The 2015 World Class Global Final in South Africa is drawing closer. In just a matter of weeks we’ll know who will have claimed the coveted title of ‘World Class Bartender of the Year’.

It makes perfect timing to catch up with inspirational Varun Sudhakar, one of last year’s finalists, who took the first step his World Class journey when he embarked on training with Diageo Bar Academy.

Read on for Varun’s story…

Where it all started

I remember my very first bartending job vividly as it’s where my whole career began essentially. I was flipping bottles with little knowledge of the art of mixology but fell in love with the entertaining and creative side of the job. After a year of flair bartending, in 2009 I received the opportunity to work with the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai. I started working as a waiter, taking care of beverage and food orders at the bar – experience I needed to expand and develop my craft and gain a permanent position behind the bar. One day at work a colleague mentioned the Diageo Bar Academy (DBA) training programme, so I did a bit of research and found that the training programme was just what I needed to hone my skills and get a qualification under my belt.

Building Confidence

I reached out to the Diageo Bar Academy team and in 2012, completed the DBA Foundation Course, a 2-day training programme incorporating the WSET Level 1 Award in Spirits and DBA’s customised curriculum created by gurus of the industry. The course first helped me brush up on my fundamental skills, before perfecting my craft. The training programme allows bartenders the opportunity to improve their knowledge on products, bar tools, service tips and gain a better understanding of the industry as a whole. The foundations course provides an excellent opportunity for bartenders to connect with the Diageo Bar Academy ecosystem and the rich resources this provides.

The suite of programmes offered by the DBA is laid out in three modules: Essentials, Foundation, Advanced (preparing participants for the Diageo World Class Competition). The DBA Foundation course transformed my approach towards bartending and for the first time, I felt confident in my ability to bartend. As well as an the opportunity for personal training with the DBA trainers, completion of the DBA Foundations course leads to access to a substantial amount of content online. This ensures that even once you have finished the training you are always kept up to date with all the latest industry news and have access to hundreds of DBA recipes and training guides online, whilst remaining part of the DBA family on all the social platforms. The idea of ‘raising the bar’ inspired me to venture into the competition world by entering the Diageo World Class Competition.

Going World Class

I was introduced to World Class by Tim Etherington Judge who was the first brand ambassador for Diageo World Class in India - I’m sure you’d agree there is no better person to provide a lowdown!

In 2013 I competed for the first time with the help of Diageo Ambassador Raveen Misra. Through his mentoring, Raveen introduced me to a lot of possibilities and ideas that I would never have considered otherwise, exploring the world of flavours and styles through experimenting. Sometimes all you need is confidence in yourself and to trust your creative side to produce something special and unique.

Fully equipped with Raveen’s mentoring and my ‘bar chef’ cocktail, I took part in the World Class India semi-final and ended up winning. The whole experience was beyond my imagination and has changed my life. I really took advantage of the opportunity to network and interact with the world’s best bartenders and mentors during the World Class tour and travelled all around the world from Nice, St Tropez, Ibiza and Barcelona, where the final of the competition was held. When I returned to India I was pleasantly surprised to discover I had been promoted to bar supervisor as my current employers recognised my great success with the Diageo World Class Competition. But it had only been possible through the knowledge I built through my DBA training.

Striving for World Success

I was determined not to rest on my laurels and decided to compete again in 2014. If there’s one life lesson I could give you it would be to take every opportunity that comes your way and always strive improve your standards.

Raveen devoted around two months to helping me prepare and perfect my entry, building on everything I had previously been taught and helping me advance further. We placed a large focus on personal presentation this time around, taking into consideration my presence and how I came across to the judges. Personal presentation is such an important element that can sometimes be over looked with contestants solely fixating on their serves.

On arrival to the India semi-final it was clear the standard had increased from the previous year, however through sheer determination and preparation with the help of my mentor, I won again. The global final was hosted throughout the UK including destinations in Scotland with the final challenges held in London. I was inspired by the London cocktail culture and Scotland’s art of blending; something that I tried to incorporate into my serves.

Returning to India, I was promoted to the role of Mixologist for the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai. Competing in the competition has now given me influence within the bar industry and I’ve been profiled and featured in lots of trade magazines, social media sites and Diageo brand videos.

Legacy

DBA has been vital to my success. It’s essential to perfect your basics before you can move on to the more advanced side of bartending. You can’t build on your skills without a strong foundation. This experience has allowed me to make some great relationships and even though I’m no longer competing, Diageo Bar Academy and World Class have kept in contact with me. I’m now in the privileged position to give back to the competition by mentoring the 2015 contestants in the World Class Indian finals, I am extremely passionate about my job as I was once in the same position, so I can relate their journey.

I would like to thank the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai for their continuing support and for encouraging me to challenge myself. Also I must thank my family and friends for their unconditional love and helping giving me the confidence to chase my dream.

Finally I owe my success to the Diageo Bar Academy and World Class competition, it has well and truly been an invaluable and worthwhile experience. I would really encourage anyone who has ambition and a passion for bartending to sign up to DBA. You never know, you might just have what it takes to become a World Class bartender.

My Top Tips

If you are thinking of entering World Class, here are my three top tips:

1.Read the rules and regulations to understand how the competition is designed.

2.Know the scoring criteria and work towards the maximum points of each criteria, i.e. taste, presentation, social communication skills etc.

3.Do your homework: Research the judges and get to know their personal preferences.

Varun's Favourite Serve

Victorian

40 ml GORDONS® Gin

20 ml Fresh pineapple infused DON JULIO ANEJO™

20 ml Lemon juice

15 ml Demerara sugar syrup

1/3 Sprig of fresh rosemary

Method: To create the pineapple infused Don Julio Anejo Pineapple infusion, add 300ml of Don Julio Anejo with 500gm fresh ripe pineapple infused for 36 hours.

Muddle the rosemary to release the oil, combine the rest of the ingredients. Shake till ice cold and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with Pineapple slice studded with rosemary.

(2.3 standard drinks*- 1.9 units per serve)

To begin your journey towards World Class standards get the fundamentals of bartending right with Diageo Bar Academy’s training programme. Sign up here today to find out more information about training courses in your area.

(*One standard drink contains 8g of alcohol)

The GORDONS® and DON JULIO ANEJO™ word and associated logos are trademarks (C) Diageo 2015.