Julian Short is good at making cocktails, and he likes drinking them too. This might be why he is a multi-time winner of cocktail-making competitions – the 31-year-old has just secured his second South African Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year title, having previously won in 2017.
Diageo’s World Class competition has trained more than 400 000 bar tenders from 60 countries over the past 14 years.
Ballito’s Richie Nahlaka, Bar Manager at Alchemy Bar came second, and Johannesburg’s Maynard Boozen, Bar Manager at Ethos, claimed third spot.
“I am overjoyed about winning this year. I feel as though as you grow older, entering big competitions becomes about your ego – a lot of bartenders don’t enter World Class because they are afraid of losing out to someone younger or less experienced. When I entered this year, I told myself I was going up against myself, and I am taking that thinking through to finals in Brazil,” Short said.
Short made his first international trip in 2015 to represent South Africa in a tequila bartending competition in Mexico. Since then, he has travelled the world shaking and making cocktails and exchanging skills in bars. In 2016, after working the Johannesburg bar scene, Short became head bartender and manager at Sin + Tax, purchasing the venue four years later to combine business skills with constant innovation behind the bar.
He was previously one of the South African bar industry experts involved in mentoring 100 previously disadvantaged bar staff through Diageo SA’s The Hand-Up Mentorship Programme, which aims to upskill entry level bartenders to become competitors in World Class.
The South African leg of World Class saw 10 finalists completing various challenges over four days at different venues in Johannesburg, many of them under time pressure.
“In a competition, your cocktail needs to have a story behind it. For the food paring challenge, I made a sour apple and ginger soda with Tanqueray 10 – tall, dry and refreshing – and carbonated on stage. I drew the savoury style of cocktail out of a hat, and made a tropical bloody Mary with Ketel One vodka, a clarified tomato fresh granadilla and gooseberry punch with coconut milk.” The drink was topped with a beetroot and balsamic reduction.
The Por amor al tequila challenge saw finalists create a pop-up bar using Don Julio tequila in a cocktail with a “Mexican cantina with a South African Twist” theme. “My favourite challenge was the Johnnie Walker From Kilmarnock to Ekasi where we had to design a modern serve with the whisky. It took me out of my comfort zone – I teamed up with a local perfumer and chose two perfumes that complimented and contrasted with Johnnie Walker Gold.” Short’s concept was to place a perfume on each hand, and when the wearer engages with the drink, each hand presents a different experience due to the aroma.
“I made a cordial with burnt butter, pineapple and mushroom to drink with Johnnie Walker along with a chamomile soda. My messaging is that you can choose who you want to be, how you want to experience life and surround yourself with the right people, which speaks to Johnnie Walker.”
With constant innovation required, Short says he keeps his ear to the ground, follows bartenders on social media, reads food menus and studies flavour combinations. “A decade ago no-one was using mushrooms in drinks. Today, bartenders are finding new ingredients – the bar is becoming a kitchen – and learning how to work with them to make a drink that’s translatable and sells.”
“Going overseas as a young bartender for my first World Class was overwhelming; since then I have worked at bars all around the world. I did a small bar pop-up in Singapore and Milan. I have more under my belt than just making fancy drink – I’ve run a bar for six years, I hire and fire staff, I design cocktails. I am more prepared this time around; I’m going to keep doing me and do my best.”
CAPTION: Julian Short, Bar Owner & Consultant of Sin + Tax, during the fourth and last day of World Class challenges (left) and then being crowned South Africa’s champion, pictured with Mandla Mthombeni, Head of Reserve Brands, Diageo SA
Judge Joshua Hendricks said Short had shown an “intelligent and creative approach to the challenges” which meant he deserved his top shot as the South African World Class champion. “The general standard of the competition was excellent, with a good mix of new and experienced bartenders who all put in a lot of work to show interesting drinks and concepts. Cape Town and Johannesburg usually dominate with entrants so it was nice to have representation from Durban and Gqeberha, as well as female representation.”
Hendricks raised his game from being a THUMP mentee in 2022, to winning the South African leg of World Class last year, and now judging the competition. THUMP aimed on upskilling bartenders of colour as well as females, giving them stock, equipment and training to help add diversity to the bartending industry.
Other awards went to independent mixologist Lucinda Zinyemba, for biggest personality, and Kelvin Mabaya, Head Bartender at Sin + Tax for Best dressed – both of whom were THUMP mentees. Adding geographical diversity was Liam Jukes, Head Bartender at Tapas in Nelson Mandela Bay who won the Team player award.
Mealyn Joyce, Diageo SA Senior Brand Ambassador, said World Class aimed to change the way people think about cocktails. “It was incredible to watch the rounds as the finalists pit their skills against each other, and the spirit of solidarity between them is truly inspiring to see. We wish Julian all the best as he flies the SA flag against the best bartenders in the world.”
Diageo will host 14th edition of its global finals in São Paulo, Brazil from 23 – 27 September 2023.
CAPTION (left to right): The Diageo SA World Class top six finalists announced after the Johnnie Walker Gold challenge, Jason Andrews from Liquid Concepts (Ballito, KZN); Richie Nahlaka from Alchemy Bar (Ballito, KZN) who placed second; Lucinda Zinyemba of Lucy’s Magic (Joburg); Rhys Mc Beth from Bar by Rhys (CT); winner Julian Short of Sin + Tax (Joburg); and Maynard Boozen from Ethos (Joburg) who placed third.
Follow the journey on Instagram via @worldclasssa