After five years of competing, Edmonton bartender James Grant can say he’s the best in the country.
“My reaction? Initially, it was one of disbelief. I’d finally made it,” says Grant, who won the Diageo World Class Canada Bartender of the Year Competition last week. Grant, who runs the bar at Little Hong Kong, will represent the country in the global finals, which will be held in Madrid this coming July.
“It really is the Olympics of bartending,” says Grant. “Unlike other competitions, no single drink that you make is what sets you apart.” He says that the contest “strips it all down,” in terms of how it reflects real-world bartending.
Basically, through the regional and national competitions — and the upcoming finals in Spain, as well, the bartenders are presented with challenges that mimic many facets of their day-to-day (should that be night-to-night?) work.
Challenges included; designing menus and being able to make drinks while reducing the amount of waste. At the national finals, held at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York, Grant was tasked to do a speed challenge. It was all about not only making drinks accurately, but delivering them to guests quickly. As he says, the challenges are all about replicating the “guest experience.”
As for the competition itself, Grant, his fellow competitors and the judges were all sequestered in one area of the hotel; they were regularly tested for COVID.
“Everyone was tested, from competitors to facility staff to judges,” he says. So, Grant has an idea of the kind of testing regimens that professional athletes are undertaking so sports leagues can function — albeit with limited or no fans.