TOBY ELLIS IS… Cut off – “Will the Real World Champion Please Stand Up?”

Updated: September 1, 2006

I was scanning the FBA message boards and threw the brakes on when my eyes fell onto a blurb somebody cut and pasted off the Food Network website about the upcoming Throwdown with Bobby Flay Episode. There it was on their website for millions and millions of people to see:

Tobin Ellis is a World Champion Flair Bartender.

Fuck. I was livid. I fired off an urgent request for a retraction to the show’s producers faster than Kevin Mayo cascades three bottles and was so happy to see a correction within 48 hours. (Thanks, Emily). The site now reads “Tobin Ellis [is] one of the top flair bartending specialists in the world.”

blazercoverIt got me thinking. Since winning the Mixology Title at the 2005 Blue Blazer Challenge (an FBA-sanctioned Level 4 Competition) I have for the sake of my business and the media, referred to myself as either holding a “World Mixology Title” or as a “World Champion Mixologist.” That’s professionally, mind you. Personally, I have always called myself just “bartender” including when I was President of the FBA. I never once called myself “President.” (I let the Argentinean Flair Cartel do that for fun.)

In fact, when the opportunity allows, I always have qualified or explained the Blue Blazer title. Problem is, as you might know… most of the time, people don’t care. They want sound bites, bullet-points and tidy labels. It was a press release written by a PR firm that forced me to pin down a “title” and World Champion Mixologist was what they latched onto. But after growing pretty cozy in that title, I started to wonder what counts as a World Title these days. I needed some perspective and so I began a personal quest for some answers.

One of the first things I came across was an article about two bartenders who were conducting Flair training at a large resort. The article referred to them both as “World Champion Flair Bartenders.” I had to admit neither name rang a bell. Turns out they had competed a couple of times in very small comps that fielded only bartenders from one city. I wondered where that embellishment started. Did the bartenders fib a little to sound better or did the media get a little to creative in their writing? A lot of the time the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the media.

Robin Weiss, FBA Board Member who organizes both small and large Flair Competitions in Germany explains this phenomenon:

robinweissIn an interview with the biggest German newspaper… they asked me about my international experience in competitions and I talked about Legends… [I talked] about not many Europeans competing there [long time ago] and me placing in the middle of the field with a pretty good speed round … placing maybe 5th out of the Europeans. What did they make of it? “Speed Round winner and 5-time European Champion Robin Weiss.”

Robin now insists on the right to review any printed stories about him before agreeing to be interviewed. Robin’s story is not uncommon, not at all. You don’t have to be the focus of a National Newspaper or huge national Television show to have the media unscrupulously transform you into the greatest champion who has ever lived. From local TV newscasters touting the local favorite who made the amateur finals of Nations as a “World Champion” to the event MC who comes over the mic and introduces you as “the number 1 Flair Bartender in the United States” it happens all the time.

Then there’s this scenario that we’ve all been through. You know the drill. You’re minding your own business behind the bar, and no matter how much you’re on point with your service, mixology, sales, personality, etc… as soon as you flip a bottle, it opens you up to some drunk jackass who comes at you with that whole line of b.s. about how his buddy is “The” World Champion. Maybe you just smile and say something like “wow, cool” and move on. Or, maybe you press him a little bit. If you do, don’t you almost always find out it was somebody who competed in (and didn’t actually win) an incredibly small, local comp five years ago? Have you tried correcting or explaining things to these people? Yea, you look like a huge dork, don’t you? So you shrug your shoulders, fire off a fake bartender smile and let it roll off your back. What else can you do?

Rob Husted
, a former Legends World Finalist and editor of Flairbar.com runs a number of competitions through his website and company www.barwars.info. Rob knows exactly what a lot of us put up with along these lines:

I understand the frustration you might feel when somebody at your bar starts talking about a “World Champion Flair Bartender” they know after seeing you Flair a drink for them. Usually upon further investigation they can’t remember the bartenders name or the competition that they supposedly won and the so called facts gets fuzzier and fuzzier. Most of the time this happened decades ago or at some local TGI Fridays competition. I have no problem honoring those bartenders that came before us and helped pave the road for the rest of us or TGI Fridays bartending competitions… but I don’t quite agree with calling the in store winner of a local TGI Fridays competition a “World Champion”. There is a line and the line needs to be more defined.

