The journey of an Armenian bartender to Spain with a goal to become the world's best mixologist
What does it take to be the world’s best bartender? A lot more than one can imagine. Gegam Kazarian left Yerevan almost a decade ago not realizing what he could achieve in a foreign country. A contest he entered with participants from all over the world gave him the chance to present his signature cocktail, the one that took home the trophy. Knowing that Gegam has plans to venture to the United States one day, one can only hope he’ll land in a nearby watering hole.
On a quest to find a mixologist who could give me a better understanding about the cocktail making process and the various forms and techniques used, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the mixology scene. Having made its way over from the East Coast, this cocktail culture is in a rather impressive expansion mode on the West Coast. But despite this aspect, I was dissatisfied with the results of my research. Finally, after honing my Google search skills, I knew I hit the jackpot when I read “Armenian bartender” and “World’s Best Bartender” in the same caption. Apparently, in a competition held in Cognac, France last June, Gegam Kazarian, a native Armenian residing in Spain, had won the G’Vine Gin Connoisseur 2011 World Finals. Can you fathom my sheer excitement? However, being halfway across the globe, I already knew this was going to be difficult. Luckily, I was able to contact him, and we spent over a week communicating via Skype, e-mail and sporadic phone calls as he was traveling throughout Europe on a business trip. Meanwhile, I was eager to gather more information about the competition itself and contacted the brains behind the operation, a gentleman named Philip Duff. Known as one of the biggest cocktail gurus in the world, Duff’s expertise in cocktails and spirits has given him the opportunity to design several contests on a global scale. Duff was approached by one of his clients who wanted to set up a bar contest. “I wanted to do something new and interesting and told him I can only be involved in it if I can do it all.” And thus the G’Vine Gin Connoisseur program for 2011 was created.
From a field of almost 400 bartenders from 29 countries, only fifteen advanced to the finals after the preliminary rounds. The fifteen finalists who were flown to Cognac spent three days competing in demanding challenges from aroma tests and speed pouring to written exams and cocktail creations. The last challenge was the G’Vine Summer Ball where finalists had to create their own bar and serve their Signature G’Vine Cocktail. Guests, which included professionals within the industry, were given five tokens to pay for their favorite cocktails. Duff explained that “Kazarian won largely because he managed to get the most tokens and not only because his drink looked and tasted so amazing, but mostly because he was such a great host. Even in the heart of France, he did better than the French competitors. That is such a tremendous achievement.” Duff is currently working on his next project, another contest he’s launching in Cognac in July, in an effort to “find more Gegams.” According to Duff, Kazarian has set the bar very high. When I asked Duff if there is a difference between being the world’s best bartender or solely the best gin bartender, he replied, “That’s a very controversial statement due to subjective elements, but for what it’s worth, I think Gegam is one of the world’s best bartenders, but certainly the best gin bartender. He is a truly remarkable and unique person. You don’t meet someone like him every day; he is clearly very skilled. He plays classical guitar, is a jeweler, trained florist, a scientist, multi-lingual and such a gentle, friendly person even though he’s a big guy.”