Sipping My Way Through India’s Best Cocktails At The World Class 2019 Finals!

Who doesn’t love reality shows? They’re fun, fast-paced, fantastic, and my favourite! With edge-on-the-seat action, and nail-biting suspense, they guarantee you a good time. With various formats from singing to cooking, gracing our screens, we’ve become used to reality shows and all the excitement involved.

But, did you know that the bartending world has a version of its own? One that’s better, bigger and more real than reel?
Well, I have. And I even got to experience it first-hand, all-thrills-attached, at Diageo’s World Class India Bartending Championship 2019!
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The international platform by Diageo raises the bar in mixology with its search for the world’s best bartender. And its Indian edition left me starry-eyed with its finest selection of mixologists from the best bars across the country and their ‘World Class’ drinks! And, how lucky was I get an invitation to witness this grand event!

While brushing up my cocktail knowledge, I armed myself with my camera and headed to Fort’s Ministry Of New, the venue for the event.

What awaited me, was a day full of mixes and memories! The top 10 bartenders from across the country dressed in their Sunday… oops, Saturday best had gathered at the lovely co-working space ready to take on the day.
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Jovial and full of excitement, they were briefed by Brand Ambassador, Reserve Portfolio at Diageo – Zachary Abbott, about the challenges to follow. The first one was the invigorating Mystery Box Challenge, where two mystery boxes containing 3 ingredients each were unveiled. In groups of five, the finalists got assigned the ingredients which would form the components of their World Class creations.

By choosing 2 or more ingredients, they had to present their World Class drinks to the jury with a stellar concept to match! Whew, being a World Class bartender is a tough job innit?!
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But that’s not all, what followed was a Blind Tasting round where the finalists had to identify – get this – cocktails, and note down their names, origins, and spirits within 2 minutes! Oh, and did I mention, this happened amidst the presence of the esteemed jury; Vir Sanghvi, Yangdup Lama, Ashish Kapur, and Kelvin Cheung. *sings Under Pressure by Queen under her breath*
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Being the social butterfly that I am, (and to distract myself from the nervousness disguised as the elephant in the room) I spent my time asking the judges one #NotSoSimpleQuestion

The question for Kelvin Cheung, the ‘masterchef-mind’ behind my favourite Brunch place Bastian was – ‘What drink would you pair with your celebrity-approved Lobster Mac and Cheese?’
Pat came his reply, ‘Probably something simple and one of my favourite drinks as well – a Penicillin. Especially one that’s topped off with smoky lager and would balance well with a dish that’s creamy and savoury with an umami flavour.’
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The next question was for Ashish Kapur, the travelling gourmand and owner of the famous Whisky Samba – What cocktail do you think would put India on the map?
He insightfully replied with, ‘Gone are the days of spices like clove and cardamom. What we need now is ingredients that we are familiar with, and that we in India itself haven’t tried. In order to first appeal 1.2 million people, we can look at ingredients like jamun, bel (wood apple) etc. For people who like wine, something like jamun with its tannins would be bang on. Forget going international, we need to shock, surprise and delight India first!

Next up was Yangdup Lama; mixologist, author, and co-owner, Cocktails & Dreams and Speakeasy who when prodded about his go-to cocktail when he’s on the other side of the bar, disclosed, ‘I’m all for a well-stirred Manhattan with exactly five drops of aromatic bitters.

While the mixologists got done with their sniffing and sipping sessions, the stage was set for the Mystery Box cocktail presentations. One by one, the superstars enthralled us with their concepts and creations, all within 7 minutes!
So inspirational. I take 70 minutes to drag myself out of bed every morning.
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As the judges studied the cocktails and noted down the scores, the atmosphere at Ministry Of New turned over a new page. Under shimmering lights and the brightest of smiles, alcohol connoisseurs from all over the city assembled to witness this World Class evening, awaiting the announcement of the winner.

But the wait to discover India’s best was one step away! The Speed Round was the final challenge with the bartenders having to sweat it out to prepare 6 cocktails in 5 minutes! Cocktail cardio, much?
While Brandon Toborg, Reserve Brands Ambassador Diageo, gave cocktail names to the finalists at random, they aced the game and raced against time to create fantastical concoctions!
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The clock struck 12 and the anticipation was high. A nail-biter of a night this had been till now with so many challenges and cocktails being introduced to. But, as always, there could have been just one winner.
And this year, it was Devi Singh from Goa’s Firefly who crafted ‘Memories’ inspired by his many mixing and traveling stories from all over the country. Made with vetiver blended Johnnie Walker Black Label, lemon juice, pineapple tepache, lapsang sauchong, rosemary hydrosol, soda, and smoky whisky, his cocktail was an amalgamation of research and techniques! A well-deserved win for Devi, this one.

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So, while Devi embarks on a trip to Scotland to compete with 55 other countries at the World Class Championship, I wish him loads of liquid luck, and hope he brings the title back to India!
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Cheers to everything World Class, guys.

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