Rob Turek, former competitor and FBA Judge who owns www.startenders.net gets right to the heart of the matter:

robturek“…the title of “World Champion” bartender has totally been abused. Back in 1998, when I began competing at “The Quest for the Best Bartender in the World”, it would have been assumed that where you placed was your world ranking. I took 13th, so [did I have] bragging rights of being ranked as the 13th best bartender in the world? This was completely thrown out of context by my friends and co-workers, who held on to that placing forever, trying to push me as literally one of the best in the world. Now I’m not saying that I didn’t accomplish a lot while a competitor, but how true are the accolades given through one competition?”

I remember the first time it really stared us all in the face. It was the very first FBA Awards during Legends when a buddy of mine from another part of the world was on a video I played for everybody. A subtitle appeared below his name that said “World Champion.” I noted the muffled laughter from the other bartenders in the room. He had won a pretty big competition in his country, but by no means was it a World Championship. And that brings us to a big part of the problem. What exactly is a World Championship?

If somebody holds a competition and two guys who spent a summer in Ibiza show up, does that make an event “International.” If not, what does? Putting out a plate of nachos and a tray of blazerposterSpanakopita? (I kid, I kid). Does the organizer/promoter have the right to call their little, local competition a “World Championship?” just to help market it? For any kind of bartending competition to rightfully call itself a National, International, or World Championship shouldn’t there be some criteria or rules?

I decided this is too big an issue to share only the thoughts that race through my head, and so I reached out the experts: the people that we all call World Champions and those who run some of the biggest, longest-running competitions on the planet. I asked them each a few questions that get right down to the nitty-gritty. The panel I interviewed includes Ken Hall, Francesco LaFranconi, Mike McLean, Rob Husted, Christopher “Chico” Garcia, Robin Weiss, Christian Delpech, Bobby “G” Gleason, Tim “Flippy” Morris, Anthony Alba, Cache Bouren and finally, Jim Allison. Every one of these people share two credentials: they have all been judges and competitors. Several are multiple time World Champions and most have also organized more than one bartending competition. You know the names by now. Anyway, here are the questions I asked them and what they had to say.

Question 1: Which events are legitimate World Championships?

legendsposter Most agreed Legends, Roadhouse and Quest are the World Flair Championships and the top two Mixology Championships to be the WCC (World Cocktail Championships) and the Bacardi-Martini Gran Prix. On the cuff of being accepted as other World Championships are Nations, Paris Flair Open, Blue Blazer, Pan American Games and King of the Ring (Ultimate Flair Championships). The universal sentiment was that in order to be considered a true World Championship, a majority of the following criteria needed to be met:

1. Draw. The event draws competitors not just from around the world, but those who are legitimately albeit arguably the “best” from their countries. An event that draws top competitors from 55 countries will receive much more credibility than one that fields competitors from 4 countries. And just because one of the competitors spent a summer in French New Guinea, it does not make an event an “International Competition.”

2. Sanctioning. Some kind of established, legitimate overseeing organization or body has to sanction the event. In short, we are talking about either the IBA or the BMGPFBA, or both. Any event solely organized and/or judged by a private company, drinks brand, magazine, TV network or venue/property cannot be accepted as a true World Championship. Some disagree, citing King of the Ring as the perfect example of a competition that deserves World Champion status despite not being sanctioned or governed by either the FBA or the IBA. And still others adamantly make a point of excluding KOTR from this consideration mainly because the event is not properly sanctioned by one of the official governing bodies of competitive bartending.

3. Qualifying. There must be some format in place that forces those competing in this event to actually be qualified to be there. Whether it be an invitation from knowledgeable, respected organizers or qualifying heats held months or just days in advance, nobody should be able to simply show up to the finals round of a World Final. As one of my panelists, a multiple title holder in Flair competitions, Tim Morris put it so perfectly, “My trophy from one event says World Competition but there wasn’t 12 people in the entire competition.” In Morris’ eyes, that event was not a World Championship.


