“It’s been a goal of mine for over five years now and to finally do it was wonderful”
An Edmonton bartender shook and served his way to the top of the national podium and will now represent Canada on the world stage.
James Grant, one of two Edmontonians who competed in the Diageo World Class Canada Finals competition, was named Canada’s top bartender Tuesday evening after a three-day competition in Toronto.
The nine finalists from across the country competed in a series of challenges, with Grant making it all the way after six cocktail-crafting events. In his fifth year competing in the event, and his third year at the national finals, Grant said it felt like a long time coming but he was still in disbelief when his name was called and the confetti started falling.
“You never really want to bank on it, just in case it doesn’t happen so to finally hear it was huge,” he said in an interview with Postmedia. “It’s been a goal of mine for over five years now and to finally do it was wonderful.”
Grant, who currently bartends at Little Hong Kong in the Mercer Warehouse, will now have a few months to prepare to represent Canada at the World Class Global Finals in Madrid, Spain.
“I have the responsibility and pretty enormous privilege of going to represent the entire Canadian cocktail bartending community against 15 of the best bartenders in the world,” he said. “It’s pretty spectacular to know that I have a whole country of bartenders behind me.”
One of those supporters is Edmonton bartender Jesse Werkman who made it to the top seven of the competition, but just fell short of the final four to compete for the top prize. Werkman, a bartender at Bündok on 104 Street, made it to the national finals for the first time after the event was cancelled last year due to COVID-19.
A tricky part in preparing for the competition was making and transporting ingredients across the country, and ensuring bottles didn’t break in the process, Werkman said.
“It’d be devastating if you lost your ingredients when you got here because so much work goes into it and you can’t present your drinks without those ingredients — some can take 24 to 48 hours to make,” Werkman said, noting he vacuum sealed his ingredients and that strategy worked out well.
Grant and Werkman knew each other well heading into the competition, having both worked the bar at Woodwork. The fact that two Edmontonians were able to make it to the Canadian finals shows the high-calibre of the food and drink scene in the city, Grant said.
“To show up five years ago as the only Edmonton bartender, I felt very much like I was a fish out of water. To be here now as the winner and see another Edmonton bartender that I worked with in years past in the top seven was huge,” Grant said.
“It was so gratifying to see that bartenders are recognizing the food and drink culture that we have in Edmonton really does stand shoulder to shoulder with any city.”