If you want an easy-peasy, run-of-the-mill cocktail contest, forget the Chivas Masters. This is one for those who take the business of bartending seriously. There’s no denying that you have to put the work in to make the grade, devising three original Chivas cocktails: one based on the Classics, another inspired by your local market plus a final drink created with Japanese flavours and culture mind. Mind you, the rewards more than make up for it.
Take last year’s global final for instance. Chelsie Bailey, Chivas Masters UK winner got the V.I.P. Club Class treatment, joining 14 champions from around the world for a money-can’t-buy, experience of a lifetime in Shanghai. Highlights from the carefully curated programme include a series of specialised workshops from each of the top panel of judges comprising Leo Robitschek, Dré Masso, Naren Young, Chris Lowder and the ultimate Chivas Master himself, Global Ambassador Max Warner, an ice carving masterclass with Masa Urushido, and an array of challenges to test the finalists’ capabilities to the absolute limit.
There was plenty of fun to be had too, including top nosh in the finest restaurants, visits to the best bars in the city, karaoke Shanghai style. All this and a trip to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans for the winner. Little wonder why claiming the title means so much.
Previous winners in the UK include Ali Reynolds, followed by his brother Josh who went on to take the global title in 2015, followed by last year’s winner, Chelsie Bailey. We caught up with her to find out why she entered the competition and how winning has elevated her confidence and career.
How long have you been bartending?
For 11 years – six of those making cocktails in Bristol.
Where have you worked and where are you working now?
I’ve worked and managed several bars in Bristol and I’m currently the head bartender at Red Light
There are so many competitions vying for your attention, what was it about Chivas Masters that made you enter?
I’ve always been a fan of Chivas and I felt like it was time for me to try a bigger competition. When I read the brief, it just sounded perfect for me!
How did you approach the Bristol heat?
I actually found the Classic Way cocktail much easier to make than the other two, so I started with that one. I then looked at various local products before I tackled the Shanghai Way, which even though I struggled the most with, it ended up being my best drink.
How did it feel to win your heat?
I was definitely shocked because I knew I could have done so much better the minute my presentation had finished.
How did you approach the UK final and did you change anything from your original heat?
The main thing I changed was balancing two of my drinks to make them all equal standards. I really took on board the feedback Josh gave me after the Bristol heat and polished what I had already, tying up any loose ends.
What did it feel like to win the UK final?
Oh God, I still remember how shocked I was! The standard of bartenders in the final was incredible – I had already convinced myself that I wasn’t going to Shanghai as I was competing against some big names. When I was called out there was definitely a tear and a lot of gratitude and happiness. It meant the world to me to have the opportunity to make it to a huge global final such as the Chivas Masters.
What was taking part in the global final in Shanghai like?
It was incredible, everything seemed so surreal. I was just getting over the fact that I was there, let alone taking in all the wonderful people and things I got to experience. The judges masterclasses and challenges Max set us just kept pushing my skills as a bartender and I’ve definitely come away from Shanghai a better bartender with a much broader outlook on the profession as a whole.
What did you learn from the Chivas Masters journey?
A lot! Not just about whisky and cocktails but also I learnt that if I pushed myself hard enough I could achieve some really great things.
How has taking part in the competition affected your career?
It’s majorly helped my reputation in the bar industry and my career has really taken off. I’m ever so grateful for it.
What advice would you give to any bartender entering Chivas Masters?
Be yourself, be humble, be passionate and do not doubt yourself. This competition is about you as a bartender and there’s potential to go really far! Lastly and very importantly, always take on board feedback from the judges.
How would you sum up Chivas Masters in one sentence?
The most generous, decadent, nerve wracking, rewarding competition you’ll ever be a apart of!
And you will not be disappointed by Max Warner’s Tokyo itinerary!
If you think you’ve got what it takes to be the next UK Chivas Master register here chivas.com/en-gb/chivasmasters
For more on this year’s UK Chivas Masters see thecocktaillovers.com/2017/02/the-chivas-masters-bartenders-ask-yourselves-do-you-have-what-it-takes/
And to read more about the Chivas Masters see thecocktaillovers.com/?s=chivas+masters