Photograph: Christian Seel
In two days time 15 talented bartenders from around the world will touch down in Tokyo ready to compete in the fourth Chivas Masters Global Cocktail Competition. Ahead of their arrival we caught up with Micah Melton, Beverage Director of The Aviary and one of the judges, to get his views on the competition, what he’s looking for in the finalists and why Chivas Masters leads to better drinking experiences all round.
Over to you Micah…
This is your second time judging the Chivas Masters Global Final, what are your earliest impressions of Chivas as a brand and in turn, the Chivas Masters competition?
The thing that really stood out about the Chivas Masters for me was Max Warner (Chivas Regal Global Brand Ambassador) and the way he curates the competition – he really puts so much of himself into it. I judged the competition in 2015 and what I thought was really cool was the impact that the judges have – I can’t think of another cocktail competition where they are basically telling you how to win. My advice for the competitors is to take what Dre Masso, Iain Griffiths, Chris Lowder and myself talk about in our respective workshops and run with what’s being said. We’re not only there to judge people, we’re giving them tools to become better bartenders. That’s my favourite element of the competition.
The Chivas Masters is also cool because there’s always an element of teamwork about it. So yes, it’s a competition but you’re not just going head-to-head with someone, there’s a lot of collaboration involved, which I think is unique too. I really like the scavenger hunts which are organised at the beginning of each final – they’re invaluable for building relationships for the competition and beyond. Throughout the week there’s an element of networking and building yourself as a bartender as well.
If you were competing now, is Chivas Masters one you’d like to enter?
Yes, for sure. There’s an added discipline about this competition which is really hard to learn. You can go to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and listen to seminars but in terms of learning something and practically applying those lessons, the Chivas Masters is an excellent tool. I think anyone would look at it as an opportunity to at least learn, and if you win, well the world is your oyster…
The Chivas Masters Global Final judging panel of 2015, L-R: Ivy Mix, Micah Melton, Ago Perrone, Masa Urushido
As a judge what will you be looking for?
For me personally, it’s not necessarily just about what the competitors bring when they enter but the skills they take back to their bars. I’ll be looking at how they apply their culture, standards, balance and things like that to the inspiration they’ve taken from the city, culture and bars of Tokyo into their drinks.
Speaking of which, what do you think hosting the competition in Tokyo will bring to the competition?
The style is flawless. The minute details and standard of service that Tokyo and Japan have is above and beyond pretty any culture in the world – it’s going to be exciting to see how that impacts on the bartenders and their presentation skills.
What does a) Chivas mean to you? b) What does Chivas Masters mean to you, and c) what are you looking for in a Chivas Master?
Chivas is all about the brotherhood, so the Chivas Masters for me is the mutual respect between the competitors. Teamwork is a big thing in my book – not just seeing how the competitors connect with each other but also noting how they connect with the judges and the brand is important too. Of course flavour will come into it but working together as a team is a key point for me.
At the Aviary you’ve stepped outside of what we expect a traditional bar to be by adopting a kitchen-like approach to the bar, would you say that Chivas have done the same for cocktail competitions, by looking outside what a traditional competition is perceived to be?
Yes, there’s a definite split in terms of what I think the trends are going to be. There are two extremes, the ultra classic, very simplified and all about balance of flavour; then there’s the other side which I think we at The Aviary are trying to do, which is creating modern, creative, unique serves. Chivas Masters does a good job of paying homage to both. Yes, the competition is about Chivas Regal, balancing flavours and highlighting elements of the blend but it’s also about how you can take that perfect balance of a simple classic cocktail and apply twists to it, and that to me is very exciting.
Finally, you’ve talked about how the competition elevates the bartenders taking part, how do you think that filters down to whisky drinkers?
By Chivas having greater exposure in more markets that means better cocktails and more experienced bartenders. People who have competed in global competitions such as the Chivas Masters are the future of bartending – they’re the ones who pass on the knowledge and experience that comes from being in a competition like this which means better cocktails all round.
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