The Chivas Masters Global Final 2019: inspiring workshops, tough challenges and extraordinary experiences. 14 bartenders arrived as finalists, five days later they departed as part of a unique community.
Day 1: Arrivals, alumni and a global ambassador
A wonderfully sunny and uncharacteristically warm day welcomed the 14 international bartenders who came together to make up the community of finalists at this year’s Chivas Masters Global Final in Speyside, Scotland. Arriving from Brazil, Czech Republic, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Japan, México, Morocco, Poland, Singapore, Thailand, The Netherlands, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom, it was a truly international gathering.
And as they arrived they happily realised they were actually part of a much wider Chivas community as they were joined by three previous Chivas Masters Global Champions – Alex Millan (winner 2016), Atsushi Suzuki (winner 2017) and Arron Grendon (winner 2018). Over the next few days these previous champs would be on hand to offer invaluable insight and advice as what it takes to earn the much coveted top prize. They’d also be serving up their own winning drinks as timely reminders to the finalists of the standard required to become a Chivas Master.
And, of course, the official welcome was naturally down to Rhys Wilson, Global Ambassador for Chivas and a previous global finalist himself.
The Chivas Masters Global Final 2019 had begun and the Chivas community had welcomed its 14 newest members.
Day 2: A country walk, carbonation and the first challenge
Guillie Basan’s Retreat
First stop was the extraordinary home of food writer Guillie Basan. This idyllic, if somewhat remote residence (we’re talking about arriving via an extremely long and very rough dirt track) is a warm and welcoming family home. It’s also a living example of a lifestyle that celebrates natural resources and the joy of fresh ingredients. And the bartenders got a sense of how to find those fresh ingredients for themselves as they were treated to a exhilarating cross country foraging expedition. It was the beginning of the many inspirations for the mixing challenges ahead.
The bartenders go cross country foraging
It was here that the bartenders also experienced the first of several workshops. Marcis Dzelzainis, director Fare Bar & Canteen and beverage director at Sager + Wilde, and one of the three Chivas Masters judges, explained the craft of creating a unique soda water and in turn bringing a whole new dimension to the classic whisky highball. Yes, there was a lot of science involved but the emphasis was ultimately on flavour and how the characteristics of Chivas could be subtly enhanced with the ingredients used in an original soda water. And it was this workshop that was also the basis of the very first challenge for the bartenders.
Challenge No.1: ‘Your Tradition’
Having had the benefit of Marcis’ workshop it was now over to the bartenders to create their very own soda water and with it a new Chivas highball. It had to elevate the characteristics of the whisky, include a flavour or ingredient from the Scottish Highlands, as well as telling a story of tradition.
It was, of course, tough. They would select a whisky for their highball not by name but via a 10 minute blind tasting. They then had just a further 10 minutes to create their serve before presenting it to Marcis and his fellow judges Alastair Burgess and Monica Berg. No scores would be revealed but these would be the first points on the journey to becoming the Chivas Master 2019. And where better for the first challenge than the home of Chivas, the Strathisla distillery.
There were some fantastic demonstrations of just how complex a highball could be and Gui Ferrari (Brazil) made an impression with his Hill Man (Strathisla 12 with blackcurrant and redcurrant soda), long but with a real richness of flavour.
The bartenders at the home of Chivas
The Strathisla distillery – where Chivas is made
As well providing the perfect backdrop for the first challenge, the Strathisla distillery also gave the bartenders a unique insight into the craft of blending Chivas. Guided by Chivas Brand Ambassador Tristan Campbell, the bartenders were able to experience the whole process that goes into the very special craft of making whisky. The bartenders even got to try their hands at several of the tests that blenders at the distillery have to continually undergo in order to maintain the exceptional Chivas standard. Having concluded a series of seriously demanding blind tastings, it’s fair to say there were a few good efforts but the bartenders had to admit these were exceptional skills that would take years to truly perfect.
Day 3: Showtime, signatures and a London safari
Rhys Wilson already enjoys a dream job as the Global Ambassador for Chivas. But he’s also an actor who’s performed in productions around the world and as such he knows all about engaging an audience, a talent he’s taken behind the bar by seeing the similarities between the actor and the bartender as performers, both with a duty to entertain. This unique insight was at the heart of Rhys’ workshop as he shared with the bartenders countless ways in which they become not just great makers of drinks but outstanding entertainers.
Challenge No.2: ‘Your Blend’
Next came the opportunity for the bartenders to demonstrate exactly how they had earned their places in the Global Final though the challenge ‘Your Blend’. This was where they got to once again serve up their regional winning cocktail and share the story behind it.
