We asked Ben for his tips on keeping your nerves under wraps and preparing for the big day
There’s just two weeks until the kick-off of this year’s Bartender of the Year sponsored by ABSOLUT ELYX and Havana Club. That means you’ve got two weeks to study and prepare for the exam, so we thought we’d get some winning advice from a man who has been there before and done it all: Mr Ben Davidson.
(If you haven’t RSVP’d for the exam, send your RSVP through to firstname.lastname@example.org and get studying!)
Ben, you took out the Bartender of the Year title in 2005, what should competitors expect to feel if they hit the Top 10 stage? Have you got any tips for keeping nerves under wraps?
Once you make the Top 10 you should feel the pressure of expectation on your shoulders. Don’t let this be a burden, though. Know that this is what you wanted and now you have the opportunity to rise even further to the top and be recognised by you peers as being awesome! We usually produce our best work when under pressure – so use this pressure to your advantage. Have your cocktails planned for in advance so there is not any extra stress in coming up with drinks within 24 hours if you surprise yourself and make the Top 10.
Do you have any tips for the exam round?
The questions this year will be drawn from all of the drinks categories – including spirits, aperitifs, liqueurs, wine, champagne, beer, sherry, port, anise, etc., they will be focussed on practical and essential areas of knowledge that you should know in the performance of your duties as a top bartender. Certainly brush up on everything, as well as delve a little deeper into the more obscure categories so you can maximise your score. Doing well in the first round sets you up nicely for the remaining rounds. Read something about booze every night.
We know in the mystery round there is a blind tasting and a mystery bartending challenge. What tips do you have for the blind tasting?
Definitely do some practice tests in your own bar with one of your colleagues choosing four or five spirits at random for you to taste and analyse. Memorise the aromas that you get from each of the spirit categories. When doing the Blind Tasting test rely on these memorised aromas and it is best to go with your initial gut instinct. There is a danger that if you over think it you will drift away from your initial thoughts.
For the mystery bartending challenge, given they can’t be sure what they have to do — how can they prepare?
When planning for the mystery box think of some classic flavour combinations that you know work well. Analyse why these work well. Use these principles to create a drink ‘on the fly’. Once the Mystery Box is revealed use your best ‘freestyle intuition’ to create a drink that has balance and flavour with an elegant simplicity yet original and interesting. Best to be creative, however don’t go overboard.