This guy knows how to win Bartender of the Year: 2012 winner Greg Sanderson shares his tips

2012’s Bartender of the Year, Greg Sanderson, Eau de Vie Melbourne.

Get Greg’s tips on preparing for the mystery round & how to blow the judges away

There’s only 10 days until this year’s Bartender of the Year sponsored by ABSOLUT ELYX and Havana Club gets underway with a tough written exam. But after the exam comes the mystery round, which this year will see competitors face a blind tasting challenge as well as a mystery box bartending challenge. We asked the reigning champion Greg Sanderson of Melbourne’s Eau de Vie for how he got through these rounds, and how to blow the judges away (metaphorically, of course) in the final Top 10 round.

It’s not too late to get your RSVPs in to compete either, so email to do so now — and check out all the other great Sydney Bar Week events at

This year for the Top 20 round, bartenders will again face a mystery box challenge. What are your tips for creating a killer drink on the fly?

Greg Sanderson: I would suggest thinking about what kind of drink you are going to do before you even step up to the plate. Think about are you going to do a tall or short drink and fit the ingredients from the box into that. The time will go so quickly everything you can decide before the timer goes off is a bonus. Don’t over think it and go with your guts. This is not an original cocktail comp if you see ingredients you have used before and know work go straight for them. The worst thing you can do is freak out and present the judges an empty glass or a half finished cocktail.

Were you nervous during the Top 20 round? How did you keep them under control?


GS: I was more nervous heading into the written exam to be honest, once in the Top 20 I just had to be confident that I had done the right preparation in testing myself on blind tastes and that I could bang out a great cocktail in the mystery round — which is essentially the closest round to actual bar work.

If you are nervous don’t turn to shots and excessive drinking; this is the time you need your wits about you as well as a clean palate. To stay calm I chilled with friends and put it out of my mind until they called my name and then, game face on.

You’re judging the Top 10 round this year, and last year your presentation was particularly memorable. Can you run us through what you did and why, and do you have an advice fort he Top 10 round?

GS: I created two drinks that complimented each other, a martini style drink  and a warm whisky drink. I presented these drinks with a story of anticipation that made sense and the drinks both fit into the direction of my presentation. They were not disjointed and at the same time not so similar to each other. I aimed to showcase two very different drinks that worked together in the same presentation.

I guess most people will remember me brining out a double barrel shotgun on stage and slamming my blazer down the barrel. This sounds extreme but it is how we try and present most of our cocktails at Eau-de-Vie i.e. with theatre. It was fun, something different and added the wow factor to separate the memory of the presentation in the judges eyes from the rest of the crowd.

Be careful, all the wow factor in the world won’t make up for an unbalanced, bad drink.

Good luck to everyone!

Make sure you send your RSVPs to — the exam is on Monday the 23rd!


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