If at first you don’t succeed. Try harder…

Jamie Jones did and look where it’s got him? After his second attempt at the title he’s only gone and won and will be representing Great Britain in the World Class Global Finals.

We spoke to the man they call the Cocktail Hobbit two days after he lifted the trophy to find out what it’s like to be the 2017 World Class GB champ.

Congratulations Mr Jones! Now that you’ve had time to let your win sink in, how do you feel?

Incredibly happy. It’s one of those things – you don’t want to jinx yourself but you imagine what it would be like to hear your name being called out; what it would be like to be the person holding the trophy and now that person is me!

And? What is it like?

It’s great but a bit weird. Technically you’re in the spotlight for being the best bartender in Great Britain but at the end of the day,  in this competition format, I guess everything was just aligned on the day.

Ago Perrone judging Jamie’s Ode To A Big Dill Martini

It’s not like you’re not busy or not already respected in the industry, why did you enter World Class this time round?

It’s the global platform. There are a lot of other global competitions out there but most of them are about one particular brand. For me, it’s about the diversity of the challenges, the spectrum of your skills being put to the test: World Class does that. You have to be a good bartender, good host, have knowledge and a sense of humility. And then there’s this incredible portfolio of spirits and flavours – it’s the canvas that you need for a competition of this grandeur. You can’t call something the world’s best if you’re only using one spirit category.

The other reason I entered the competition this year is because I was told that Ali Reynolds beat me by half a point when he won in 2015. I had that in my head during the competition, I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Knowing that made me reassess how I approached things this time. I took a step back and put it together in a way I saw an order to win.

I’m going to go as far as I can with this to see how good in the world I can be – it’s a challenge that I’m very, very happy to take on.

How so?

Last year I was in Miami with Aidan Bowie (World Class GB 2016 winner) and was fortunate enough to watch the unfolding of the World Class Global Final without the pressure of competing. Without the blinkers I could see everything, see how all of the competitors were approaching the challenges  – that was when I thought I would enter this year. I know what it takes to win this time.

Jamie’s Signature Serve – Rumours Brew

And what is that?

Having a good solid story is one of the key things. Presentations are important but you’ve got to tie that in with a story so the judges can really resonate with what you’re trying to tell/sell them. Essentially, you’ve got to make them taste through words. Not overcomplicating things is another major factor…

The first challenge we did [Made in Mexico] was a prime example of this: with around 40 or so spices to play with, it was a case of who would be able to restrain themselves and not use things in their Sangrita or Verdita just because they were there to be used. What the judges really want is for you to prove that you can make a balanced drink, so I tried not to down the route of using obscure ingredients. I kept my Verdita classic: pineapple juice, cucumber, coriander and mint, with a little chilli heat and a bit of ginger and a pod of cardamom. Clean, classic, not too hot and something refreshing that would work with food. Simple.

How has World Class changed since the last time you were in the GB Finals?

The challenges are almost harder than the globals in some ways. The guys who run the UK side of things keep pushing the challenges as far as they can to really stretch the bartenders to ensure that no one’s getting an easy ride. During this year’s competition there was a certain amount that you could prepare in advance but the rest was relying on what you’ve learned in your career to date: flavour, your senses and hosting.

How have you changed since the last time you entered the competition?

I’ve not got any taller and my hair is certainly greyer, that’s for sure! Personally, I’m much more comfortable with who I am. Every time I do a presentation, it feels more natural and a little easier. Being able to communicate is the biggest thing I’ve gained in the last two years, that and an expanse of flavour knowledge which comes from working with The Social Company. Being able to pick brains and get answers – having something and someone to bounce off is really helpful. Two years ago I had my own business and was working in isolation pretty much, now I’m in a stable position I have a great team behind me who I can bounce ideas off. That really helps.

I don’t want to sound arrogant but I don’t want to say I might not win – that’s just putting negavity into your thoughtspace. I want to be the best I can be and believe I can win

What was your favourite part of the competition?

