For the second time in only four years, a Canadian bartender has taken home the title of World Class Bartender of the Year.
After a gruelling four-day virtual final, Edmonton’s James Grant triumphed over his colleagues from 50 countries to win the world’s biggest and most prestigious cocktail competition, Diageo World Class.
“It was an incredible honour to represent Canada on the global stage this summer and show the bartending community the incredible hospitality that makes Canada special,” said the dapper and mustachioed Grant, who tends bar at Edmonton’s Little Hong Kong. “It’s been an incredible journey, and I hope to continue to make the Canadian bartending community proud.”
After winning the Canadian competition in March, Grant went on to the global final, which was held July 4 to 8. (It was originally planned to be a live event in Madrid, but was moved to a virtual format due to the pandemic.) Competitors were judged on their bartending skills and hosting techniques by some of the world’s most talented drink experts, including the reigning World Class global champion, Singapore-based Bannie Kang, who won the title in 2019.
In the early stages of the competition, contestants competed in three qualifying events: the Ketel One Hive Collective Challenge; Johnnie Walker Hidden City High Ball Challenge; Tanqueray No. Ten Alive with Freshness Masterclass; and Don Julio Subterranean Serve.
The top 10 contestants then moved on to the final challenge, A Tale of Two Malts, a speed round featuring Talisker and Singleton whiskies, with Grant emerging as the global winner. The 36-year-old was commended for his “combination of imagination, creativity, hospitality and compassion.”
Winning World Class is, of course, a remarkable achievement for any individual bartender. But what the win says about Canada’s bartending community is equally impressive.
In 2017, Vancouver’s Kaitlyn Stewart won the global title. In 2019, Vancouver’s Jeff Savage came in second. Indeed, since Canada started competing in 2013, Canuck barkeeps have consistently placed in the top 12. Considering that thousands of bartenders enter the competition each year (more than 400,000 from 60 countries have taken part since it was first held in 2009), that demonstrates some real cocktail know-how, and reflects a community that is both supportive of each other and heavily invested in education.
Or maybe we Canadians just really, really like a good drink. With people like Grant behind the bar, that will always be within easy reach.
—by Joanne Sasvari