It’s hard to imagine working months in preparation, spending two days in intense challenges, being skilled enough to gain the win and then to be told, “The hard work starts now, mate.”
Yet, for Alex Boon, who earlier this week won Australia’s 2019 World Class final, that is the case. He may have the Australian title, but when he goes to Glasgow for the World Class World Final in September, the pressure will be on.
“There’s going to be a lot of challenges,” said Boon when we spoke to him from Melbourne. “It’s another eleven challenges in Scotland. So we’re going from four trials in the national round to eleven, so there’s going to be many a sleepless night, and it’s going to be a lot more work.
“But it’s something I’m definitely ready for and have been preparing for over the last four years. I’m just looking forward to getting to Glasgow, seeing what the rest of the world is doing in their respective countries in terms of drinks and flavour. I think this is going to be an amazing experience.”
This was Boon’s fourth year of entering World Class. bartenders across the country to create a unique cocktail using spirits from Diageo’s Reserve portfolio – Ketel One Vodka, Tanqueray No. TEN Gin and Talisker 10-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky. For the grand final the Top 20 were put through their paces at a two-day event hosted at The Dolphin & Scout Bar in Sydney, by a panel of industry experts, judged on quality, presentation, service and of course, taste.
“I think what has kept me coming back to it each year isn’t so much the thought of winning,” he said, “but it’s to see what everyone else in Australia is doing, in terms of cocktails and the creativity that goes into their drinks and the concepts.
“I think World Class is probably the leading competition in that respect. I think it’s just so amazing to see what everyone around Australia is doing.”
Boon, who presently works at Mjølner in Melbourne, has been honing his craft in the industry for over ten years. Although he believes that the level of talent displayed at this years event was incredibly high, he has been both blown away and incredibly humbled to have been awarded the title. He does add that nothing quite prepares you for what you face when entering into a competition of this level.
“Oh look, I think from the moment you arrive, you’re pretty much on, and the whole thing is, you know, it’s meant to be tough,” said Boon. “It’s not meant to be easy. The [5:00] AM starts, the amount of work that goes into it before you even arrive in Sydney, all the way up to each competition and challenge; the level of nerves that you have to hold down. It’s just all meant to be a bit of a pressure-cooker.”
Boon believes that a lot of his success stems from both hard work, but also experience. He stresses that the amount of preparation you do before the competition days are vital and cover a wide range of skills.
“The list is endless. From pretty much making close to 20 drinks, I think I did this year, to kind of figure out which one I’d like to take down and showcase in Sydney, to the practice, to the speed round, pretty much hours upon hours after work at 3am. You’re tired; you’re sitting there trying to practice how quickly you can make ten drinks in five minutes. It’s just a lot of work that goes into it.”
Talisker Time & Place Challenge
“They asked you to tell a story and with it, capture the judge’s attention through storytelling. I wanted to tell the story about how I grew up on a boat, and a massive storm came over the boat one day and put out this massive bushfire on this island next to where we were moored. So what I wanted to do was serve my drink with inside a storm cloud. The idea spiralled from there. It started about a couple of months prior and then we pretty much worked out how to build a storm cloud punchbowl that rained the punch into the bowl and lit up with lightning and thunder.”
Talisker 10 Yr Old Scotch Whisky
White port washed with cacao butter
Cold pressed cherry
Served in Storm Cloud Punch Bowl
Grate dark chocolate over the drink
Ketel One Vodka Better Drinking Challenge
“The Ketel One challenge asked us to identify an issue that we’re having within our community. I decided to talk about is how we best can lift small businesses within our community, using them within our drinks. I used a closed loop farmer who specializes in macro and micro herbs and uses zero-plastic waste. The drink also championed the guys from Collingwood Children’s Farm, who are helping Victorian people get in touch with farming life, and also the Abbotsford Convent Farmer’s Market, who put Victorian people in touch with farmers, so we’re getting our produce straight from the source.
The Big Pay Back
Beeswax rested Ketel One Vodka
Anise hyssop extraction
Rectified kiwi juice
Passionfruit and honey ferment
Shake and strain into ceramic mugs on bees wax coasters
Zest of a fresh lemon/crown with baby’s breath
Tanqueray No. TEN Gin at Home Challenge
“the Tanqueray challenge was the Today Show challenge. Pretty much one of the harder ones, as you have to think on your feet. We were tasked with trying a dish made by a chef, in this case, it was a ceviche, and we had 10 minutes pretty much to write down a cocktail that was going to really match and help bring that food to life, and then go present it on a faux Today Show on a camera. The judges weren’t even in the room, they were next door, and it was all being filmed live. So quite tough.”
Tanqueray No. TEN G
Lime leaf sherry vinegar
Tomato and strawberry soda
Basil led leaf garnish
Built into a stemless flute
The Showdown Challenge / Speed Round
“The judges asked you to make six drinks in six minutes, but there was no limit on how many drinks you could make. So I chose 10. I thought, “If you’re going to do it, you might as well go big or go home. I think there’s a lot of people there that did the same. Everyone was doing eight or nine drinks. One of the other bartenders from Melbourne did 12 stirred cocktails, which is huge. How much you prepare beforehand really shines through on the day. There was a lot of sleepless nights back at work with dummy bottles of water, practising that run over and over again. So it was almost clinical.”
The ten cocktails Alex Boon chose to make in 6 minutes
Ketel One Vodka Flame of Love
Ketel One Vodka Martini
Tanqueray No. TEN Negroni
Bulleit Bourbon Boulevardier
Johnnie Walker Black Label Affinity
Bulleit Bourbon Old Fashioned
Zacapa Rum Old Fashioned
Tanqueray No. TEN Southside
Tanqueray No. TEN White Lady
Talisker 10 Year Old Morning Glory Fizz