Edmonton mixologist named World Class Bartender of the Year

Members of Edmonton's hospitality community can hold their heads a little higher this week after one of their own took home the World Class Bartender of the Year title for 2021.

James Grant represented Canada in the Diageo World Class Global Finals, topping fellow bartenders from 50 other countries.

"It's very much still sinking in," the mixologist told CTV News Edmonton from Toronto, where he competed remotely. "Overwhelmingly happy and proud. Very, very grateful to be able to represent our hospitality community."

The competition was originally supposed to take place in Madrid, Spain, but was moved to a virtual format due to concerns over COVID-19.

During the four-day competition from July 4 to July 8, bartenders were judged on their hosting and bartending techniques through a wide range of challenges.

The 36-year-old is no stranger to winning. Earlier this year, the cocktail specialist won his way to the international competition when he was named bartender of the year in the World Class Canada Finals.

'I NEVER SET OUT TO HAVE A CAREER IN BARTENDING'

Grant was born in Melbourne, Australia, but growing up in a military family, he moved around a lot. At the age of 13, he settled in Edmonton which he still calls home. Despite being considered the world's best, Grant said he fell into bartending by accident. 

"I never set out to have a career in bartending," he said. "I was living in London in the U.K. at the time. I was still doing communications work back then and couldn't get a job in my field out there, so I took a bartending job to pay my rent." 

"It brought me here. I feel very blessed."

REPRESENTING EDMONTON

Throughout the competition, the international bartenders were tasked with preparing 40 different cocktails with varying parameters.

"That's the kind of amazing thing about World Class," Grant said. "At the end of the day you don’t have just one cocktail that represents you, you have made 40."

Grant said one of the most pleasant cocktails he created for the competition was for the Johnnie Walker Highball challenge. 

For that leg of the competition, bartenders were tasked with creating a highball using Johnnie Walker Black Label paired with flavours representative of their hometowns.    

"I got lucky that I was given that challenge right as Edmonton was starting to come out of winter," said Grant. "You walk down Jasper Avenue and you can sort of feel it in the air: everyone knows that summer's on the way."

The Edmonton bartender said he tried to use ingredients that were reflective of that sentiment.

"I harvested lilac from the river valley, and fresh spruce tips, pine boughs, the smells that I get out of Edmonton in the spring and use those to create something surprising and very beautiful."

'IN TEARS FOR ABOUT FIVE MINUTES'

Once the dust settled on the grueling series of challenges, Grant said being named World Class Bartender of the Year was an emotional experience.

"I was basically in tears for about five minutes when they were announcing."

The champion bartender is taking his success in stride. With the world title now under his belt, he says it's time to return home and ply his trade at Little Hong Kong, where he bartends in Edmonton.

"I've already been told in my work group chat I have to go back to work," said Grant. "Just because I'm the champ doesn't mean I don’t have to fill my ice and get the drinks up."

Over 400,000 bartenders from 60 countries have taken part in the World Class program since 2009.