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Cocktail Competitions. Five tips to help you prepare for your first.

Cocktail competitions. 5 tips to help you prepare for your first.


For many budding bartenders just starting their careers, cocktail competitions can be a very exciting way of breaking into the industry. These can range from small competitions run in a local bar to worldwide such as Bacardi Legacy.

They can be truly exhilarating event’s however daunting to those who are new to being on a stage. True many of us have the courage to make numerous drink concoctions while maintaining small talk. However, being on a stage with up to 30 people watching you while you explain why you decided to stir your recipe rather than shake can be a scary concept.

To be a maestro on the competition front requires some investment. Here is some knowledge that may help you when it’s your turn to present.

“Having a prepared speech will be the deal breaker when you are in front of the judges”

1. Read and know the brief.

Cocktail competitions have a unique, brief, or set of rules, that dictate how the competitors must prepare. The rules can be simple like using a minimum 35ml of the desired product. Or, in some circumstances, can be more challenging.

Ysabel Regina brandy ran a competition in 2017. Competitors had to choose a music category of either Jazz Pop, Jazz Blues or Jazz Rock with each one having its own sub requisite. For the Jazz Rock group, an infusion element had to be added to the drink.

I decided to infuse my Ysabel Regina with Thyme, coffee and orange peel. I then named the cocktail ‘Good thymes bad thymes’ (see what I did there?).  But it is important to follow the rules, so if one rule states use a maximum 7 ingredients, don’t then decide to use 8 on the stage! You will only disgruntle the judges.

global cocktail competitions can be far more complex. The Diplomatico’s world tournament literally has a contract to read. be prepared to give your all and create your personal brand as well as the cocktail. although simplicity is usually the key. these brands want your drink to be easily replicable.

2. Build a story.

people love an engaging story. Your presentation skills and ability to captivate the audience are judged significantly more than your capability to whip up a well-balanced drink. Having a prepared speech will be the deal breaker when you are in front of the judges. Start with a beginning, middle and end. from there you have your frame to build onto.

Andy Ives, in his ‘cocktail competition handbook’, describes 3 topics that must be covered.

  • the concept behind your cocktail
  • a display of brand knowledge
  • your bartending personality

Creating a drink that links to the set brief can sometimes be the easy part. Knowledge is power, as they say. research the brand thoroughly. How did it start? What makes it unique? What are their visions for the future? a little digging can go a long way. your bartending personality is who you are when making drinks. Have fun with it, you could talk on previous bars you’ve worked at, why you admire a certain industry leader and better yet talk about yourself. In many of these competitions, brands are searching for the next bartender to represent their product. Hence why also looking well-groomed with a sharp suit could gain you extra points.

3. Homemade is better.

As a generation of bartenders, We do truly well on this front. But this is still an overlooked way to stand out from the crowd. Whether it’s making your own syrup or fruit jam I personally think sometimes its best to go crazy and experiment. Shrubs are a delicious idea if you’re stuck on what to make. Not only do they add a good level of acidity but they also last for an age in the fridge! I would also aim this rule for cocktail garnishes too. Anyone can top their drink with a well sliced citrus tail, but what about candied lemon peel? Judges love a well thought out garnish, especially if its edible!

4. Practise, Practise, Prep.

Another obvious tip but one that so many do not do. It is advisable to revise and review your speech and cocktail, that way you can iron out any flaws or stop any mishaps that may occur! Write your speech on cue cards then practise in front of family or work colleagues. A touch of friendly criticism may point out some areas that need improvement. In regards to the cocktail, make it a tonne of times. Remember, when its showtime you will be on an unfamiliar bar and many circumstances you will only have several minutes to set up.

Knowing a routine of when you use your ingredients or techniques will not only boost your confidence but also save you from embarrassment when you’re on the stage. once I had to borrow someone else’s flamer before I carried on to present, only to discover halfway through it had run out of gas! Moments like this can throw you off. On another note make sure to work clean, there is nothing a judge hates more than messy workmanship.

5. Most importantly, have fun!

Enjoy it. Meet people. Learn. We are fortunate to be involved in such a fun and innovative industry where being social is actively encouraged. These events are a great way to network and learn new methods to the art of bartending. My advice? Enter as many as you can. Because each time you will improve and learn for the next. Failure is sometimes the key to success and who knows? Maybe even one day you could be crowned a World class bartender.

Follow or for a constantly updated list of national or international competitions you can enter, so have a look what’s out there and good luck if you get through!

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About The Author

The Hungry Bartender

With a career spanning ten years in the hospitality industry, Chris shares his knowledge and passion through his Hungry Bartender website.


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