4. Prize money. Seems the low-bar is set at US $10,000 for an event to be considered a World Championship with averages weighing in between $20-$50k. As the world of competitive bartending grows, so do the prize purses. Rumors of $100,000 competitions are shaping up to be fact much more than fiction. And many competitors and organizers look at this one criteria as a pretty quick gauge of just how “big” a competition really is. Yet most I spoke with agreed that you cannot simply “buy” your way into being considered a World Championship; other criteria must be present. Sorry, Trump but if you want to hold a Donald Trump Bartending World Championship you are going to have to do more than put up $2,000,000 in prize money. Not to mention, some of the most respected and largest competitions in Mixology have no prize money at all.

5. Eligibility. All agreed that an event must be open to bartenders all over the world in order to be considered a World Championship. If only bartenders from the United States can compete, no matter what the advertisements, websites and rules state; it simply cannot be considered a World Championship. One event that many cited as a unique case study for the criteria of “eligibility” is the TGI Friday’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” World Championships. While the Friday’s comp is considered by many who know the event to be one of the most complete, technical and challenging bartending competitions in the world, the simple fact that it is only open to TGI Friday’s bartenders puts it in its own unique category outside the domain of all other World Championships. The event that launched many careers seems to be a lonely anomaly of sorts. And yet to old-schoolers like myself and many others, the utmost respect is still garnished to anyone who wins the TGI Friday’s World Championships. tgifworldsflyer
A surprising point of view came from the man who sits in what is arguably the most distinguished, influential seat in the entire world of Flair Bartending…. FBA President Jim Allison. He had this to say about the subject of which events are true World Championships:

It wasn’t until 2006 when Chico Garcia pointed out to me how and why he justifies claiming that we are running world championships.  He said the winner of these events are the Champion and these events are open to the entire world and many countries participate… so the winner is indeed a world champion.  Not the glamorous vision that I was after, but strangely justified.

roadhouse Based on my idea of a world championship, we don’t have one.  A world championship is an event that you qualified to be in along with hundreds of bartenders from around the world.  Currently the best example of this is Roadhouse, but that is not as diverse as it should be, so I would not consider it a true world championship either.  I would say we don’t have one… Yet.  The FBA Pro Tour will change that in the next 5 years, mark my words.

What was really fascinating to me about this first question, was despite some difference of opinion about exactly which criteria were most important, all the experts I interviewed gave me the same formula: For any event to be considered a legitimate World Championship in Bartending, certain criteria must be met and the better an event meets that criteria, the more respect it will earn for being considered a true World Championship.

Question 2: Who has the right to call themselves a “World Champion Bartender?”

While just about everybody agreed if you win one of the competitions mentioned above, you should rightfully be called a “World Champion,” nobody had a solid answer on what victories, titles or accolades allow a bartender to refer to themselves as a “World Champion Bartender.” World Champion Flair Bartender, sure. World Champion Mixologist, absolutely. But what is a “World Champion Bartender?” Jim Allison, president and CEO of the Flair Bartenders’ Association says it best: “What [can a bartender] do to get that award?  Get the most phone numbers?  Pour the fastest Draft Beer?” Several of the panel jokingly echoed the same sentiments.

The overwhelming consensus coming from a number of the title-holding champions I spoke with was that there never has been, nor will their likely ever be a single competition that will be able to fairly determine who is the “World’s Best Bartender.” What we seem to have pinned down, is how to determine who is the best competitive Flair Bartender and the best competitive Mixologist and as of 2005, who is the best competitive Flair-Mixologist. And so if you win one of the big competitions listed above, you indeed have the right to call yourself a World Champion. But not everybody follows these guidelines, do they?

flippy I have a pretty good friend who is a kick-ass Flair Bartender with a good number of competition trophies. But just a few weeks ago in a conversation he said to me “I’m a 3-time World Champion.” I had to scratch my head a little. I’ve either been involved with or physically at most almost every Major Flair Competition in North America since the late 1990s and a few around the world as well. He has been in the finals of a lot of them, just like me, but never won any of them. I can only think of one pretty small event he won, in fact. It got me thinking about how we all look at competitions and the titles that go with winning them. It also got me thinking about me own views on my Blue Blazer Title. One of the people I had quite a long conversation with about the subject, was Tim Morris.

