On August 1, Charles Joly from The Aviary in Chicago was named the 2014 Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year. Joly is the sixth bartender and the first American to win the World Class title, which featured 48 of the best bartenders from around the world competing in the five-day final. Joly joins the elite class of previous World Class champions, David Rios, Tim Philips, Manabu Ohtake, Erik Lorincz and Aristotelis Papadopoulos.
The finals featured a series of challenges staged around Great Britain, beginning in Gleneagles, Scotland, and then traveling to London via the legendary Orient Express. The theme of the finals was discovery – the competition immersed the 48 finalists in British culture, which helped to inspire the creation of cocktails that told stories about the places, people and local history of this year’s host country. The panel of judges included cocktail legends and luminaries such as Salvatore Calabrese, Dale DeGroff, Steve Olson, gaz regan, Julie Reiner and Hidetsugu Ueno.
In the press release, Joly said, “This journey didn’t start today at the ceremony, this week at the finals, or even last year when I entered the heats – it started many years ago when I first started working in a local bar. The flavors, the smells, the sounds, the techniques, the history, the theatre – I realized I did not want to create just another drink. I make drinks with my heart and it makes me happy to see customers happy. The possibilities open to a bartender are limitless, not just in terms of your career but your creations – the only limit is your imagination.”
Along with the title of Bartender of the Year, Joly becomes a global ambassador for Diageo Reserve World Class for the next year, “a role which will see him travel the world, educating and inspiring new talent whilst developing his own skills and knowledge through the different tastes and techniques they experience along the way.”
Joly is back home in Chicago, where he answered questions about his World Class experience via email.
“Straight back to work, although the community surprised me last night with a party half way through my shift. It was pretty amazing. We have another one tonight – the outpouring of love and support has been incredible.”
As you prepared for the competition, who inspired you? Did you seek anyone’s advice?
“I had a ton of support. I ran drinks by people I trust at work, got the chefs involved, tasted spirits with friends…it was a tremendous amount of preparation.”
The competition venues looked stunning. Any places or moments that really stood out?
“The organizers did a ridiculous job securing amazing locations. I can’t wait to see how the filming turned out. Every location trumped the last. It is a testament to the level that this competition is taking place.”
You had to make eight cocktails in eight minutes for the Against the Clock challenge, which you won. What were the cocktails?
“I made four classics and four originals (plus two daiquiris). I went for ten – only made eight, but finished a final Daiquiri for Spike [Marchant] and myself afterwards. I intentionally made it as difficult as possible, showcasing eight different spirits and as many techniques as possible. You have to go big in a situation like this. Smart, but big. Although I won this challenge, it is the one I’d like to have back. I think I could have finished a lot more cleanly in less time. I didn’t have the practice time I would have liked going in.”
The World Class press release said the judges were “blown away” by your Above the Clouds cocktail, which you served in the final Punch and Glass challenge. What was the concept?
“[Above the Clouds] was one of my two final cocktails. This was another gamble. It is a cocktail I created for the Aviary. I wasn’t sure if the judges would connect with it, but I had enough faith in the cocktail to take a chance. Would the presentation be enough of an impact to account for not technically having a garnish? Would the temperature throw people off? This drink is an example of a multi-sensory experience. Strong visual, aroma, tactile, temperature and intense flavor.”
As you advanced in each round, social media started blowing up with bar folk around the country changing their profile pics and cover photos to show their support. And now there’s Sean Kenyon’s “Joly Is My Homeboy” shirt (see below). Were you aware this was happening, or were you focused and found out later?
“I was blown away when I saw what was happening. No pressure there. It is a testament to our community – just absurd how much we stick together. What other profession can you say that about.”
In the final round, you competed against Charlie Ainsbury from Australia, Peter Chua from Singapore, Claudio Perinelli from Italy, Grant Sceney from Canada, and Ahmed “Mido” Yahi from France. Were you able to check out the other finalists?
“I didn’t get to see as much as I would like of the other competitors. These folks are really the future of our craft. You look at the level they are working at very young ages – this simply didn’t exist when we were starting out. It’s pretty amazing and exciting.”
For everyone watching the announcement of the winner online, the anticipation was brutal. So the cliche question: what was that moment like when they called your name?
“Funnily, none of us heard it at first. Everyone was kind of looking around at each other. It was incredible. The week was a real roller coaster and much more emotional than I had anticipated. I’m a pretty even keeled individual, but it was definitely a test.”
You’re the World Class global ambassador for the next year. Have you found out where you’ll be going yet? Any places you’re looking forward to visiting?
“Not sure where this year will take me, but I’m really looking forward to it. Finals are in South Africa next year – how awesome is that? I LOVE to travel and experience new places. I’m really open to check out anywhere.”
To view a slideshow of the 2014 Diageo Reserve World Class final, visit: www.thespiritsbusiness.com/2014/08/diageo-reserve-world-class-2014-in-pictures.
For more info about World Class, visit: diageoworldclassusa.com.
“Helping others when good fortune shines on you is a good way to roll. My brother Sean Kenyon made these t-shirts to sell with 100% of profits going to a charity of my choice. Imerman Angels was the one – the people there provide 1-on-1 support for folks battling cancer. I’ve seen their work and the impact it has. If you’d like a slightly ridiculous t-shirt and some good karma, check out http://joly-is-my-homeboy.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage/products/joly-is-my-homeboy-t-shirt cheers!”
Header image courtesy of Diageo World Class.
After the jump, the recipe for Charles Joly’s Above the Clouds.
Above the Clouds
Created by Charles Joly
- 1.5 oz Ron Zacapa Centenario
- 0.5 oz Benedictine
- 1.5 oz Verjus rouge
- 1.5 oz Gingerbread Dream Rooibos syrup
- Aromatic vapor as a garnish
Glassware: Glass globes, metal straw and stand
- Combine all ingredients in a beaker over a heat source.
- Pour the liquid into the globe and drop in a small amount of dry ice to chill, create the aroma and a beautiful visual effect.