After two days of intense competition, Antonio Lai, bar consultant and mixologist at Quinary, has been chosen to represent Hong Kong and Macau is this year’s DIAGEO RESERVE WORLD CLASS Global Finals.
The culmination of the worldwide competition, taking place in Cape Town, South Africa this September, will see Lai battle head-to-head against 49 of the world’s best bartenders for a chance to be named the 2015 WORLD CLASS champion with an opportunity to serve as a global ambassador for DIAGEO RESERVE.
To claim the regional title, Lai beat out some of his most well regarded peers in a series of competitions against other area finalists— Joao Balzani from aqua, Match Chan from Flint Grill & Bar, Charles Chiang from The Pawn, Paul Chi Lun Chan from Brick Lane, Wallace Lau from Bar Butler Shelter, Frederick Ma from The Woods and Ryan Nightingale from Ham & Sherry.
Each round was judged against tough criteria covering artistry, innovation, balance, technique and visual aesthetic by an esteemed panel of industry experts – including Sam Jeveons (Founder, Old Street Group Consulting) Marc Rodrigues (Publisher, Drinks World Asia) and Ryan Chetiyawardana (Cocktail maven, owner of The White Lion, London and International World Class Judge).
After already creating recipes to pair with Michelin-starred dim sum and inventing an original bottled cocktail, the final bought at Central’s Zuma saw competitors engage their senses with the theme ‘Fundamentals of Flavour, where victor Lai mesmerised the esteemed panel with his creation ‘The Sound of Ciroc’.
A multi-award winning international mixologist with 18 years of experience in the drinks industry, Lai is renowned for pioneering the Multisensory Mixology (MM) concept in Hong Kong – a drinking experience that elevates the art of the cocktail and engages all five senses.
The Sound of Ciroc exemplified his art of Multisensory Mixology, using a lively combination of CÎROC VODKA and carbonated grapes to craft a cocktail that simultaneously stimulated the drinkers sense of sound, smell, vision, taste and touch.
Lai said of his win, “Being awarded the World Class title of Hong Kong and Macau’s Best Bartender tonight has reminded me that we shouldn’t be afraid to try. If you never try, you’ll never know what you can achieve.”
On the outcome of this year’s event, Martin Newell, Brand Manager, for DIAGEO Reserve, said:
“I am thrilled with the level of bartending I have seen over the last two days of the Diageo World Class HK & Macau final. Our eight finalists have paired cocktails to dim sum, created a bottled aperitif cocktail and presented their signature creation. They are a great symbol for the talent in HK’s rapidly emerging cocktail culture. Antonio Lai is a fantastic champion and I am confident that he can put HK on the map at the Global Finals in South Africa.”
Alongside Lai, WORLD CLASS Hong Kong & Macau runners up Joao Balzani, Ryan Nightingale and Wallace Lau will fly to Bangkok to compete in the South East Asia finals before Lai’s Global Final appearance on 16th September in Cape Town, South Africa.
Drinks World Asia sat down with Antonio Lai to find out what lead him to craft a DIAGEO RESERVE WORLD CLASS winning cocktail.
Share with us your DIAGEO World Class experience?
Antonino Lai: DIAGEO RESERVE WORLD CLASS is one of the top competitions in Hong Kong. It requires more than just making good cocktails— bartenders need to exhibit their skills and expertise on everything from building drinks through to display and final presentation.
How did you prepare for DIAGEO World Class and any tips for bartenders looking to compete next year?
Keep practicing. Practicing is the key to preparing for WORLD CLASS. After winning in Hong Kong you have to represent your region at the global competition and keep your performance up. No one knows what challenges the global final will bring, you need to prepare well in advance for all the difficulties you may face.
What was the inspiration behind your cocktail creations?
It all started from the Grapes. Cîroc is a Vodka made by French distillers using the fruit, with a smell and mouth feel to resemble champagne.
People love fizzy drinks and grapes offer such a stimulating and refreshing sensation that I wanted to showcase.
You haven’t entered DIAGEO World Class now for a few years. What made you decide to enter the competition this year?
I just really felt that I needed to enter DIAGEO World Class this year— I see it as a chance to build new friendships, learn from each of the participating bartenders, and ultimately as a great opportunity for self-improvement.
You are a true inspiration to many bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts in Hong Kong and throughout Asia. What advice can you give to bartenders who are looking to enter cocktail competitions in Hong Kong?
Be ready for the competition—practicing and perfecting are key to success behind the bar and in any competition. Also pay attention to your surroundings; your presence and setup are very important because you have limited time on stage to show your best to the judges.
What you need to know about DIAGEO RESERVE WORLD CLASS
- Registration is through www.theworldclassclub.com
- There are two ‘bursts’ of initial entries followed by an array of regional finals – to culminate in a global final.
- Pay careful attention to each rounds rules as they often change per challenge, especially those surrounding maximum number of ingredients used or maximum alcohol content.
- Working hygienically earns you points towards technique, so avoid touching you face, as well as the tops, rims or insides of the glassware.