'It was really humbling:' Edmonton man crowned world's best bartender at international competition


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An Edmonton bartender shook and stirred his way to the top of the class, taking home the title of world’s best bartender last week.

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James Grant, a bartender at Little Hong Kong in the Mercer Warehouse, won the Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year international competition against 50 of the best drink makers from around the world. Grant won the national competition in March to book his spot in the world event.

Initially, the event was supposed to be held in Spain but was changed to a virtual competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After a five-day competition with several challenges, Grant took home the top prize. The longtime Edmonton bartender heard his name called as he stood waiting for the decision at a Toronto bar with a screen in front of him as the organizers announced the winner from London, England.

“It’s rare that you’re in those moments that you know you’re going to remember forever as they’re happening but this week was definitely that,” he said in an interview with Postmedia. “It was such a different competition than it’s been in the last couple of years just because of the way it was all done remotely. It was still very inspiring to be competing alongside 50 of the best bartenders in the world and being named the best among them, it was really humbling.”

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Instead of competing all in one room, all the contestants participated remotely and had to send ingredients and “phone-book sized” instruction lists to England where non-competitor bartenders made their drink recipes in tandem with the competitors to serve to the judges.

Winning the competition comes with more than just the title for Grant, who will now be travelling around the world participating in workshops and meeting with some of the top bartenders. Grant now joins an elite company of 11 other international winners who will be ambassadors and judges for future competitions.

“Being able to travel the world because I pour drinks well is the most absurd thing that I can try and think of, but I’m really lucky. I’m very excited to see countries that I never necessarily thought I would get to and meet people all over the world who are passionate about the same thing I am, which is just serving guests,” he said.

Previous international bartender of the year winners hail from major cities of Tokyo, Paris, London and Chicago, and Grant said he is humbled and excited that Edmonton will now be added to that list.

“It’s so staggering that I was able to do that coming from a market that I think is small, but has incredible people doing incredible things,” he said.