Tim Morris is a fascinating person who loves talking about flair. To Tim, competition is about having fun and about entertaining the audience and that point of view certainly flavors his outlook on this subject. Tim doesn’t consider himself a world champion despite winning the 2004 King of the Ring Tandem Title and several other major competition titles. He goes further to say “There’s only one world champion… the guy nobody can beat.”
Speaking of the guy that almost nobody seems to be able to beat, I had a chance to get Christian Delpech‘s opinion. C’mon, admit it: haven’t you ever secretly wondered just how accurate the legend of Christian Delpech really is? We’ve all read or heard the unbelievable title that follows him around that goes “Ump-teen time World Champion.” 15. 16. 17. You’ve heard it, too. So I put that very question to Christian, about just how many times is he a World Champion? His answer was as smart and straight-forward as ever: www.christiandelpech.com. (He posts his competition resume online for the world to review.) What more does he need to say? I’ve done the same thing on my website, www.barmagic.com, for quite some time, listing the details of each award and title I have won for the world to inspect, should they choose.

bobbygBobby “G” Gleason has won a lot of cocktail competitions in his day. Bobby is the former Beverage Specialist for the Rio Casino and is now a Brand Ambassador for Absolut Vodka. Bobby adds an important but subtle distinction to the debate. “If the competition is open to competitors worldwide, then yes you are a World Champion [if you win] that particular competition. But, you are not THE World Champion.” Bobby, like many of the panel makes the point that winning any competition does not make you anything more (or less) than the champion of that event, on that day. And that’s where the problems start for me. Too many bartenders or the reporters and producers that tell their story, trump up their accomplishments from one day into so much more. And so we have a planet crowded with “World Champions Bartenders” and “Certified Master Mixologists.”

Now if this were all just the underground hobby it was 10 years ago, it would be little more than bar-room banter. But high-profile bartending (particularly the disciplines of Mixology and Flair) and competitive bartending have begun to bloom into lucrative industries and it is not uncommon for a bartender to launch an entire business or career from winning one big event. Such is the fate of many who win the major Mixology Competitions. But you don’t even have to win a competition, to cash in from it. It was Mindaugas “Big Mig” Gradeckas‘ Flair Exhibition during the World Finals of Legends of Bartending that ultimately led to his offer to be the original headline Flair Bartender at Harrah’s now world-famous Flair Bar, Carnaval Court. Even the original legends Ken Hall and Alan Mays got their shot at opening the VooDoo Lounge in a roundabout way because of their performances at Quest back in the late 1990s.

Bartenders know that competition titles = money, fame and better opportunities. I’ve been asked to write a lot of “letters of expert witness” on behalf of bartenders looking to get or keep their work visas in the U.S. One time I was asked by a very nice, very talented Flair Bartender from overseas to write him a letter stating he is one of the best in he world. I had to tell him no. He just didn’t have any titles I could use to justify me going on record to the United States Government to say he is “one of the best Flair Bartenders in the World.” So it has become a very serious, very big business all of a sudden.

tobyellis-mojaveMaybe that explains the pressure or the need to have a title. I know as a small business owner, I absolutely make sure to market any and all titles, awards and honors I receive. And I definitely put my best foot forward. The recent Food Network Challenge yielded me an award for “Best Drink.” Yet overall, I placed 5th out of 6th. Now I could go on and on about how it was a 3-round competition that gave only 20 points out of 620 to one of those rounds (the mixology round that I won) and how if the event was more evenly weighted, I would have probably finished 3rd or 4th… but I can hear my own advice ringing in my head: “If you don’t like the rules, don’t compete.” So I take the highlights out the competition and focus on the fact that I won Best Drink and leave it at that. And what’s wrong with a little Pineapple in your Long Islands anyway? Damn purists. (again I kid, I kid.)
In all seriousness, that has always been where the line is for me. You accentuate the positive, but never lie. As Christian Delpech puts it: “It’s just smart marketing; nothing wrong with it as [long as you]… put it in good words without lying.” But Christian personally doesn’t consider anyone including himself a World Champion if they do not, as he puts it “take the first place trophy and the first place check.” Spoken like a true competitor. And he certainly has the room full of trophies and wallet full of checks to back it up.

