Top of the class: Meet the Diageo Reserve World Class semi-finalists

These bartenders are on a mission to create unforgettable Irish drinks. Brought to you in partnership with Diageo Reserve World Class.

The Diageo Reserve World Class semi-finalists, from left to right: Will Lynch, Emily Doherty, Adeline Valdivia, and Oisin Wolfe

Cocktail culture has exploded in Ireland and the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year competition honours and highlights those at the top of their game. The national semi-finals of the competition recently took place at Zozimus in Dublin, with four top class bartenders selected to go forward to the World Class Irish Final on May 8. Chosen for the final were Emily Doherty from The Merchant Hotel, Belfast, Oisin Wolfe from Paladar, Cork, Will Lynch from Bar 1661, Dublin and Adeline Valdivia from Three Storey Dublin, each of whom competed in an intense one hour cocktail making challenge designed by Luxury Spirits Brand Ambassador and 2021 World Class champion Cal Byrne.

The semi-final challenge was considerable, with each contestant required to create three drinks – one shaken, one stirred and one batched – using Roe & Co whiskey, Tanqueray No.10 gin and non-alcoholic spirit Seedlip. Competing in groups of four, the contestants also had to engage with real consumers who were given scorecards to vote for their favourite drink per round and bartender of the night. Additionally, three previous winners were onsite as overall judges.

Emily Doherty of The Merchant Hotel in Belfast

For the semi-final, each contestant had to push the boat out to make their mark. Emily Doherty from The Merchant Hotel, Belfast decided to continue the theme of sustainability from the initial round through her three cocktails.

“I used leftover tomatoes to make my tomato and basil martini, which was my stirred drink,” she explained. “We had leftover basil in the kitchen, so I used it to make a basil oil. My shaken drink was a non-alcoholic clementine and fennel highball, so I used in-season ingredients at the time with Seedlip for that. My batched cocktail used leftover coffee grounds in a coffee campari that I then mixed with Roe & Co and red vermouth to make a sort of coffee boulevardier twist. That drink was my favourite, I actually ran out of it on the night because it was so popular.”

Speaking to Food&Wine, Doherty explained how the challenge had been a way to connect with others in the industry.

“It’s been so nice to meet more industry people from around the country,” she said. “I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know anyone but everyone has been so welcoming and we’ve sort of made friends with each other, which is nice. Now, it feels unreal that I’ve made it to the final. I’m so excited.”

Adeline Valdivia of Three Storey Dublin

Adeline Valdivia of Three Storey Dublin echoed the sentiment, noting how hospitality as a whole has helped her connect with Ireland too.

“I’m originally from Bolivia but I found home here in Ireland’s hospitality industry. How Ireland embraces foreign culture and workers of different nationalities is just beautiful. The welcome has been brilliant,” she said.

“The challenge of the semi-final really was about service, I think it was about making your mark and leaving an imprint on the customers,” Valdivia explained. “My Tanqueray cocktail was a take on a martini gimlet – a gimlet is sour and a martini is boozy so this was somewhere in the middle, like a clover club. It also had water made from Irish seaweed to add saltiness. My cocktails were like a tea party so my Roe & Co cocktail had tea foam and the non-alcoholic Seedlip cocktail had Earl Grey in it.”

Will Lynch of Bar 1661 in Dublin

An industry veteran, general manager of Bar 1661 Will Lynch said he felt that now was the right time for him to enter Diageo Reserve’s World Class Bartender of the Year competition.

“Since the semi-final, I’ve been reflecting a lot. I’ve never entered World Class before because it felt like a competition I wasn’t ready for, but I wanted to push myself and challenge myself. I wanted to do it for Bar 1661 too and fly the flag for us. My cocktails were inspired by a night out,” Lynch said.

“I tied them into food. My starter was a non- alcoholic spritz, sort of a Champagne sorbet but turned on its head with the Seedlip Garden. My main course was beef or salmon, inspired by a wedding meal. It was a variation of a martini using Tanqueray No.10, the base was the same for each one but the garnish was different. Beef had a smoked mushroom garum from the Noma project and a spiced oil. On the salmon side, I went more saline and vegetal, so there was a lemon thyme oil and a peated poitín mist for smokiness. For dessert, I was inspired by a pear and pistachio tart, so I used Roe & Co with a spent pastry orgeat I made from almond croissants, then shook it with some lemon and topped it with a pistachio meringue.”

Oisin Wolfe of Paladar in Cork

For Oisin Wolfe of Paladar in Cork, the competition has also been an opportunity to push his skills to the limit.

“I don’t typically enter competitions, but World Class is of such a high standard and there’s real substance to it, so now felt like the right time to do it,” Wolfe explained. “I think this challenge has pushed me to really innovate, especially with the way I’ve started using our Girovap, which is for vacuum distillation, in a specific way of vac switching. I used it to distill out the water from the Roe & Co whiskey then replaced it with rhubarb water. I’ve never heard of anyone using it in this way so that’s been really exciting to have the opportunity to experiment. My shaken drink used Tanqueray No.10, mango juice, and monkey’s tail, which is a reduced milk syrup I made myself based on a recipe from the grandmother of one of the bartenders in Paladar. My non-alcoholic drink used Seedlip and my not-vermouth, which I made with the water from the whiskey, leftover mango and leftover rhubarb, sugar and some acid. I’ve been able to be so creative so far, so I’m really excited for the final – I can’t wait to see what we get to do.”

The Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year Irish final will take place at Café en Seine on May 8, where one contender will get the chance to represent Ireland at the World Class Cocktail Festival and Global Finals in São Paolo, Brazil this summer. There the Irish finalist will demonstrate their innovative approach to cocktail creation on a globally renowned stage, competing with bartenders from around the world. To follow along with the competition, follow #WorldClass2023 on social media.

Brought to you in partnership with Diageo Reserve World Class. Always drink responsibly.