The Swiss finals of the Diageo World Class 2019 competition took place on Monday at the Baroque bar in Geneva. Twelve bartenders from across Switzerland were competing for the one ticket to the global finals in September.
To qualify, they had to win the impressive jury over: Lauren Mote, the Diageo Global Cocktailian herself, Daniel Schofield of forthcoming Schofield’s bar in Manchester (and previously Coupette in London notably), Jennifer Le Nechet, World Class Global Champion 2016, and Marcus Philipp, Austria World Class Champion 2017. Max La Rocca, Diageo World Class European Brand Ambassador and formerly bartender and bar manager at prestigious venues such as the Claridge’s Hotel in London, officiated as “master of ceremony”. An inspiring mix of local and global winners, brand ambassadors, industry legends and a nice gender balance.
This year’s competitors faced four different challenges to access the final stage of the national leg of the competition. First, they had to take inspiration from Tiki culture to create a cocktail with Talisker 10. Not an easy task to all appearances to harmoniously combine the peatiness of Scotch with the sweetness of Tiki drinks and to draw a bridge between the harshness of Scotland and the warmth of the tropics. There are some similarities between the two seemingly opposite universes though. For example, geologically, with the isle of Talisker and the volcanoes in Hawaii being both quite moonlike, as Lauren Mote pointed out.
Besides making a coherent drink, the bartenders also had to wow the jury with their storytelling skills. Therefore, they had to come up with a narrative around the theme “Time and Place” to explain the inspiration behind their cocktail. Some participants walked the jury through personal memories; others through Scottish or Polynesian legends.
In the morning, the twelve finalists were also tested on their knowledge of the Diageo portfolio and spirits in general. In an hour long blind taste challenge, they had to recognize seven whisky, whiskies, bourbons and scotches, including blends, and answer questions about brands.
After a short lunch break, two more challenges awaited the contestants in the afternoon. One consisted in presenting a twist on a classic cocktail that would be representative of their bar. The contestants had ten minutes to prepare and present their drink to Jennifer Le Nechet and Daniel Schofield. I didn’t see much of this challenge as I was completely caught up by the one about sustainability running at the same time.
In the Baroque’s basement, Lauren Mote and Marcus Philipp were assessing candidates on their capacity to create cocktails with ingredients that would normally be discarded. Funny enough (spoiler alert!), the cocktails I took the most notes of were those prepared by the contestants that would qualify for the big finale!
Marie Gerber from the bar at the Chedi Andermatt hotel infused the challenge’s spirit, Ketel One vodka, with old coffee grounds and made a syrup out of Swiss beer. Finally, she topped her drink with an artichoke beer foam. Showcasing how much you can recycle ingredients, she invited the judges to exfoliate their hands with a homemade coffee scrub and offered them a coffee soap she had also made herself. Her choice of glassware was another good example of reuse: she repurposed old bottles into serving glasses; an idea other candidates had also had.
Next was Chloe Merz from Angel’s Share in Basel with a clever recycling of leftover champagne. The bubbly has a shelf life of maximum 2 days (if that many) once open and often goes to waste. She mixed it with honey to get a syrup and, then, combined it with vodka and citrics. Instead of serving her cocktail in a glass, Chloe poured it into a reusable beeswax wrap she had tied into a moneybag. Sipping the cocktail through a (sustainable) glass straw allowed to smell the honey scent of the “glass”, thus enhancing the honey taste of the drink through smell.
Since becoming a father 18 months ago, Dirk Hany from Bar am Wasser in Zurich finds bananas a daily staple at home. He therefore decided to use them for his cocktail. Turning the fruit into a sherbet and adding a syrup made of leftover coffee, he prepared a banana daiquiri for the judges.
I was impressed by how thorough the judges were with the no waste challenge. Nothing escaped their watchful eye. While she appreciated the offer of a fresh glass of water, Lauren Mote pointed out to a few candidates that serving bottled water instead of tap water was not environmentally friendly. As for Marcus Philipp, he challenged another contestant on his use of two tumblers. Why use – and then wash – two when one seems enough?
Chloe’s use of beeswax wrap instead of regular glassware caught Lauren’s attention. The judge encouraged to take her idea further. She suggested sourcing honey from local beekeepers who could then perhaps also provide the beeswax wraps. Local sourcing would not only be more sustainable but it would also be a way to support the community.
Lauren also challenged the use of bananas in drinks. Her argument went beyond the sustainability of its sourcing. Her point was about its consumption. Indeed people often separate bananas, leaving one to rot and go to waste. The judge recommended bartenders to ask local grocerers to supply them with these left behind bananas to minimize waste.
For the first time, the Diageo World Class Swiss finals were held in Geneva, workplace of the last 4 winners. Some have moved on to pastures new, others still delight the Genevans’ palates. Olivia Hairay, the 2015 champion, is now in Paris working at Lulu White. Gabriel de Lima (2017) recently became the Diageo World Class Brazil Champion 2019. He is now one of the very few that have won the competition in different countries. In Geneva, Sophie Larrouture (2016) is now bar manager at the Four Seasons Hotel in Geneva and Katalin Bene (2018) mixes her magic at Voodoo Reyes.
The Diageo World Class Switzerland trophy has now left Geneva though. After a last 10 min speedround challenge, it’s on its way to Zurich in the hands of Dirk Hany. The ecstatic winner now has three months to get ready for the global finals in Glasgow in September. All the best to him and congratulations to all the contestants for their creativity and endurance during the Swiss finals!