Problem is, some others do not. And either they, their employers or their hometown media want them so desperately to be World Champions, they say whatever gives that impression. So for every bonified Champion we have, there are another 50 slicksters out there claiming to be just as accomplished and sadly, the world eats it up. Need proof? Here’s just one publicly listed “awards” list from a bartending school in America, that I am guessing is either listing awards for its instructors or students, though it does not elaborate or specify. But just look at some of the “titles”…. and my notes in parenthesis.

Selected Judges for US Nationals (What are the “US Nationals?” Nationals of what?)
Judges for “Best Bartender” Competition (Best Bartender Competition. Huh???)
2001 World Champion Skyy Vodka – holland (I don’t even understand what this title is trying to imply)
2001 Flair World Champion Moet Champagne- Japan (Anybody ever hear of the Moet “Champagne” Flair World Championships? I’d love to see a champagne bottle and tin routine.)
2003 United Bartenders Guild National Champions (Guessing they means the United STATES Bartenders Guild??)
2003 Skyy Vodka – World Champions – Lisbon Portugal (Again, I don’t know what event they are referring to)
2004 Sambuva – Runner up – Denmark (Surely the event wasn’t simply called “Sambuva”???)
2005 Skyy Vodka – National Champions – Las Vegas (Nobody from where this school is located, won any Skyy Sponsored competitions held anywhere near Las Vegas in 2005)
2005 Absolute Vodka – Runner up – Holland (At least spell Absolut properly if you want us to believe you)

Tim Morris tells me of a time someone was trying to talk their way into a job at Harrah’s and told the management he was “The European Flair Champion.” And yet no such title exists. When Tim called the bartender on his boast, his reply to Tim was “How do you know who are the champions in Europe?” Perhaps this young buck should have done his homework a little better before trying this charade, especially in a conversation with someone like Flippy. Between the FBA forums and Flairbar.com, it’s all but impossible these days to play that smoke and mirrors game. As Flairco’s Mike McLean puts it “competition results are often posted within hours of being announced from anywhere in the world.” Perhaps people shopping around for bartenders, trainers, performers, consultants, schools and such would be wise to ask for documentation of so-called “awards” and “titles.” Better yet, do what the world’s first “Flair-Only” Casino does. Anthony Alba, head mixologist for the Rio Casino in Las Vegas, explains:

“The good thing is we don’t do interview hirings [at the Rio]; everyone has to pass an audition. Sure, you can say what you’ve done, but you still have to put everything on the table come audition time, and back up what you say.”

What once seemed bizarre in the industry: the “audition” is now commonplace. I auditioned all my bartenders as early as 1994. Seemed common sense, considering how so many bartenders are better at bullshitting than pouring drinks. I’d never hire any other way. Try before you buy, I always say because anybody can talk a good game. It was Tim Morris‘s audition, definitely not his resume, that earned him a starting spot on the staff of Shadow Bar at Caesars Palace.

cacheCache Bouren, Beverage Director for Jackie’s Kitchen, a Flair Bar and Restaurant in Honolulu who has done his fair share of interviewing and hiring bartenders adds to this idea:

I think my irritations with this subject parallel my feelings toward resumes, where applicants over embellish, use way too many five-dollar words, and stretch the truth to show themselves in the best light. Look, be humble and realistic when reciting your accomplishments, ok? If you really are that good, then you wont be the only one telling me about you, don’t you think?