It was no surprise that every single drink delivered. They all looked appealing, tasted delicious and were came with some amazing presentations, including lessons in harmony from Singapore, music from Brazil and even ballet from Japan. There was dance too from The Netherlands as Sebastian Cichowlas served his swizzle style drink Pirouette (Chivas Regal 12 and Pirouette blend – gold apple juice, granny smith apple juice, Ceylon spice cinnamon tea syrup, triple sec, Fee Brothers whisky barrel aged bitters).
No sooner had the last cocktail been served, sampled and judged than it was time for a hasty departure, as London beckoned for the next stage of the Chivas Masters Global Final.
London – where Chivas is mixed
A flight from Scotland and a coach ride across London later the bartenders checked into The Hoxton hotel before heading out to some legendary cocktail London venues. For many it was their very first visit to the city that many consider the cocktail capital of the world. Indeed, for all of them it was a chance to experience outstanding venues, sample amazing drinks and draw inspiration for the challenges ahead. The evening began with judge Alastair Burgess welcoming the bartenders to his award-winning bar Happiness Forgets. Having set the bar high with his own delicious drinks the bartenders set off on a special safari to experience the best bars in London for themselves.
Day 4: Three workshops, modern classic cocktails and announcing the shortlist
Key to the Chivas Masters community is the emphasis on learning and the fourth day delivered with three diverse workshops. As the founder of Happiness Forgets, judge Alastair Burgess knows a thing or two about creating truly great drinks. Moreover he explained what goes into making modern classic cocktails like the Penicillin and the Basil Smash.
We also stepped in with our presentation, ‘In the Press’, a guide for the bartenders as to how they could raise their own profiles and the profiles of their bars by engaging with magazines, website, blogs and social media.
Rounding up the workshops was judge Monica Berg with essential insight into opening your own bar. She shared invaluable information as she took the bartenders through the challenging process of how she and Alex Kratena went about the recent launch of their extraordinary bar Tayer + Elementary.
Challenge No.3: ‘Your Classic’
The day, of course, would not have been complete without another challenge. And what a challenge. For ‘Your Classic’ they had to create a new whisky cocktail that had the potential to become a modern classic. They had a dream larder at their disposal, stocked with every imaginable ingredient, and 30 minutes for the task in hand. And if this wasn’t challenging enough, they also had to include ideas on social media and marketing for their new modern classic.
It was this inclusion of social media and marketing which made for the eye-catching contribution of Jiyoon Baek’s S.L.I.N.G (Chivas Mizunara, Muyu Vetiver Gris, clarified pineapple and walnut bitters). This tropical take on a Manhattan was not only very tasty but came with a name that lent itself cleverly to social media as a hashtag which stood for Singapore, London, Incheon (Korea), New York, Globally – the first four being the key cities in which she would launch the cocktail before taking it global.
The Chivas Masters – the shortlist
The first three challenges completed it was time to gather everyone as the 14 bartenders were reduced to the final shortlist. Step forward Jiyoon Baek (Singapore), Sebastian Cichowlas (The Netherlands) and Gui Ferrari (Brazil).
The Chivas Masters top three: Jiyoon Baek, Sebastian Cichowlas and Gui Ferrari
Yes, it was down to three but one of the many great things about the Chivas Masters is how the rest of the bartenders still had crucial roles to play. And in doing so truly demonstrated the value of the Chivas community. Here’s how it worked: the three finalists were taken away to pick a team each from the remaining bartenders. They’d already got to know each other and now they had the opportunity to assemble their dream teams.
All that remained was for Rhys to issue the final challenge.
The final challenge: ‘Your Future’
It was the final challenge and the prize was immense so everyone knew the task would be equally immense.
Each team was tasked with creating a modern whisky bar in just 24 hours. And by create we mean everything: the name of the bar, its concept, its look and two original Chivas serves. Then at 7pm, the following day, the doors would be thrown open. Not just to the judges but 300 guests comprising of industry experts and discerning consumers, all of who would be able to vote for their favourite bar.
Day 5: The Cocktail Clash, the Chivas Master and a winning team
The Cocktail Clash
Following on from her workshop the preceding day Monica Berg started the final day by taking the bartenders behind the scenes at her bar Tayer + Elementary. It was a chance to see first hand what goes into making a truly outstanding environment – perfect inspiration for the bartenders as they set about delivering their own pop-up bars.
Then it was on to the Oval Space in East London. This was effectively an empty shell of a hall where the three teams were each designated a space to make their own for the evening’s opening of The Cocktail Clash, the event which would showcase the three new pop-up bars. The next eight or so hours would be about prepping their drinks, propping their bars and bringing their dreams to life.
Behind the scenes at The Cocktail Clash three hours before the doors open
Just before the doors officially opened the judges were taken around each pop-up bar for a private view. They got to experience them as guests, tasting the new Chivas serves and talking with the team leaders as they explained their concepts. Shortly after this we were fortunate enough to also enjoy our very own private view. All we can say is ‘wow!’