In the prep room on the last night when we were all together for the Table of Eight challenge. We’d decided that by this stage in the competition the judges would have already decided who’d won and the points for this part of the challenge wouldn’t count for too much, so we didn’t need to stress any more. It was just like going into service: nobody was anxious – we were singing, dancing, we did the congo – we were even blasting out Craig David tunes at one point. It was just this camaraderie and energy of friends. This to me says a lot about the calibre of bartenders who make it to this stage of the competition – they have a certain mindset, no ego, no competitive edge. No one was trying to outdo anyone else or to sabotage them. I guess the best people rise to the top.

What did each of the challenges teach you?

The first challenge Made in Mexico taught me how to rein myself in and not get carried away (see above). I had to be more grown up about things.

Workshop 1 (as part of Challenge 3, The Presentations): Creating an essential oil. This talk from Penny Wilson and the team at the lab at Diageo Woodside, taught me about how ethanol works as a base and how it binds flavours – it was incredible. I’ll be using that knowledge going forward and passing it on to the team.

The Presentations: I do like an opportunity to talk, to me that’s almost as exciting as being able to create new drinks. The 25-minute presentation was about working under pressure. There was a particular point where my drink went wrong [the seal in his canister didn’t work] but it was almost a blessing because I was able to show that I can hold things together. I didn’t panic, I kept smiling, didn’t lose it and just carried on.

Of the three drinks that you created for the Table of Eight challenge, which would you place on your various London menus?

The Martini (Ode To A Big Dill: hemp, lime & lemon oil-washed Ketel One vodka, Tanqueray No. TEN and JJ blended essence/bitters: elderflower, caraway, coriander seed, wormwood & lime; cucumber ribbon garnish) – I could happily put this on any of our menus as it was created with food in mind.

The amuse-bouches (G&T?: Japanese Mochi water cake Tanqueray & Tonic, japaleno granita, basil puree, dehydrated black olive and gin & elderflower syrup). This would work at Pollen Street or Sosharu.

The Signature (Rumours Brew: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, Ancho Reyes verde, Banane du Bresil, fresh pineapple, fresh lime and Hitachino weizen beer) – this one would suit Blind Pig.

The Grande Digestif (Huracan: walnut oil washed Ron Zacapa, Olorosso sherry, salted honey, cacao nib and black tea Angostura bitters and absinthe) – This was one of the drinks I’d created in the early stages of the competition and it’s already on the menu at City Social.

Finally, Mexico City is calling. What are you looking forward to?

The culture, feel, smell and tastes. Having been in Miami and seeing how slick the World Class operation was over there – I can’t wait to be immersed in that, plus of course, meeting all of the people and having all of the banter and fun. It’s going to be incredible.

Jamie will represent Great Britain in the World Class Global Finals in August. His prize includes access to the European World Class boot camp following the GB final; a trip to Don Julio in the Highlands of Jalisco, Mexico, a trip to Schiedam to the Ketel One Vodka distiller; a bespoke whisky trip to Scotland; a £500 voucher for a personalised Cocktail Kingdom kit; Caracalla World Class bespoke bartender hand luggage – worth over £1,000; Professional signature serve and profile photoshoot with a top industry photographer.

And give it up for the other 10 finalists. Trust us, there wasn’t a dud in the house: 

  • Liam Broom of Callooh Callay
  • Constanca Cordeiro of Peg and Patriot
  • Alf Del Portillo of The Natural Philosopher
  • Aiden Page of The Bar with No Name
  • Martin Hudak, The American Bar at The Savoy
  • Jerome Allaguillemette, Sexy Fish
  • Sean Fennelly, The Principal Hotel Company
  • James Bowker, The Edgbaston Boutique Hotel
  • Thomas Matthews, The Edgbaston Boutique Hotel
  • Jon Hughes, Bramble

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