Fifty-odd bartenders sat the exam. 16 made the second round. And after the Top 8 round in front of 600 of the industry’s finest, only one was crowned the Bartender of the Year: Mr Daniel Gregory from Brisbane.
Each year for two days in September, bartenders from around the country come to Sydney to take on the toughest test of bartending ability going around: the Australian Bartender Bartender of the Year, sponsored again this year by BACARDÍ & De Kuyper.
They came down in numbers to Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern at the unbartenderly hour of 10:30am, some nursing sore heads form the Sydney Bar Week festivities the night before, but most with a sense of preparedness.
The exam is a tough one, and so it should be. The Bartender of the Year winners club includes some of the country’s most notable bartenders, past and present: names like Nathan Beasley, Lee Potter Cavanagh, Michael Chiem, Chris Hysted-Adams, Jason Williams… the list goes on.
The one-hour exam was followed by the announcement of the Top 16: Nick Cozens, Jonothan Carr, James Russell, Alex Archibald, David Rofe, Orlando Marzo, Grazia di Franco, Dean Scuderi, Priscilla Leong, Joe Sinagra, Paul Hammond, Tom Loosli, Daniel Gregory, Jenna Hemsworth, Kal Moore, and James Irvine.
They were then tasked with the second round, mystery box challenge, in which they had one minute to familiarise themselves with the mystery ingredients, and two minutes to make both a drink on the fly from the mystery box, and a classic Daiquiri.
It’s about as much pressure as you’re going to find in a competition, as it tests your speed, creativity, and knowledge of the classics.
We then announced the Top 8, and come the Tuesday of Sydney Bar Week, they all rolled into Doltone House to get prepped for the third and final round.
Let’s get one thing straight: presenting your drinks on stage at the Bartender Magazine Australian Bar Awards in front of 600-plus of the industry’s best bartenders, bar operators and bar owners is no small feat. And this year, coming into the final round, just four points separated the number one position from number eight — it was, truly, anyone’s title for the taking.
They were judged by an incredible panel of palates: Bacardi-Martini ambassador Loy Catada, former Bartender of the Year winners Michael Chiem, Lee Potter Cavanagh, and Jason Williams; Amy Cooper from Fairfax; and Australian Bartender founder and publisher, David Spanton.
And what a standard of competition it was, with the judges’ work not an easy task. We saw a parade of platinum performances, some creative, innovative drinkmaking, and all the proof that you need that the quality of Australian bartending is world class.
In the end though, one bartender would emerge victorious, after having landed in third place last year: Brisbane’s Daniel Gregory. In second place, and from his first time in the Top 8, was Sydney-based bartender Jonothan Carr, and in third, in his first ever attempt at the competition, was Swillhouse’s James Irvine.
The team here at Australian Bartender sends a big thanks to the competition’s sponsors, Bacardi and De Kuyper, without whom putting on this competition would not be possible. Big thanks goes to their team: our Top 8 co-host, Andy Wren; judge Loy Catada, and the incomparable Penny Sippe for all their hands-on work with the competition.
Stay tuned for registrations for next year’s comp!