Cover The Spirits Library mixologist Claude Delima is crowned World Class Philippines 2022 Bartender of the Year

The Spirits Library mixologist is going to Sydney to compete with the world’s best

The vibe at the Alibi Lounge was celebratory—it was a reunion of the beverage industry’s insiders, supporters, and friends. Diageo Reserve brand ambassador Rian Asiddao remains at the centre of World Class, the Diageo-sponsored educational platform, and what is dubbed “the World Cup of Bartending.” This event annually narrows down the roster of local talents until we are left with one to be pitted against the world’s best. The process is tedious, and in the wake of a pandemic that has beaten the industry to a pulp, most of its contenders and organizers are still picking up the pieces. Despite the challenges, Asiddao feels that it is important to hold the World Class competition as it was meant to be, simply because it is just what everybody needs.

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“After a full virtual competition last year, we transitioned to a hybrid format this year,” Asiddao explained. “We started it virtually and ended up with two face-to-face challenges. We still want the bartenders to experience the essence of the World Class competition, and all challenges are from the Global World Class.” It remains the biggest bartending program and competition aimed at supporting the trade through training and showcasing skills through competition. “It is also a big opportunity for the bar and bartender to be exposed to different platforms here and abroad,” Asiddao added.

At the finals held in the Crimson Hotel Filinvest City bar, the seven contenders for the Philippines’ Bartender of the Year are tasked with delivering two cocktails—an aperitif and a digestif—utilizing either Johnnie Walker Black Label or Singleton of Dufftown 12. The finalists were: Nikki Laksamana of Baccarat Room & Bar, Solaire Resort & Casino; Abby Leyte of Southbank Cafe & Lounge; Melody Lim of Oasis Garden Cafe, Solaire Resort & Casino; Lovely Enage of Bar 20, Swissotel Clark; Rodney Protacio of Baccarat Room & Bar, Solaire Resort & Casino; Claude Delima of The Spirits Library; and Duane Legaspi of Coconut Grove, Admiral Hotel.

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With so much talent at the bar, picking a clear winner was quite the task, one placed squarely on the shoulders of the five judges. Aside from this writer, the panel was composed of the following industry insiders: AK Roxas, Worldclass Bartender of the Year 2013; Royce Pua, Worldclass Bartender of the Year 2017; Lucky So Alabado, Discover MNL; and Icy Mariñas, Drink Manila. It was wise to give only a sip of each cocktail for the judges to try, as they were all dangerously easy to drink.

Based on the array of cocktails presented by the finalists, it was fun trying to spot the trends currently favoured in the bar industry. Japanese flavours were often used to impart savoury components, as illustrated flawlessly in Abby Leyte’s Winds of Change aperitif, which contained a miso cucumber cordial, marinated umami black olives, and garnished with bonito flakes. Flavoured soda is a popular and refreshing drink to beat the heat, which is perhaps why bartenders have taken it upon themselves to come up with their own interesting flavours: such as Rodney Protacio’s oolong tea soda (for his East to West aperitif) and Duane Legaspi’s ginger and wasabi soda (to top off his First Course aperitif) which paired so well with his delicious sesame leaf and tuna tartare bites.

See also: What Cocktails do Bartenders Order to Judge Bars?

Still, Claude Delima’s deceptively technical and well-balanced cocktails, armed with his easy charm and vast knowledge, won him the top prize. His fellow bartenders on the panel appreciated his attention to detail in preparing his own blended soda and pomelo tepache cordial for his Black Label-based aperitif, Pagsidlak. He showcases his grasp of technique by replacing egg whites with aquafaba for froth, mixed with green chartreuse infused with mozzarella that has been fat-washed and sweetened with a thick PX sherry reduction for his Singleton-based digestif Takipsilim. Asiddao points out that the third time seems to be the charm for re-joiner Delima. “I saw his improvement since the first year he joined,” Asiddao admitted. “He is very passionate and service-oriented, which you will see when he is behind the bars of The Spirits Library. He is now more confident and ready, thanks to his hard work and his mentors, Ralph Santos and Lennon Aguilar.”

See also: What Cocktails Do We Love At Tatler?

Delima will compete in Sydney with the best of the world for the title of World Class Bartender of the Year 2022. Back in Manila, Asiddao and the Diageo Philippines team will prepare again for next year's competition staging. The national finals are always an emotional time for Asiddao, not only because of all it took for them to get there but because he knows how potentially life-changing it is for those involved. "I get emotional because all the challenges and hurdles that I faced in organizing the competition sink in, and at the end of the day, all is worth it," he shared. "I am very passionate about World Class, and I always keep in mind that this is a platform for the bartenders, which is why I always give my 100 per cent."

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