With entries now open, 6 Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge alumni share how winning changed their lives

Five winners of the Australian final of the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge: Mike Tomasic, Daniel Gregory, Joe Sinagra, James Irvine, Marco Nunes. Photo: Christopher Pearce

In a bartending world crowded with cocktail competitions, there’s one global competition that stands out: the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge. Held biennially, the global finals take place at the home of the House of Angostura, in Trinidad during Carnival celebrations.

It’s a competition in which Australian and New Zealand bartenders have regularly outperformed the rest of the field, with three global champions emerging from our ranks: Marco Nunes (2006), Andy Griffiths (2011) and Mike Tomasic (2014) are among the Australians to have won the global final, and from New Zealand, the reigning champ and current global ambassador is Ray Letoa.

We’ve collected the last six Australian champs — they’re some of the best bartenders the country has ever produced — ahead of the next instalment of the competition due later this year. Here is their advice and what it means to win this lucrative competition.

Because that’s the other thing about the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge: Not only does the winner score a trip to Trinidad, but the Australian winner also scores a large cash prize and an ambassador role. And if they go on to win things globally, the prize only becomes bigger.

Take a look at how to enter below.

How to enter
Entries open: Monday June 17
Entries close: Sunday August 18
Top 6 Announced: Monday August 26
Australia & New Zealand final: Monday 16 September, Sydney Bar Week

The Australia & New Zealand final will see four Australian and two NZ competitors facing off for the regional title at Sydney Bar Week.

For more details and to enter now, visit angosturaglobalcocktailchallenge.com/how-to-enter/?country=australia

Marco Nunes. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Marco Nunes
2006 Global Winner

Why did you enter the comp in the first place?
I had recently moved to Australia and wanted to challenge myself. I saw this as a way to evaluate my cocktail skills and an opportunity to network with bartenders interstate.

What was the best thing about winning?
This was my first cocktail challenge so it was a shock. Going through each stage of the challenge was an achievement and lucky for me it didn’t stop.

How do you think it helped your career?
It definitely helped me getting my name out there and opened great work opportunities. This industry is quite competitive and having this sort of kudos on your belt is needed to get recognition at times.

What are you doing now?
I work as a training facilitator for an RTO and recently started to also focus on running my hospitality consultancy agency. On top of that I regularly work with Sweet & Chilli on various activations and on the Diageo Bar Academy training program.

What would you say to anyone thinking of entering this year?
Looking at my story and how well Australia has done at it so far on the global level I’d say: Do it. The local support is great, past winners are available to help and give advice if needed.

Like with any challenge, be well prepared, understand what it takes to win it well and be sure to want it the most.

What’s different about this comp?
It’s a respected global challenge that keeps evolving, which mixes fun and craftsmanship.

Mike Tomasic. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Mike Tomasic
2013 Australian Winner
2014 Global Winner

How do you think it helped your career?
It opened up numerous new and exciting opportunities within the industry, from leading new bar openings, to consulting gigs both locally and internationally and even private function work for high net worth clients, which still continues to this day.

What would you say to anyone thinking of entering this year?
You have nothing to lose by entering but everything to gain.

What’s different about this comp?
It focuses on the basic fundamentals of bartending: simple drinks, six ingredients or less including compulsory rum and bitters and your presentation skills, just like a normal night at work right? Make drinks and chat. Just this time it’s in front of the world’s media, if you make it to globals.

What’s it like being the Angostura Brand Ambassador?
Nothing short of spectacular. It gave me the opportunity to work and travel to five of the world’s seven continents, making for so many unforgettable experiences.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be a brand ambassador?
The best ambassadors have years of bartending under their belt. From there, an ambassador’s role isn’t just laybacks and Jungle Birds on a Malaysian beach. The more skilled you are, the more valuable you’ll be to a brand. For example, get cosy with Microsoft Office, do marketing and bookkeeping courses, you could even get involved with Toastmasters to sharpen your public speaking skills.

Joe Sinagra. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Joe Sinagra
2009 Australian Winner

How do you think winning helped your career?
Without a doubt there’s so much exposure. You’re showing an international audience what you can do. There’s international trade media there and they’re looking for great talent.

If you make it to Trinidad from Australia it’s expected you’ll be right up there as one of the top competitors to watch. Apart from that it’s all about the experience. You’re exposed to a completely different market, different ways of thinking about drinks and different palates. All the competitors chat about drinks and work so it’s a great way to broaden the way you think as well.

What are you doing now?
Currently running a cocktail and whisky bar called Halford. We’re a small bar that makes up part of The State Buildings in Perth, home to other great venues like Long Chim, Petition and Wild Flower (to name a few).

Andy Griffiths
2011 Australian Winner
2011 Global Winner

Why did you enter in the first place?
Aside from being a lover of rum in general, I had entered a couple of years beforehand and lost. I was keen to give it another go and see how far I could get.

What was the best thing about winning?
The trip to Trinidad and Tobago for that year was amazing. Not just the competition but the hospitality of the Angostura Family
over Carnivale was incredible. Being invited

back the next year to judge was also amazing. It gave me the chance to travel stress free and even propose to my wife in Tobago on a deserted beach!

How do you think it helped your career?
It was instrumental; not just the contacts met over the two trips to Trinidad, but also being a Global Ambassador for a year gave me the opportunity to travel to some far-away places like Russia and Lithuania to host events and share the love of rum and bitters. A pretty amazing stepping stone to greater things.

What are you doing now?
I’m the ‘Head of Operations & Creative’ for an amazing new venue in Singapore called Idlewild. Recently opened but already gaining traction as a hot new spot to drink in a great city.

What would you say to anyone thinking of entering this year?
Practice and practice. With your recipes, get your friends to give you honest feedback on flavours. Also get them to time you going through your presentation plenty of times before you go on stage. This helps a hell of a lot when it comes down to it and the pressure is on. Don’t forget to make sure the base spirit is still the hero of the drink!

James Irvine. Photo: Christopher Pearce

James Irvine
2015 Australian Winner

Why did you enter the comp in the first place?
I saw it for the amazing opportunity that it is; to work with such an iconic brand, used in every bar, restaurant or RSL, around the world.

How do you think it helped your career?
I found it a great learning experience in how global cocktail competitions work and something that I would take with me into other cocktail competitions.

What are you doing now?
I’m fortunate enough to be Creative Director of Gin Drinks at Four Pillars. My role allows me to be creative, work with great bars, meet some amazing people and #DrinkBetterGin.

What would you say to anyone thinking of entering this year?
To quote Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.

Daniel Gregory. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Dan Gregory
2017 Australian Winner

Why did you enter the comp in the first place?
I knew it would be a good challenge for me. I like comps that test your skills, creativity and all areas of bartending rather than how good you are at social media. You can’t just take a photo and hope for the best. It’s a true knowledge-based competition. It lets you be creative but also tests your technique.

What was the best thing about winning?
Winning gave me a massive boost of confidence because the calibre of bartenders competing is so high. Also, your peers are on the judging panel so you have to impress. The prize itself is amazing. You get to go to Trinidad for the global final which is an experience of a lifetime. Part of the prize for winning the national final is becoming the Australian Angostura Brand Ambassador. That means you get to travel a lot. I got to catch up with lots of old friends and made a tonne of new ones.