Tanqueray global brand ambassador Angus Winchester has kicked off a nationwide U.S. Bartenders' Guild (USBG) Bartender Challenge that, throughout 2012, will test five key skills of the “Modern Professional Bartender”: speed, pouring accuracy, memory and numeracy, bartending technique and drinks presentation. The program is set for bartenders in multiple markets, and as he launched the competition, we thought it unique enough to check in with Winchester.
Mix: There are so many bartender competitions today, and most of them focus only on the drink recipe. What's different about this one?
Angus Winchester: There are indeed many cocktail competitions today, but so many of them are subjectively judged and also rarely lead to practical cocktails for the mainstream drinker. This evaluation (not so much a competition although of course it does generate a ranked report of certain key skills) is relevant and equal for all bartenders in all bars and is judged “metrically” and hence objectively.
Mix: You've set yourself quite a task: 30 markets throughout 2012. Do you expect to see many regional differences in skills?
Winchester: It’s actually a minimum of 12 markets, but I have high hopes and big plans. I do certainly expect (and hope) to see regional variations. By running it for the USBG chapters first, I feel these variations will tell us a lot and provide a unique snapshot of the bartending skills across the nation. Next stop, global?
Mix: I'm most interested in how you will be gauging contestant's "bartending technique." Can you elaborate?
Winchester: I have been studying and evaluating bartenders intensely for well over a decade globally and have always tried to model the best behaviors and techniques. The 10 points of technique we use all have direct benefits to owners, bartenders and drinkers and are most often performed instinctively by the best bartenders. Each point can be justified and is explained to each bartender before and after their evaluation as part of their individual feedback.
Mix: How have you and the USBG arrived at the benchmarks you'll use for judging the skills?
Winchester: I am working with the USBG to refine the criteria, but to date there has never been a question that these are not key and useful points to judge.
Mix: You've been around long enough to see developments in bartending trends and skills in both the United Kingdom and the United States. How do you see the two countries differing in bartending in general today?
Winchester: In recent years, the United Kingdom has been forging ahead in the arena of "craft bartending," but over the last three to four years, the United States has embraced the "fresh" aspect and professionalism of modern bartending. Still, there is a disconnect in America where bartenders are rewarded financially per drink and not per quality experience. However, this is changing at the cutting edge U.S. bars.
Mix: What's the one skill or skills you hope this competition will encourage?
Winchester: Accuracy of pouring. This is so key to every aspect of drinking alcohol. By ensuring and encouraging accurate measurement of alcohol to the drink/drinker, we help the bar owner make money, make drinks taste delicious and not just "strong" and promote responsible drinking. Bars are hard to work in accurately because of noise, lighting, setup, diversity of product and the clientele, and this system measures and demonstrates the importance of pouring accurately at all times.
Mix: What's your favorite drink right now?
Winchester: Since it’s winter, I am loving sweet Martini variants like the Zabriskie and Lone Trees… though a bittered Tanqueray and Tonic with Peychauds remains my go-to drink. And finally for my first drink of the night, right before dinner, it’s got to be a White Lady!