So whether on the job or on the stage, it seems the leaders of our world have a low tolerance for bullshit. No surprises there. One sentiment that most agreed on is that no amateur can call themselves a World Champion, no matter which event they win. If you want the title and the respect that goes with it, you have to go pro. As Christian puts it: “If some Flair Bartender that just won some amateur division … and goes screaming all over the place that he is the world champion and some [other] Flair bartenders hear him, they are gonna laugh their asses off.”

Question 3: Can you be a “World Champion” if you win one round of a World Championship?

mcleanHere’s where it gets real sticky and the opinions fly in every direction. Some say you have to win the entire competition to be a World Champion. Actually, most agree on this. But when it comes to winning a round of a World Championship, can that person refer to themselves, for example as a “World Champion Speed Bartender” or “World Freepour Champion?” One of the most traveled competition judges we have, Mike McLean of Flairco had this to say: “…winning one round doesn’t necessarily mean that bartender is the best.”

Ken Hall of High Spirits Enterprises, a 6-time World Champion and creator of Legends of Bartending World Bartender Championships had this to say: “If you win the freepour round at Legends, it’s just as hard as beating out everybody else at another round, and you are at a world finals of a world championship, so yes, you definitely can call yourself a World Champion.”

kenhallI took this opportunity to ask Ken to explain, as an example to all of us, how his title from the 1996 Quest for the Best Bartender in America can be considered a World Championship. It’s a fair question, don’t you think? His reply was immediate and delivered with honest introspection rather than defensiveness. “As far as I know, that was the biggest open competition in the world, at that time. In 1996, was there a bigger open competition anywhere else in the world?” Ken points out that when the competition became the Quest for the Best Bartender in the World in effect, all that significantly changed was the name.

Christopher “Chico” Garcia of Chicosun Pridemotions & Prouductions who has been World Finalist, Event Organizer, Judge and of course, event MC agrees with Hall. “If it is an individualized event with an individualized name, trophy, check, etc… than yes.”

Seems that there is no definitive answer on the one subject that hit closest to home for me: If you win a title that comes with a trophy and check at a World Championship, are you a World Champion? Some say yes, some say no. I guess that is my answer then. I don’t want to be thought of as “possibly” a World Champion by “some people.” Who would? Back to the lab.

Question 4: What about promoters who market an event as a National or World Championship when it is not?

jimallisonSurely by now you’ve seen, heard about or been to an event that somebody touted as a “World Championship” that forced you to bite your lip to keep a straight face because you knew it barely qualified as a county championship. We don’t see it much any more these days but it used to be a lot more of a problem. As a rule, promoters often try to make things seem bigger and better than they really are. And the result is the entire sport takes a hit. That doesn’t sit well with a lot of people in the competitive bartending community.

Others seem to take it in stride. Jim Allison of the Flair Bartenders’ Association summarized it like this: “Marketing of an event is a pre-event function and what an event actually turns out to be sometimes is a post event analysis… so sometimes it is not the event organizers fault.” Tim Morris also maintains a very laid-back attitude to the subject: “All in all, nothing really bothers me. If they guy who organizes it wants to call it an international competition, let him call it an international competition.” Robin Weiss also sees the uglier side of promotion: “It is always the same, people need something big to blow up their little event.”
A couple of the experts pointed out some pretty difficult to ignore parallels in the rest of the sporting world. Like how is the World Series (Baseball) a World Championship if only American and a couple of Canadian teams compete? Same for the NBA Finals and the Super Bowl. Chico is a big sports fan and had the most compelling argument on this point:

The only thing that I have seen to date that justifies anything being called a World Title or Championship is the World Cup in Soccer.  The Steelers are currently called the World Champions.  Is that right?  Did they play every [American Style] football team in the World?  Did they play the Canadian, Arena, Semi-Pro, or European  football teams?  No they played only the teams in America in their own little league and so they call themselves World Champions.  What about the World Series in Baseball?  Same thing.  They don’t play all of the teams in Japan and on and on for that title.  It is tiny little America in the very large World and they take the title of World Champions year in and year out.

