Here’s how the 2019 Bartender of the Year sponsored by BACARDÍ & De Kuyper was won

Bartender of the Year, Alex Gondzioulis, making his drinks on stage.

The Bartender Bartender Magazine Bartender of the Year sponsored by BACARDÍ & De Kuyper is one of the toughest bartending tests going around, and 2019’s instalment saw a changing of the guard take place. 

Some 60-odd bartenders gathered at Sydney’s very own five star dive bar, Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern, to sit the toughest written exam going around in bartending. It’s no easy test, this one, with some 80 questions to be answered within an hour. 

After marking the exams, we announced the Top 16 who would go onto the next round: the mystery box challenge.

Stepping up behind the Ramblin’ Rascal bar in pairs, each bartender had one minute to familiarise themselves with the mystery box ingredients, so that they could make two drinks: one, an on the spot riff using only the mystery box ingredients (beware the fish sauce, folks); the other, a classic cocktail — and one of our favourites here at Australian Bartender — the mighty Daiquiri. Once that minute was up, they had just two minutes to get two drinks up. It’s a frantic challenge, one that separates the professionals from the pack.

It was the year of fresh faces, and the rise of bartenders from outside of Sydney and Melbourne: Newcastle’s James Rusty Russel made it through, so too did Billie-Jean Bray from Byron Bay, along with Geelong’s Damien Kos and Darwin’s Joey Folkersma. Jet Hauge, of Bondi bar Isabel, made the cut for his second time running; Bulletin Place’s Alex Gondzioulis made it through on his first attempt at the competition. And rounding out the Top 8 were two veterans of the competition: Joe Sinagra from Halford in WA made his sixth appearance in the Top 8, and after a four year hiatus from the competition, 2015’s Bartender of the Year, Lee Potter Cavanagh, made his return.

Billie-Jean Bray on stage.
Joe Sinagra made another strong showing at the pointy end of the competition.

The third and final round, as always, was held at the Bar Awards on the Tuesday night of Bar Week. The Top 8 is essentially the room’s entertainment for the evening, and getting up on stage in front of more than 650 of the nation’s best bartenders, bar operators, and suppliers is no easy task. They had to impress an impressive panel of judges for the evening: Penny Sippe, from Bacardi-Martini; Raj Nagra from the Bartender Boxing Organisation; Amy Cooper from Nine; Camille Vidal from Le Maison Wellness; WA veteran James Connolly; last year’s Bartender of the Year, Jenna Hemsworth; and Australian Bartender publisher David Spanton.

The judges enjoying cocktails served a la goon bag.

And this year’s Top 8 didn’t disappoint. It was anyone’s game going into the final round, but this year belonged to competition first-timer Alex Gondzioulis. It’s a rare feat, and Gondzioulis blew the judging panel away with his performance and drinks, opening up a lead that neither Joe Sinagra (who placed third) or Lee Potter Cavanagh (who came in second) could pull back.

Bacardi ambassador Georgie Mann and Australian Bartender editor, Sam Bygrave.
Bartender of the Year, Alex Gondzioulis.

We’d like to thank all those who helped to bring the comp to life this year: the team from our sponsors, BACARDÍ & De Kuyper and their events team led by Penny Sippe and Hayley Moorhead; our wonderful co-host, Bacardi ambassador Georgie Mann; to all of our judges — with a special shoutout to Simon McGoram for helping us out — and to Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern for once again hosting the exam.

Bartender of the Year, Alex Gondzioulis.

Photographs by Christopher Pearce & Jim Barker