Urbanisation and the recent boom in India’s nightlife sector have led to bartending becoming a lucrative career option. But India still lacks opportunities when it comes to knowledge building and the training of bartenders. One of the aims of Ultimate Bartender Championship, now in its fourth season in India, is to change that scenario.

The competition aims to develop, hone and recognise the skills of young bartenders. Organised by the whisky brand Monkey Shoulder, Ultimate Bartender Championship’s motto is to showcase “skills that pay bills” from around the country. It’s structured like a full-fledged tournament, the regional rounds leading up to the finale, to be held in Ooty on 20-21 June.

On 20 May, the first leg of the championship was held in Delhi, at Toy Room, Aerocity. This was followed by the second one in AMPM, Cyber Hub, Gurgaon, on 21 May.

Both the events were hosted by Pankaj Balachandran, brand ambassador, Monkey Shoulder. He said at the championship’s opening ceremony, “Monkey Shoulder is a modern whisky with a new approach, and we like to engage the bar community. Monkey Shoulder Ultimate Bartender Championship is exactly that. We are so excited about our fourth season that captures the essence of ‘skills that pay bills’ and is all about modern techniques, global trends and mixing abilities.”

The competition will travel to six more cities—Pune Mumbai and Goa on 27, 28 and 29 May respectively; then to Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore on 3, 4 and 5 June respectively.

All the entrants of the competition are aged 21 years or above, who are currently working as bartenders in India. The event saw more than 180 registrations from talented bartenders—from top hospitality venues, such as Whisky Samba, Perch Wine and Coffee Bar, Pling Lounge and Bar, PDA Bar, Playground Bar among others—only 20 of whom will reach the finals.

The fourth season of Ultimate Bartender Championship started in Delhi on 20 May.

Participants need to go through five challenges in the “City Rounds”. These include “Ingredient Knowledge”, “Mixing”, “Pouring”, “Nosing” and “The Perfect Serve”.

The challenges consist of various quizzes, largely about the history of cocktails and the know-how of bartending; blind-tasting sessions; as well as rounds dedicated to assessing the participants’ mixing, pouring and serving skills.

The highest-scorer from the recently concluded Northern region competition—including the Delhi and Gurgaon legs—was Akhilesh Sheoran from Together At 12th, Le Meridien, Gurgaon. About his win, he said, “Bartending is a passion for me, and I am very excited to be competing at this globally recognised event. Thanks to Monkey Shoulder, I had the chance to meet some of the finest players in the game.”

Since India’s hospitality industry is on the rise, it’s time that aspiring bartenders be trained in accordance with international standards. Sheoran believes that the demand for bartenders will only grow in the future: “Back in 2015-16, there were a lot of good bartenders emerging in India who were gaining recognition around the globe. That’s what inspired me to take up bartending. If we see on the global scale, Indian bartenders are doing a brilliant job. The Indian market, too, is flourishing. Now is a great time to be in the bartending profession.”

Twenty bartenders will compete in the finale, to be held in Ooty next month.

He said that there is also a growing need for more platforms like the Ultimate Bartender Championship in India. “Most talent hunts focus on cocktail creation, but one needs to know about the spirits, pouring and mixing, pricing etc. When you are a bartender, it’s a complete package,” said Sheoran.

At the finale of Ultimate Bartender Championship, there will be a “Round Building” challenge, in which contestants with the three highest scores from the previous five challenges will compete. The round is based on the concept of “drink creation against the clock”, with contestants given five minutes to serve as many rounds of drinks as possible from an available list of drinks. Once the drinks are served, the simulated checks will arrive in a timed order. The round cannot be counted until the order is on the tray and the bell rung for it to be taken away.

After the regional rounds are over, 20 top-scorers will head to Ooty for the finale. The winner of Ultimate Bartender Championship will be declared at the venue during the closing ceremony on 21 June. The national champion will win an all-expenses-paid trip to the London Cocktail Week, which is to be held this year in October. Several world-class bartenders from top bars around the globe will be attending this event in London.

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