Every year, Diageo’s Reserve World Class Competition challenges a group of bartenders from around the globe to a series of intense physical, mental and palate-pushing trials. We’re talking stirring up six original takes on classic cocktails in just six minutes, putting together a pop-up bar in no time at all, and pulling out every trick in the book to make a show-stopping drink that wows even the most jaded judge. And every year, only one bartender triumphs. This year, Kaitlyn Stewart, bar director at Vancouver’s Royal Dinette, took the title of World’s Best Bartender.
As someone who survived the extremely difficult series of mixological challenges and emerged victorious, we figured Stewart would have a few tips and tricks to share with us amateurs. Here, she talks about the best citrus you’re not using, the drinks you should master and more.
Favorite Spirit to Use Now:
Going into fall, I’d probably say bourbon—something darker because it has more of those autumnal flavors.
Favorite Citrus to Use Now:
Coming out of summertime, I tend to use a lot of grapefruit, but I like to use acidulated grapefruit. Adding some citric acid to the actual grapefruit juice gives it a bit more of a kick so you don’t have to do half grapefruit and half lemon; you can use straight grapefruit juice and still have that impact.
The One Drink Everyone Should Master:
A Daiquiri or a Manhattan. If you can master those, there are so many ways to play around with them. The Manhattan, if you want to change the base spirit from bourbon to rye, you can do that. Or the sweet vermouth, if you want to split it between sweet vermouth and amaro or just do amaro, you can do that too. You can change up the bitters. Once you master the basic recipes, those two cocktails are always fun to make your own.
Best Unexpected Flavor Combination to Try:
The very first cocktail that I submitted was a Coconut Cîroc cocktail. I never thought I’d use a flavored spirit at the base, but I made a Coconut Cîroc and matcha green tea cocktail that turned out to be pretty tasty. It was one of those happy accidents, putting those two ingredients together.
Easy-But-Impressive Garnish Anyone Can Make:
I think there’s a big resurgence of dehydrated fruit—lemon, lime and orange peels or even pieces of pineapple or grapefruit. Even if you don’t have a dehydrator, it’s super easy to do low and slow in your oven, and then you can keep them on hand in an airtight container for a really long time. Every time you pull those out and put them on top of a cocktail, people are very impressed.
Entertaining Shortcut for Home Bartenders:
It’s all about your setup. Have everything organized beforehand and make sure you have the right tools. Even if you’re planning on doing twists or zests, you can prepare those in advance and keep them in a damp paper towel in the fridge—they’ll be ready to go when you need them.
The Bottle People Probably Don’t Own, But Definitely Should:
Maybe something that’s slightly aged. A lot of people tend to stay away from aged spirits because they think they’re going to be too intense. The Bulleit Bourbon 10 year, for example, is super tasty. It stands up in cocktails, but you can sip it on its own. I’m not a huge scotch drinker, so I tend to go for a bourbon or an aged rum if I’m going to sip on a straight spirit.
The Canadian Spirit You Need to Try:
There are a ton of great liqueurs and even absinthes that are coming out of the Okanagan. There’s this one absinthe made by a company that sources their own wormwood that’s indigenous to BC, which is really great.
What Americans Can Learn from the Canadian Bar Scene:
I’m super lucky to be living in Vancouver on the west coast because we have a really great climate and the elements are at our disposal. A lot of Vancouver bartenders tend to use a ton of local ingredients and will even go foraging for them. It’s very easy to find rosemary, lavender and spruce tips growing locally that you can pick yourself. We have honey hives everywhere, as well. There are tons of local resources, and I think a lot of people are trying to mirror what the kitchen is doing, which is nose-to-tail cooking. So now bartenders are doing root-to-tip cocktails, using every part of the plant with as little waste as possible.