Two days, three very different challenges. Diageo’s annual World Class GB Bartender of the Year competition put 20 of the UK’s best bartenders through the proverbial mill, and it was Cameron Attfield from Disrepute who took the title.
The first day saw competitors showcasing a single British ingredient of their choice, manipulating it using various techniques and matching it with Ketel One Vodka, before creating a Singleton Whisky serve using inspiration from a chosen country and the ideas of exploration, travel and adventure.
The second day was all about speed, tasking bartenders with making five cocktails, chosen at random, in four minutes. The panel of judges was, unsurprisingly, packed with industry heavy hitters, from previous winners (Erik Lorincz, Daniel Warren and Orlando Marzo), to Diageo brand ambassadors (including Jason Clark and Jenna Ba), as well as other industry experts.
So how did Attfield beat 19 other standout bartenders to victory? Imbibe spoke to Attfield the morning after the competition to find out.
Congratulations on winning – how do you feel?
I’m super ecstatic but also mentally drained. It’s not fully kicked in yet. I’m really happy but I think when I wake up tomorrow, it might actually kick in. I can’t really believe it – it’s like I’m in an adrenaline limbo.
How did you prepare for the competition?
There was some physical prep of preparing drinks but a lot of it came down to mentality. I came second last year, so I watched a lot of the previous global winners preparation, especially Daniel Warren who pipped me to the post [in 2018].
What ingredient did you choose for your first task?
I went for peas, British garden peas, which is a little bit unusual. As soon as I saw the challenge that’s the first thing that came into my head. It’s something I grew up with, eating fish and chips with mushy peas, and I think people often see them as one dimensional – they’re not. I did four different methods of manipulation: distillation, fermentation, cold pressing and enfleurage, which is used in perfume making. I served a Champagne Cocktail using the peas.
What cocktails were you tasked with making and were there any you didn’t want to get?
Nobody wanted to get a Bloody Mary as it's quite labour intensive and as soon as you put tomato juice in your jiggers, good luck getting that taste out. Luckily, I didn’t get it. I got a Boulevadier, Espresso Martini, Whisky Highball, Tommy's Margarita and a Tom Collins. I finished a minute under time, meaning I had time to interact with the crowd and cheer on my competitors.
How did you approach the speed challenge?
I went methodical, such as making sure my garnish was in the same order as my glasses. It’s just the way that I work normally. My main aim was to get the liquid in the glasses straight away. It was a bit harder doing that and talking first, but it meant as soon as the other person spoke I was nearly finished. I previously worked at Dandelyan which was really fast-paced, so it was a bit of muscle memory too.
Have you learnt anything from the process?
I was lucky that I went last, so I could watch some of the other competitors. The main thing I’ve learnt is to just relax. When I was watching the speed round that’s the one thing I took away: the people who were more relaxed got their drinks up in time. Reiterating your key message is also something I learnt is important and bringing everything back to a central point at the end.
What did you think of the other bartenders in the competition this year?
There were a couple that popped out. I’d heard a lot about Sean Fennelly [from the Kimpton Fitzroy Bar] so I knew he was one to watch – he actually came second. Jo Last also has that classic Savoy hospitality behind her, so I was watching her. We both chose peas in the first round and apparently hers was amazing so I was worried about that. I know she’s a great bartender and she actually came third.
What advice would you give bartenders hoping to compete for the first time?
The main thing is to be yourself, stay calm and present in the best way. Last year I let it get to me a bit and I got too much into my head. Don’t ever let anything get inside your mind – you are your own worst enemy.
How are you feeling about the global final?
Yesterday I was so happy, but then I was like ‘oh god’. I feel good, it’s in Glasgow so I have a bit of a home advantage. I haven’t seen the brief yet but I’m really excited. I want to work on a really cleaning up my presentation so that’s what I’m really going to focus on. I’ve made 19 solid friends from the GB finals so I can’t wait to meet all of my other competitors.