The time has come cocktail lovers: The Chivas Masters Global Final 2017 is on! And it’s got fabulous with a capital ‘F’ written all over it.
For starters, it’s being held in Tokyo, top of the must-visit wish list for any serious bartender. Plus, and it’s a big plus, this is the first time a global cocktail competition has taken place in Japan. Which tells you everything you need to know about Chivas Regal the brand and Chivas Masters the competition. This is a contest that dares to do things differently, as any of the previous competitors from the past three years will attest. They’ll also tell you that Max Warner, Chivas Regal Global Brand Ambassador makes it his mission to create a mind-blowing experience for all those taking part.
We spoke to him from Tokyo earlier this week to find out what he has in store. Clue: it’s going to be out of this world and we can’t bloomin’ wait!
The locations for the Chivas Masters Global Finals don’t just happen by accident. After New York (twice) and Shanghai for the last three finals, how does Tokyo fits into the picture?
I’m a storyteller which means whenever I do something I make sure it tells a story that makes sense. So as a top line, the three reasons for choosing Tokyo as the location for this year’s global final are:
- Japan has been a huge influence in driving the interest in the whisky category over the past few years – it’s been transformed from being perceived as a boring drink for older people to something much more sophisticated, dynamic and relevant. The Japanese side of the whisky category has certainly supported that.
- Over the years the best bartenders in the world have been taking a lot of inspiration from Japan. When you look at the bar tools that originated here, things like the Yukiwa shakers, Yarai mixing glasses, those beautiful, elegant spoons, and of course, ice – the whole idea of using high grade ice and carving beautiful ice balls has come from Japan. It’s incredibly relevant to bring bartenders to Tokyo to show them what’s going on. There’s a lot of mystic and mystery around Japan, largely that’s because it’s not that accessible to come here. It’s hugely expensive, so it’s a real treat to be brought here for a competition. And of course, if you talk about the biggest cities in the world for iconic bars and bartenders, then Tokyo fits the bill perfectly.
- Thirdly, there’s the relevance we have here. Chivas produce a whisky specifically for the Japanese market. Chivas Mizunara is made in Scotland, then rested in Mizunara oak casks, which for me not only demonstrates the support of the craftsmanship behind Scotch whisky with the heritage, but it also collaborates with Japanese innovation, so it’s a really nice balance between those two things.
What are you hoping that the 15 finalists will gain from their experience in Tokyo?
One word: inspiration. I’m lucky enough to have been to Tokyo 15 times and like anyone who’s ever visited, that’s the one word that always comes up. Inspiration from what? Absolutely everything.
What have you learned from your times in Tokyo?
Other than inspiration as mentioned above, I’ve learnt to respect the spiritual side of Japan, and I’m not a spiritual person. However, for me, one of the most interesting things here – and I don’t want to give too much away as we’ll be exploring this more during the week – is embracing the void they have in Japan. The bartending experience in Japan goes beyond the bartender and beyond the customer – it’s fascinating; it’s something that’s very much entwined with that spiritual side of Japanese culture that I mentioned before and you won’t ever see it anywhere else. That’s what I find really interesting.
How, if at all, has The Japanese Way a) impacted on your career? and b) your outlook on life?
It makes me question things more. I look at how Japanese people live their lives and what they do. They don’t really create anything here, what they are absolutely brilliant at is taking people’s ideas and making them better. I have a really practical mind, I like challenges that put me on the spot, so I suppose The Japanese Way makes me look at whether there are more efficient ways of doing things. It also reminds me that when I’m here everything seems so much easier, so much calmer. That’s because everyone you meet is so kind. You can’t be tense because no one around you is tense. Being in Japan helps you to identify the kindness in other people. It’s a very different culture and you have to admire, respect and honour it as much as possible. The simplest way to describe it is, when I get off the plane, the first thing I do is smile – not always outwardly but subconsciously. It happens every time.
You always involve the previous winners in the Global Finals. This year you have Masa Urushido hosting the competition. What was the rationale behind this and how much has he influenced the shape of the itinerary?
Since Masa won the first Chivas Masters Global Final in 2014, he’s more than proved his capabilities. He’s a great person and really personifies everything I respect and find honest about Japan. He also has this humour which he’s garnered from being in New York for a long period of time, which gives him this incredible balance. We couldn’t have done this final without him that’s for sure. One of the things that I’ve been really concerned about here in Tokyo more than anywhere else that we’ve hosted the global finals in is, I don’t want to insult anyone by doing what we’re doing and Masa is helping me through that process.
My job has always been to bring to light what Chivas stands for, which is brotherhood. When Masa won the final, he laid down a huge marker of what Chivas Masters embodies and when he got involved in the programme in year two, he inspired Josh Reynolds and I watched Josh change for the better as a result. When we launched this competition and thought what a Chivas Master should be and what sort of relationship I wanted to have with them down the line, Masa has exceeded all of that. He’s a wonderful human being. As for the itinerary, you’ll have to wait and see!
Josh Reynolds (Chivas Masters 2015 winner) and Alex Millan (Chivas Masters 2016 winner) will also be joining us in Tokyo. Why is it important for you (and them) to be part of the proceedings?
The conversation I had when I asked each of them if they wanted to come didn’t last very long! They’re both such bundles of energy and couldn’t wait to get involved. Josh has been to Tokyo once and this will be the first time for Alex and they are both incredibly fired up to be helping out.
The greatest reward in my role is being able to bring people together and then seeing how they collaborate. It’s a cliché for me to talk about a whisky becoming greater than the sum of its parts but honestly, from what I’ve learned from the three years that we’ve been running this competition is, bartending can be great but you’re never going to be as powerful as an individual as you are as a team. When you look at the greatest bartending minds of our generation: Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale – in order to become the perfect article, team work is essential. They’re proof of that.
Max Warner – International Brand Ambassador of the Year 2016
Photograph: Doron Gild for the Chivas Regal Photo Booth at Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards 2016
We’ve spoken to four bartenders around the world about their views on the four Ps of Japanese bartending as identified by you. What does Process, Precision, Politeness and Pristine mean to you?
I read about them somewhere, and it made sense to me. I wanted those four Ps to guide people who hadn’t been to Japan before, I thought that it was a good way for them to put more consideration into what they were doing. Process and precision are the obvious ones, but pristine is a way of life here and politeness is just their mantra. The four Ps are just a starting block for what we have planned for the week ahead.
What can you tell us about the structure of this year’s competition?
I’m taking more risks than I’ve taken before – honestly, it’s one of the biggest things I’ve ever done and it’s going to blow everyone’s minds! It’s also organic and I couldn’t have done it without all the people directly involved and those supporting the programme, including the incredible support from the judging panel. Nothing like this has ever been done before, if so it’s been on another planet! It’s going to be quite emotional…
What are you looking forward to most about this year’s global final?
That’s easy, seeing all of the competitors again. I can’t wait to get them all here – they’ve all worked so hard and they all deserve to be here. If they love Tokyo even a faction of what I do, it will be one of the best experiences of their lives.