Bar 1: Pirouettes
Team leader: Sebastian Cichowlas, The Jitterbug Saloon, The Netherlands.
The team: Bára Švihlová, L’fleur, Czech Republic; Vince Smart, Hawkmoor Seven Dials, United Kingdom; Paolo Silvestri, Hendricks Bar, United Arab Emirates and Lisander Lara Peña, TRS Turquesa Grand Palladium Hotels, Domincan Republic.
The concept: “We did a modern style bar where you have a 2-in-1 model – a dance studio which we transformed into a trendy cocktail bar. I wanted it to be about fun because, for me, Chivas is a fun whisky and cocktails should be fun. It had to be a place to enjoy delicious drinks and dance all night long. The bar name ‘Pirouettes’ was a play on my signature cocktail, The Pirouette, which embodied the dance studio concept but also symbolised that I came as a solo bartender and left as part of a new Chivas Masters family.” Sebastian Cichowlas.
The serves: Footloose (Chivas 12, fragola, fino sherry and soda), served as a highball; Electrolight (Chivas Mizunara, honey, coconut, pineapple and anise), stirred and served up.
Bar 2: CANopy
Team leader: Jiyoon Baek, JW Marriott Hotel South Beach, Singapore.
The team: Kyoka Ogawa, Amber, Japan; Timothee Becqueriaux, Arriviamo Starbucks Reserve Roastery, China; Mehdi Sahine, Hilton Al Houara, Morocco and Sonia Garbowska, El Koktel, Poland.
The concept: “It’s called CANopy because it’s a shelter for people living in the city. We see the future bar as being more open to the public all day as an entertainment space not just for nightlife. It’s a bar where people can relax, do some work or just hang out, while experiencing our menu. We made an experimental menu which people can see, touch, smell and feel before they read it. And after our amazing nature adventure in Scotland, we realised living harmonised with nature is a must for healthy city life, so we decorated the bar with that in mind with lots of plants and natural light.” Jiyoon Baek.
The serves: High on Frost (Chivas Mizunara, amor, mastiha, botanical extract – ginger, lemon, gentian and thyme essential oils and soda water), served as a highball; Tropic Thunder (Chivas 12 (honey, sandlewood syrup, Muyu Jasmine Liqueur), shaken and served up.
Bar 3: Saúde Mhath
Team leader: Gui Ferrari, Seen at Hotel Tivoli Mofarrej, Brazil.
The team: Leydel Oliva Muro, Costa Vino, Cuba; Franco Battezzati Boglione, Nü Tulum, México and Davide Sambo, Havana Social, Thailand.
“The concept was to blend Latin American hospitality with whisky tradition and heritage in a contemporary cocktail venue. As for the drinks themselves, we wanted to mix tropical-style flavours with classic mixology. ‘Saude Mhath’ means ‘Cheers a lot’, blending Portuguese and Gaelic.” Gui Ferrari.
The serves: Peat + Piña (Chivas 12, pineapple juice, fino sherry and seaweed truffle syrup), shaken and served in a highball glass with ice and pineapple leaf garnish; Banana Burns (Chivas 18, banana vermouth and Benedictine), thrown and served in a Nick ‘n’ Nora glass, no garnish.
Our Cocktail Clash private view
The very big announcement
So, two-and-a-half hours of high energy, good times and outstanding Chivas cocktails later it was 9.30pm and time for that announcement. Up stepped Global Ambassador for Chivas, Rhys Wilson, and the crowd fell silent.
And the winner is…
Representing The Netherlands, with his bar Pirouettes, it’s Sebastian Cichowlas!
Chivas Masters Winner 2019, Sebastian Cichowlas, The Netherlands
It’s worth mentioning again that while Seb becomes the all-important sixth Chivas Master, his team (pictured above) also get to share in a very special prize – a trip to Shanghai, no less, and the opportunity to recreate their pop-up bar at the prestigious Drink Magazine Awards.
And how does it feel to become a Chivas Master? According to winner Sebastian Cichowlas, “It’s honestly overwhelming! I first entered the Chivas Masters three years ago and have come back fighting every year. So to finally win the Global Final is genuinely my dream come true.”
And as for winning with his team…
The Chivas Community
At the heart of the Chivas Masters is a celebration of the bartending community itself. While there’s one new and very well deserved Chivas Master, he’ll embody the idea of this special community as he takes his team off to Shanghai. Equally important is the coming together of all 14 of the bartenders over the five extraordinary days of the Chivas Masters Global Final. They made new friendships with each other, the Chivas Masters alumni, the Global Ambassador, the judges and the wider family of people that made it all happen. All of these people come together to make the Chivas Masters community, representing all that’s best in modern drinks and modern bartending. As they say at Chivas, ‘Blended is better in life and in Scotch’. We couldn’t agree more.
There’s no community like the Chivas Masters community