It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and everyone in the spirits business is hustling harder than a pusher on Long Street for positioning at the bar.

From the undercover brand ambassador, desperately trying to persuade you to yearn for their proprietor’s label, to the brand slave behind the sticks procuring your next drink, to the venue whoring-off all their shelf space, big liquor brands know how to pocket most. And to be honest, you can’t knock the hustle. One thing is all too clear in modern Africa: consumers drink brands, not liquid.

An amazing product might get you noticed but a strong brand will keep you going and bartending competitions are an ingenious way to do so. Brands can educate the best bartenders on their products while applying some kind of everlasting emotional voodoo. Months of preparation and competing accumulate in a rollercoaster of emotions. Win or lose, the connection between brand and bartender is forever forged.

I literally have a front-seat to this when judging local competitions. Professional bartenders do not take these contests lightly. The contestants are more like fine-tuned athletes than bartenders. Winning is everything and the emotional strain all too visible. In the end, only the fully committed prevails. Scrubs need not apply.

The bartenders are very well aware of this and with so many competitions out there, the best only enters the best. Keeping this in mind it seems most South African bartenders enter competitions for prestige and connections, followed by maybe financial gain.

So from my peephole into the bartending world, I thought it best to ask the industry what they see as the top bartending comps to enter.

We reached out to 50 bartenders and industry leaders and the results were mostly predictable but well-founded.

1. Diageo’s World Class

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Number one. Uno numero. World Class is the benchmark competition all other competitions lust over and according to South Africa’s top bartenders the one that matters the most. Started in 2009 by world liquor conglomerate Diageo, World Class now takes place in over 60 countries across the globe.

Accept for bragging rights as “the best bartender in the world”, the winner will travel internationally as a Diageo representative, judging cocktail competitions and serving drinks in locations across the globe. 

2. Inverroche Pioneers

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The only comp by a South African brand to make this list, Inverroche Pioneers slots in at a comfortable second place.

The Stilbaai Gin made its presence felt in the industry when it launched their finely crafted competition early this year. Taking into account values that the brand expires too, like hospitality, creativity and a strong entrepreneurial spirit, the Inverroche Pioneers Competition is a refreshing approach to an otherwise reductive scene.

The winner will walk away with his/her own Gin brand that Inverroche will assist in making, market and sell. With a potential profit of over R100k, the Inverrroche Pioneers Competition provides the winner with valuable insights into the product world as well as some decent pocket change.

3. Bacardi Legacy

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Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition scraps in at number three. The competition aims to challenge bartenders from around the world to find the Bacardi rum cocktail with the greatest potential to establish itself as a classic like the Mojito, Daiquirí and Old Cuban before it. 

4. Patron Perfectionists

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Now in its 5th year and open to 30 countries and cruise liners across six continents, Patrón Perfectionists comes in at number 4.

The Bacardi-owned Tequila brand, Patrón, launched the competition in 2015 to great success and today it’s seen as one of the leading international cocktail competitions. While the comp seeks perfection, it challenges bartenders to demonstrate craftsmanship and attention to detail through their drinks and presentation. It ultimately seeks a cocktail that reflects the holy trinity of Patrón Tequila: passion, precision and care.

The national winner will jet set to Mexico to sling it off against other global winners for the chance to become a Patrón ambassador.

5. Absolut Invite

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Absolut Invite is the global bartending competition for the bartenders who excel when the bar is pumping.

Absolut Invite starts with local heats and finishes with the global final in Sweden, the motherland of Absolut. During the finals, the bar teams will be challenged on knowledge, skills, speed and creative drink mixing. The three-day event takes place in the village of Åhus.

The winning team will get the chance to work in partnership with Absolut for a year and be taken on a journey around the globe that money can’t buy.

6. Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge

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Now in its 10th year, successful entrants will compete in the national and regional heats in their respective regions for a chance to reach the grand finals in Trinidad and Tobago. There they will vie for the title of Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge Champion, $10,000 and a two-year contract as Angostura’s Global Brand Ambassador

7. Tahona Society

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In 2018, the revamped bartender contest looked for sustainable initiatives all around the world that can impact the bar in a positive way; from environmental preservation to bartenders’ mental health.

15 countries participated, submitting dozens of projects. The winner received $50,000 towards their winning initiative.

8. Monkey Shoulder Ultimate Bartender

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The Monkey Shoulder Ultimate Bartender Competition is a two-day event where participants can learn valuable skills from celebrity bartenders and compete for a trip to Europe.

UBC will test bartenders on knowledge, mixing, pouring, and nosing, as well as back of house skills including stock take. 

9. Havana Club Grand Prix

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The Havana Club International Cocktail Grand Prix is an international bartending competition that began in 1996. Since then the competition has taken place every two years in Havana, Cuba.

10. Campari Bar Academy

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The Results


Running a successful competition has become competitive in itself. As Diageo march ahead with its World Class competition, others, like Pernod Ricard, are looking at consolidating its individual competitions into something that can rival World Class. So it’s more than likely that some of the entries on this list might soon disappear, but until than, shake on.

Other worthy nominations.

  1. Botanist Foraged Cocktail Competition
  2. Rémy Martin Bartenders Talent Academy
  3. Opihr World Adventure
  4. Beefeater MixLDN
  5. Protégé
  6. Bols Around the World
  7. Woodford Bourbon Trail