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What first got you into competitive bartending?

I first attended World Class Studios when I was living in London. That’s when I realized that World Class was more than just a cocktail competition – it’s a way to become a better bartender. The challenges are more like exciting projects. They focus on discovering new techniques and flavors, as well as building valuable relationships with other bartenders around the world.

What sets World Class apart from other competitions?

World Class is the world’s biggest cocktail competition, and as such it showcases the very best of drinks culture. When I competed at the Finals last year in Berlin and was in the ‘prep room’, I could see and experience everyone preparing their unique ingredients - you could smell every flavor, feel the adrenaline in the room. It was like walking through every competitor’s country, joining them on their journey, and it really was incredible.

How do you prepare for a speed round?

I prepared for the World Class Global Finals speed round for quite some time – it didn’t happen overnight! From the very beginning, I mapped out every single step on a piece of paper to ensure I knew exactly what I was doing at each moment. I told myself that I will put all the bottles in order, and only touch them once. The secret of the speed round is to move efficiently and in a considered way. Only practice will help you become better at this tough challenge. That said, it’s important to remember that you can time yourself and do a great job in the comfort of your own bar, but you have to consider the nerves of the competition, the new environment, the audience and the judges. All of these can make a huge impact on the way you perform, so it is always worth adding a few seconds to your time to take these into consideration.

What was the most important thing you learned while preparing for World Class competitions?

For me, it was about remembering that I wasn’t in competition against anyone else. I was doing it for myself, to become a better bartender, so I wanted to really get the most out of my experience. That’s not to say that I didn’t learn a lot on a practical level. One of the biggest things I have learned is how to be inspired by things and experiences outside of the bar.

I also learned the importance of not being overwhelmed or stressed when something doesn’t go to plan. During the Finals in Berlin, my bags were delayed in arriving – and all my prep work was in them! For the entire first day I had to watch other finalists arrive and immediately start prepping, and I couldn’t do the same. Instead I tried to enjoy the environment around me and start mapping out my Plan B. You learn a lot about yourself and your own resilience in moments like this.

What have you gained personally and professionally from your experience with World Class?

Since winning World Class I’ve had opportunities I’d only ever dreamed of. Entering the competition was one of the best decisions of my life. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be traveling the world visiting the planet’s coolest venues and helping others achieve their goals of becoming a top bartender.

Diageo World Class is an amazing opportunity and if you’re a bartender and are considering entering this year, you should totally go for it because taking part is an incredible experience.

What’s been your favorite moment to date throughout your World Class journey?

Remember that ‘prep room’ I mentioned? It was a lab where all the competitors could tweak their recipes in preparation of the challenges. From the moment I walked into that room it really hit me how incredible World Class is, and how it brings together bartenders from around the world, from Africa to Asia to South America and beyond. Their unique takes on flavor, technique, the bar experience… The diversity and opportunity really hit me - and it was an emotional experience that put everything into perspective. No matter the outcome, in that moment, I already felt like I had won.

What’s your favorite DIAGEO Reserve brand cocktail to make in the summertime?

Oh that’s tough! I think it needs to be one that is versatile and can be enjoyed by anyone sitting at a great bar. That in mind, for me, I would take a long refreshing drink like a Tom Collins or maybe a Negroni made with Tanqueray No. TEN gin. A drink like this lets you experiment with different spirits and is a brighter and more refreshing way to showcase the spirit at the heart of the drink.

What cocktail trends are you seeing right now?

In the past few years we’ve seen consumers dabble in fortified wines, amaros, and of course – gin. Gin has just soared over the past five years to become a consumer favorite.

However, for me, right now, the most exciting spirit is whisk(e)y. When you look back over the last 100 years, the distillation process of whisk(e)y has barely changed but still you see distilleries and blenders pushing boundaries in their creative approaches to the whisk(e)y they produce.

They are taking that creative freedom and creating a spirit that is appealing to the masses and it is becoming much more ‘trendy’ in cocktails around the world.

Let’s take Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky – consistently bringing out limited edition Scotch and one-off expressions. When you see a brand with a credible archive like Johnnie Walker reach into the more creative branch of whisky-making, you can see a clear new direction for the spirit. Its really exciting and not just to those of us behind the marble bar top.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering entering World Class for the first time?

Firstly, to understand the challenges properly, you must really free your mind and strive to be the best version of you. You have to remind yourself not to worry about what everyone else is doing, everyone has their own techniques and backgrounds. There isn’t just one right way to do something. It is counter intuitive but think less about winning, and think more about learning and improving your skills. Take the time you have to really consider why you are doing what you are doing – it is your philosophy of flavors, technique and hospitality that will make you stand out. Believe in what you are capable of, and you’ll see great results.