Inside Diageo’s World Class Global Finals Competition in Miami

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Jennifer Le Nechet, World Class Bartender of the Year
Jennifer Le Nechet, World Class Bartender of the Year

For one week, Diageo and top bartenders, mixologists and distillers from all over the world came together to unite at the luxe 1 Hotel South Beach for an intense competition. Here, the best of the best 56 bartenders went head-to-head, competing in three days’ worth of activations all leading up to the final title for the World Class Bartender of the Year 2016. This year, Jennifer Le Nechet representing France got to take home the prestigious title of the World’s #1 Bartender. Le Nechet marks the first woman in World Class history to take home the global title. After months of preparation leading up to this intense week of exhilarating competition, the prize was all the more worth it.

The concept of World Class is to place the world’s best bartenders under one roof and test all aspects of their bartending skills including technique, personality, spirits knowledge and how well they perform under pressure. Representing the United States was the legendary Andrew Meltzer, who was awarded the 2016 U.S. Bartender of the Year. The competition featured 55 other global competitors, each with his/her own unique skill to expose to the crowd. With more than 10,000 applicants eager to enter the renowned competition, these masters came out on top and represented their countries with pride. The weeklong extravaganza was like the Super Bowl for liquor aficionados, drawing in attendees and top journalists from around the world, all ready to see the final showdown. Each day consisted of different types of challenges that tested different areas of the bartenders’ skills.

One of the coolest and definitely most popular rooms for viewers and judges was the Shape of Cocktails to Come, which was hosted by Tanqueray. Here, bartenders put their creativity to the test, whipping out all sorts of stops to wow the judges, displaying innovative and futuristic approaches to cocktail creation. When we stopped by, we got to watch one bartender remove all gravity from the liquid and transform it into bubbles, which he playfully blew out into the crowd and judges. After, we saw a unique crystal scorpion used as a glass, flown all the way from Italy to add some flair to the bartender’s presentation.

“Each year, I am continuously surprised by how things change in the competition. To me, the creativity that each bartender brings is what keeps me coming back. I always come here and say, ‘Wow, I’m going to learn more and more each year!’ And to be part of the moment with great friends is my favorite part. It is a fantastic week and I feel at home,” said Don Julio Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa.

Scorpion Glass Shape of Cocktails to Come
Scorpion Glass Shape of Cocktails to Come

At the Johnnie Walker Blending Room, the bartenders’ whisky intelligence was put to the test. In a nearly silent room, the contestants were lined up and presented with an unmarked whisky sample. They were then required to identify the five whiskies present within the Signature Blend (which was created by Johnnie Walker’s Master Distiller) and mark them on a flavor map. Contestants had 30 minutes to complete all elements of the rigorous challenge.

The Before and After Room challenged the bartenders to show judges what they could create in the context of a dining experience. With just 15 minutes to prepare, contestants were required to create a “before” and “after” cocktail to pair with dinner, otherwise more formally known as an “aperitif ” and “digestif.” Meanwhile, outside at the 1 Hotel’s beautiful pool area, contestants got to take part in a more playful challenge, titled the Pool Party. Here, they had 10 minutes to meet their mystery guests (celebrities which were chosen from a spinning wheel including couples Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz, Michelle and Barack Obama, Beyoncé and Jay Z, and Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman), where they were required to create two cocktails for each of their guests and two liters of punch. We got to witness the ever-so-charming Andrew Meltzer serve up “Javier” and “Penelope” some of his special creations, all the while entertaining the crowd with jokes and fun facts.

U.S.A. Bartender Andrew Meltzer at the Pool Party Challenge
U.S.A. Bartender Andrew Meltzer at the Pool Party Challenge

These competitions took place the first two days until only 12 contestants remained, ready for the next stop, which was the second round: American Classics. This round was a high-intensity speed round challenge where the bartenders worked from a set list of cocktails (creativity and unique interpretation were awarded extra points in this). After this round, six bartenders were left standing for the final Miami Shakedown competition, in which the contestants had 24 hours to create a unique pop-up bar experience.

The final night of the World Class competition took the event to another level. As guests entered the massive space of Ice Palace Studios, they were immediately overwhelmed by elaborate pop-up bars surrounding the perimeter of the space, along with stations of gourmet culinary offerings representing different cuisines from around the world. The final six bartenders included Nick Wu from Taiwan; Ryu Fujii from Japan; Jennifer Le Nechet from France; Adrián Michakčík from the Czech Republic; Jonas Anderson from Denmark; and Dries Botty from Belgium. Each competitor decked out his/her own pop-up bar to create a truly bespoke experience, bringing together design aesthetic, cocktail creation and expertise to create one final product to impress the judges and spectators.

After attendees got to experience each of the six bars, they placed a token in the country of their choice, casting their vote for the final winner before entering the impressive presentation ceremony where La La Anthony took the stage to announce the final winners of the competition. At the end of a long road of back-to-back events and steep competition, going up against the best in the world, the crowd went wild as Jennifer Le Nechet was called up to the stage to accept the prize for the World Class Bartender of the Year 2016 with her fellow competitors cheering her on.

UAE Laura Duca Shape of Cocktails to Come
UAE Laura Duca Shape of Cocktails to Come

Accepting the award means an exciting year ahead for the French bartender of Café Moderne in Paris. Looking ahead, she will travel the world as a Diageo Reserve Brand Ambassador, judging competitions and showcasing her skills to crowds everywhere.

“I’m completely blown away―it’s such an honor to take home the title of World’s Best Bartender― especially when competing against such talent from around the world. This week has inspired me to continue pushing the boundaries of flavors and to explore how all the senses can be engaged through cocktails. I can’t wait for the experience ahead!” she said

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