Since we were on the topic of “titles” in bartending, I took this opportunity to ask the panelists about the various titles the industry and the media use for bartenders of various styles including:
- Mixologist
- Master Mixologist
- Drinks Chef
- Flair Bartender
- Flairer
- FlairTender

Most of the experts seemed pretty easy-going and don’t get hung-up on these labels. Well, the honest thing to say is that was their official answers. I did get several “off the record” requests whereby the same people confessed a specific title really bugged the crap out of them. I agree. Others pointed out there does need to be a way to distinguish the very detailed, skilled work of some specialists from the day-to-day drink-slinging of the rest of the bartending world. Anthony Alba, Mixologist for the Rio had this to say about labels:

Everyday I try to explain to hotel guests to what I do. I call myself a bar chef [and tell them] ‘I do for beverage what a chef does for food.’ Most people get it quickly. There is a plethora of titles with what we do. Ultimately I still see myself as a bartender. [You] can’t get away from the roots, but Bar Chef is the one I go with a lot of times. 

francescoFrancesco Lafranconi, who was recently promoted to Director of Mixology for Southern Wine & Spirits of America chimed in with:
Everybody talks about mixology now, but what is mixology? For some it is using savory herbs and fresh ingredients and having lots of spirits knowledge [and yet for others] it is floating a little creme de Noyeaux over a Pina Colada.

Bobby G conveys some of my own sentiments about the distinction between a bartender and a beverage specialist or drink designer, though Bobby prefers the designation “mixologist” and defends its integrity:
If you work in a bar serving cocktails, you are a bartender. If you are responsible for creating cocktail menus, training new bartenders, educating bartenders, have a deep knowledge of spirits, spirit production and the laws governing those spirits, have extensive knowledge of cocktail history and how to make those cocktails, you are a Mixologist. To be a Master Mixologist, you should be really, really good at all of those things.

Robin Weiss chimes in from Germany sharing with us some of the other titles for bartender used over in Europe including Chef de bar, Showbartender, Showmixer and “Cocktello” all of which he does not care for. What does he like? “I love Bartender. It is what we are.With a twist, but at first we are bartenders.”


Perhaps the most inspiring shots of wisdom that the panelists served up were their comments that transcended the smaller issue of what you can write on a resume or not, and spoke to more important issues of integrity and character. I will leave you this month, with those gems:

Of course true champions are not the ones to stand up in a room and applaud their own accomplishments, no matter how grand they may be. Being a true champion is more than just winning, it includes your character, your heart, how you treat those who are striving to accomplish what you have, nurturing the future of what you love.
- Cache Bouren, FBA Representative and Director Of Beverage, Jackie’s Kitchen

BMGPpicBe proud of your accomplishments! You worked hard and this is your recognition. Just remember, always try to be humble. I try to use my experiences to encourage others to get involved. I guess my biggest pet peeve would be hearing about people complaining about the outcome. Please, Please, Please, win joyously and gracefully, and be a bigger person when you don’t win (notice I didn’t say lose, because just competing makes you a winner) and learn from the experience.
- Bobby “G” Gleason, Brand Ambassador, Absolut Vodka and National Mixology Champion

I say be modest and honest.
- Rob Turek, FBA Judge, owner Startenders.net
The most important thing isn’t who the world champion is, but how well somebody can entertain.
- Tim “Flippy” Morris, 4-time Tandem Flair Bartending World Champion (I’ll call him that, he won’t.)

There are so many incredibly talented bartenders out there, what is a champion? Humbleness is the bottom line [when you talk about] true champions.
- Francesco Lafranconi, Director of Mixology for Southern Wine & Spirits of America and World Champion Mixologist
p.s. My name is Tobin. Behind the wood I go by Toby. A week ago I considered myself a World Champion Mixologist and so did a lot of other people. Not any more. While a lot of people say titles don’t matter, I don’t know about that. If they didn’t, would competitions continue to grow year after year? Obviously, winning titles is important to somebody besides me. And so I’ll keep the faith and put in the work and maybe one day, grab the brass ring. Until then…. in the words of two other champions: keep mixin’ and keep flippin’. I will.


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