How the esteemed bartending contest is shaking up the cocktail world
Diageo World Class is more than just the biggest, most prestigious cocktail competition on the planet. It is also a major source of education for bartenders.
“We’re really trying to play our part in driving the industry forward, focusing on educating and giving bartenders the tools they need to achieve their goals, at home and around the globe,” says Michael Armistead, who oversees the Diageo World Class Canada Bartending Competition as National On-premise, Reserve and Sponsorship Manager.
In the months since the Botanist’s Jeff Savage won the 2019 Canadian title and placed second globally, World Class Studio training sessions have been held in cities across Canada. Some 250 bartenders attended the workshops, which focus not just on the Diageo Reserve brands, but on “the trends within the category and the industry.”
“All of a sudden, it seems to be a trend that cocktail competitions are going away,” Armistead says. “So it’s important that World Class be seen as not just a competition, but as an education platform.”
Of course, it’s also still very much a competition, one that some 10,000 bartenders around the world enter each year. Since Canada joined the World Class family in 2013 (the global competition dates to 2009), it has been a major contender—in each of the last three years alone, Canada’s winner has placed in the top 10 globally, with Vancouver’s Kaitlyn Stewart first overall in 2017.
“Canada is a world leader certainly as far as Diageo is concerned,” Armistead says. “The big story this year is that Canada is one of six countries to have a supercharged World Class festival and national final. We’re calling it the World Class Cocktail Festival Toronto 2020. Canada is very much on the global stage.”
The 2020 national final will be held June 20-25 in Toronto, with all 16 finalists heading to the 6ix to compete. The final four will be announced right before the grand finale, and the winner will go on to compete in the global finals in Sydney in late September.
But the event will also feature more than the cocktail competition.
“We’re going to be running events across the week in and around Toronto,” Armistead says. “The actual finals will be held upstairs at Real Sports and at Scotiabank Arena. We’re going to be calling it the World Class Hub. It’s going to feel more like a global final, with brand activations, seminars and a futures lab.”
There will be food and drink seminars among other events, many of them featuring previous global and national winners. And the event will welcome consumers, too.
“The public can come in and watch the challenges. It’s going to be a really active environment. We really want consumers and spectators to come in and experience it,” Armistead says, and confides, “The last challenge is going to be spectacular.”
The 2020 World Class Canada finalists
Aaron Hatchell, ON
Madison Homewood, ON
Williston Irvine, NS
Lindsay Jones, NS
Jason McNeely, ON
Jean-Yves Roumieu, ON
Oliver Stern, ON
Thomas Yeo, QC
Chad Coombs, BC
Cedrick Foley, AB
James Grant, AB
Katie Ingram, BC
Dylan Riches, BC
Jared Schmidt, AB
Jesse Werkman, AB
Dylan Zrobek, BC
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Diageo World Class Canada,