July 10, 2024

World Class South Africa bartender finalists compete for international showdown in Shanghai

Nine bartenders from around South Africa are shaking and stirring their creativity to invent cocktails worthy of a ticket to Shanghai and the international finals of this year’s Diageo World Class competition.

The national finalists in the world’s biggest and most prestigious bar competition will go head-to-head over three days as they show off their creativity, knowledge, preparation techniques and commitment to continuous learning.

“We’re celebrating the 15th edition of World Class in 2024, and we’re expecting our national champion to fly the South African flag high in Shanghai with the best bartenders from more than 60 countries,” said Diageo SA’s Reserve Brand Ambassador, Nicci Denman.

“After competitive regional finals, the national finals are sure to deliver stunning cocktail experiences that will encourage consumers who enjoy fine dining to approach the possibilities of fine spirits in the same way.”

Johannesburg provides five of the finalists, including Alex Fahrenheim, Dan Knodl and Burdett Geiling from the canned cocktail company Just Short. They’re joined by Jody Rahme of Father Coffee and Devon Andreka of Obscura. Cape Town is represented by Liam Jukes of VUE Shortmarket and Philip Burrows of Tjing Tjing. The Durban finalists, both from Ballito, are independent mixologist Jason Andrews and Jono Harrison of Alchemy.

The judges are last year’s World Class national champion, Julian Short, the owner of Sin + Tax in Rosebank; Ryan Duvenage, Diageo’s head trainer in Africa; Lungi Nhlanhla, a private chef from Durban; and a surprise judge for each of the finals’ three days.

The national finals in Johannesburg from 14-16 July will include five challenges, each with its own score requirements. The top six will be chosen after the first two challenges and will go on to compete in the remaining three challenges.

  • Make it a 10: Produce two Tanqueray No. TEN-based classic cocktails (with a twist) within eight minutes.
  • Singleton Disco: Create an innovative cocktail that elevates a single malt whisky and showcases flavour in an unexpected but fun way.
  • Whisky Mastery: A compilation of mini challenges involving flavour matching, a knowledge test and a blind tasting.
  • Mystery Box: Incorporate a randomly selected ingredient into two cocktails based on a Don Julio tequila variant.
  • Bar of the Future: Create and explain a concept for the future of the bar industry. Bring it to life with four cocktails and a bar space created on a budget of R5,000.

The winner will compete in the international finals in Shanghai from 9 to 13 September and Denman says: “To get there, our national champion will need to show mastery of innovative ingredients, creative presentation, meticulous balance, exceptional preparation techniques, inspiring stories and consistent quality.”

Try these cocktails created by the 9 finalists

Jody’s recipe: Lovin’ The Crew

  • 45ml Don Julio Blanco tequila
  • 60ml Fassionola syrup
  • 20ml gardenia mix
  • 30ml carambola juice
  • 20ml tahini sherry
  • 5ml Fernet-Branca

Alex’s recipe: Fake It ’Til You Make It

  • 30ml Don Julio Blanco tequila
  • 45ml homemade captain’s corn mix
  • 22ml homemade pomegranate magic
  • Four drops jalapeño bitters
  • Garnish with charred jalapeño salted baby corn

Dan’s recipe: Big Zesty Life

  •  50ml Tanqueray No. TEN gin
  • 50ml zesty orange juice
  • 25ml salt and pepper sage syrup
  • 25ml orange wine
  • Shake then fine-strain into a coupe
  • Garnish with a carrot flower

Burdett’s recipe: Tranquillity Base

  • Tanqueray No. TEN gin
  • Yellow Chartreuse
  • Burnt lime and chamomile-infused vermouth
  • Rosé pét-nat
  • Top with parmesan air
  • Serve with grilled olives

Devon’s recipe: Isiko

  • 50ml Don Julio Blanco tequila
  • 60ml isiqatha/pineapple beer
  • 25ml sugar cane juice and pistachio falernum
  • Pinch of Hlope Grill Spice
  • Garnish with rice and pap crackers
  • Glass: calabash

Liam’s recipe: Tenacious Ten

  • 60ml Tanqueray No. TEN gin
  • 15ml apple and cucumber mirin shrub
  • 25ml coriander, orange and basil cordial
  • Top with chamomile soda
  • Garnish with fennel and coriander air, liquorice tuile and lemon caviar

Philip’s recipe: Joy in June

  • Tanqueray No. TEN gin
  • Homemade juniper-forward dry vermouth
  • Cucumber pickle brine
  • Homemade juniper aromatic bitters
  • Herbal oil drops

Jason’s recipe: Gimlet No. 10

  • 50ml Tanqueray No. TEN gin
  • 20ml lime juice (½ a lime)
  • 25ml lime and orange oleo saccharum
  • 12.5ml chamomile-infused dry vermouth
  • Shake and fine strain
  • Glass: Nick & Nora 160ml
  • Garnish: Lime wheel

Jono’s recipe: Don Punch

  • 50ml Don Julio Blanco tequila
  • 100ml punch
  • 25ml lemon juice 
  • Shake, and serve over regular ice
  • Garnish with fresh mint, lime wedge and orange peel

The Diageo Bar Academy is an international top training, inspiration and networking hub for bar professionals to enhance their careers.

Implemented in South Africa, it provides training as well as education in bar news, cocktail trends, drinks inspiration, access to a global network of experts and insights from some of the industry’s leading influencers and world-renowned bartenders.

In South Africa, Diageo’s Hand-Up Mentorship Programme aims to upskill bartenders through training while adding diversity and inclusion to those seen behind the country’s bars, with more women and people of colour. The custodians of the programme are Diageo SA’s brand ambassadors: Denman, Sean Tantsi and Nduduzo Mdletshe.