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Cocktail Competitions - The Basics

One of the biggest events throughout the cocktail calendar every year for every bartender is the *Insert Brand Name* cocktail competition. There are many different types, many different challenges & many different judges for every single type of competition out there.

There is always a debate about whether or not competitions are good or bad & whenever there is a test of skill with judges there are always those who are happy & those who are sad. After all it is a competition regardless. Here we will cover the basics of cocktail competitions before diving into some specifics later.

The Basics: Cocktail competitions DO NOT make you a better bartender in a bar but generally the better bartenders DO BETTER in cocktail competitions. Each competition will have its own set of rules, theme, judges & requirements in order to do well in that specific competition. Competitions are judged by human being so inevitably there will always be a BIAS based on their specific tastes & if you cannot accept this simply do not compete.

Before even thinking about taking part in a competition there are many factors to consider but here are some basic pointers:

  • READ THE RULES. Most brands will send a pack explaining the different terms & conditions of every specific competition & where rules will be awarded as well as who the judges are. If you want to score highly on a competition you need to understand what they are looking for.

  • KNOW THE BRAND. Generally brands have very clear styles of marketing & are attractive to different types of people. Jack Daniels goes heavily after Rock festivals, World Class is usually seen as part of a “luxury” lifestyle & Monkey Shoulder is all about ‘Skills pay the Bills’. You have to adapt to the competition as opposed to trying to enforce your own style upon it. Synergy is key.

  • PRACTICE. Bartenders are notorious for sending in recipes at the very last moment & this includes their approach to preparation for cocktail competitions. Numerous times have we heard the term ‘wing it’ or ‘improvise on the spot’ that ends up being used as an excuse for a bad performance. In the end this is used as ‘cool’ point between bartenders but the most successful career bartenders are the professional ones.

The Potential:

Cocktail competitions expose you to new ideas, techniques & people as well as letting you network with other professionals in your field. They help you meet representatives of brands that are exposed to you as a professional who could hire you for future events, activations or event help you find a new job when you need it. There is generally press involved that will allow you to get more people to get to know about your skills & could potentially write about you in trade media.


Before you Start:

Ask yourself who benefits from the competition, or even who profits. They’re not charities - they’re typically branded events. How do you align yourself with the decision-makers? How do you make them want you to win? When someone wins a big comp, they usually have a great drink, perfect chat and generally strong presentation skills, but they will have impressed the brand beyond that. Every time. It starts with not being against their brand aesthetic and general appeal - that’s definitely the easiest bit…

You need to ask yourself what is the purpose of taking part in a competition & what you are trying to achieve. Nowadays the most important thing to think about is what story you're going to tell when you're on stage so to give you a teaser for next week as we look into the Art of Storytelling.

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