Diageo Reserve World Class India 2017 – Speed, theatricality, and sheer bartending finesse on display!
As Diageo Reserve World Class crowned Rohan Rege, from Pasha at the JW Marriott Pune, with the title of the India Bartender of the Year, those of us who were invited to witness the finale were left amazed and certainly hankering for more.
With the Diageo Reserve World Class bringing the best bottle-slingers from across the globe on a common platform to compete for stirred and shaken glory in their 9th straight year, the competition has become synonymous with bartending excellence across the globe. No doubt that the World Class India would see some intense display of mixology and theatricality, which I must say is second nature for the lot of us.
In the melee of competing and one-upmanship, the collective gain was the transformation that our drinking culture is seeing on a much grander scale, and it is all thanks to such efforts by the likes of Diageo and most certainly the collective awesomeness of the mixologists battling it out behind the bar.
Coming to the finale of the 2017 Diageo Reserve World Class India, the event held at the St. Regis, Mumbai had all the makings of an intense and supercharged race to the finish with none of the 12 finalists ready to leave an inch out there. Having gone through the gruel for six straight months, they had a long day ahead of them before one of them could eventually take home the shiny silverware. Needless to say, with judges like Donald Colville – Diageo Global Scotch Ambassador – Malts, Nicholas Ord – Diageo Reserve Brand Ambassador and Nikhil Agarwal – Sommelier & CEO, All Things Nice, this was not going to be an easy task. But in the end, Pune boy and bar star at the Pasha, JW Marriott – Rohan Rege, seemed to have everything the judges wanted and took home the trophy of the country’s best bartender.
The event kick-started with Jamie Walker – Reserve Brand Ambassador at USL, setting the tone for the day with some light-hearted banter and of course introducing the judges and contestants. The first round of eliminations saw the 12 finalists presenting the judges with 2 of their signature drinks, one al-fresco, and one after-dark. Having worked in a bar in another life, one thing I know for sure is that the level of creativity and the imagination that these bartenders put into their cocktails is just astounding. What particularly amazed me was the theatrical element in the presentation of the cocktails made by Gaurav Dhyani from Molecule Air Bar, Gurgaon and the downright hysterical trip that Devi Singh Bhati from Swing, Goa took the judges on. Then again, there was that smooth flair and the focus on sustainability that the defending champion Jeet Rana from Perch, New Delhi brought to the table and seeing a bartender so unfazed under pressure is a rarity.
Progressing to the next and the most exciting round were 6 of the finalists who literally blew us away with their sheer display of speed and composure under extreme stress; imagine a Saturday night at the bar, just 10 times worse. Mixing 8 classic cocktails in 6 minutes is never an easy task no matter how seasoned a bar hand you are, but the contestants made a cakewalk out of it. Once again, the defending champion Jeet was such a joy to watch and he literally breezed through the speed round. Hakkasan Mumbai’s Kevin Dias probably didn’t even know this was a speed round. He was so composed as though he was preparing just a single drink on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but before the time counted down, he had his drinks laid out on the carousel and boy was that cool, or was that cool!
A mystery box challenge is a tough cookie in a bartending competition, but when you’re in it to pick the country’s best bartender, the going has to get tough doesn’t it? Precisely!
The top 3 who made it to the last round were given a mystery box with ingredients as uncommon as Jamun juice and Amla juice, even going as far as assorted jams and black sesame seeds. But boy did these guys impress us with their concoctions. Pune’s Rohan Rege, Mumbai’s Kevin Dias, and Delhi’s Jeet Rana mixed up some stellar stuff that was easily world class. But at the end of it, only one of them could win, and on the night of the finale, Rohan Rege from Pasha seemed to have everything going his way.
All in all, I cannot be happier that initiatives like the Diageo Reserve World Class are raising the bar – pun intended, and as a collective, we’ll be seeing a lot of amazing stuff being poured into our glasses irrespective of where in the country we choose to drink. Other than that, we have a fantastic candidate representing us at the World Class Global finale to be held in Mexico City, and I really hope we bring the trophy home.
What a day, wow!