenders competed in the first challenge, then were seeded into four groups; from then on, they competed against the others in their group. “The key was doing well in the Ketel One challenge and being seeded well,” Armistead says.
From the Netherlands, it was over to the Isle of Skye for the Talisker whisky challenge, then to Glasgow for the remaining challenges featuring, respectively, Singleton single malt, Tanqueray No. Ten Gin and Johnnie Walker whisky. After the last competitive challenge, the top two bartenders in each group went on to the final speed round challenge.
Throughout the competition, the Canadians were a major presence.
“This year, the third biggest group of supporters was from Canada. We had a total of 15 people coming from Canada to cheer Jeff on,” Armistead says. That included Shane Beehan, 2019’s national runner-up from Halifax, as well as Diageo Global Cocktailian Lauren Mote (World Class Canada 2015) and global winner Kaitlyn Stewart (2017), who were among the judges.
“In the early years, Canada flew under the radar,” Armistead says. “But in the last three or four years, what we’ve realized is other competitors in other countries are asking,
‘What is Canada doing? I’ve got to watch Canada compete.’ There’s a lot of expectation around the world.”
Throughout the competition, Armistead says, “Jeff was incredibly excited but very calm. He felt that all of Canada was behind him.” And, he adds, “Jeff’s journey as a national winner is just beginning.”
On October 23, Savage will be in Victoria to launch World Class Studios, the educational program that will be rolled out across Canada over the winter months. January sees the launch of World Class 2020 (the finals will be held in Sydney, Australia). That will be followed by Science of Cocktails in February and the World Class Canada final scheduled for some time in May.
“It is going to be completely different next year,” Armistead says. “It is going to be bigger and better. If Whistler 2019 was a brand-new experience, this is going to blow people’s minds. 2020 is going to take things to an entirely different level. Expect the unexpected.”