Ann Arbor Bartenders Gear up for the World Class Cocktail Competition

. March 1, 2016.

Spend an evening or two bar-hopping in Ann Arbor, and it quickly becomes apparent that being a bartender isn’t just about slinging beers and fixing rum-’n-cokes for the college crowd. There’s a serious craft behind cocktail creation, and the Detroit Area Chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild (USBG) is determined to assist members in elevating the job to an art form. 

“Our mission is to provide information and other professional development opportunities to bartenders and industry professionals,” said Liz Cosby, treasurer of the USBG Detroit Chapter. “We focus a lot on education including branding, food-pairings, cocktails, and competition.”

World Class

One way to do that is through competition, and the biggest competition around is the upcoming World Class event. Sponsored by thebar – which produces and distributes liquor brands like Johnnie Walker, Ketel One, Bulleit, Captain Morgan, and many, many more – World Class takes bartenders from all over the United States and pits them in first a regional, then national, and finally a global competition in order to find future brand representatives; the global winner is crowned the “World Class Bartender.”

The chance to be associated with premium brands is a big opportunity for the competitors and a great networking opportunity for those in the industry.  Prior to the competition, interested bartenders submit an application, including a cocktail recipe and essay. 

David Martinez, who bartends at The Last Word in Ann Arbor, has competed in two World Class regional competitions, and is submitting his fourth application to enter the event.

“They want you to submit something you like and appreciate, and explain why you chose that cocktail. They want to see how you push the spirit forward,” said Martinez. “It’s basically a large interview. You’re trying to secure a spot, along with 1,500 other people.”

That’s just to make it to regionals, which will be held in Indianapolis in May. There, bartenders pour themselves into three different challenges, including bottle presentation, speed and efficiency, and creativity and adherence to a theme.

“They separate you into three groups, and you’ll go through the fire, and then as soon as that’s done, you move on to the next one,” said Martinez. “You start at about eight in the morning and you don’t finish until five in the afternoon. It’s not like some of the other competitions. You have to be a bartender, and you have to be able to pull it out and figure it out. You’re on your toes the whole time. It’s a lot of fun.”

Innovation in A2

In order to prepare participants for World Class, the USBG Detroit Chapter is putting on events in Detroit and Ann Arbor for their members, focused on competition skills and brand awareness.

The competition and training surrounding it are just part of the USBG’s overall mission – to promote bartending as a profession with a lot of thought, and even artistry, behind it.

“I’ve learned a lot from competing. I was tending bar and managing for about five years before I really got into craft cocktails,” said Martinez. “When I found out that there was an actual career in it that wasn’t just management, I decided to pursue more cocktail-driven stuff. Really learning the craft, really learning what I was putting into the glass.”

“We all support each other,” said Martinez of the Ann Arbor scene. “We support our sister bars, and we always support other businesses in town. Pacific Rim has cool cocktails, Grange is doing some interesting things as well. Anyone who is really doing cocktails, we’re always open to talking with them.”

Catch David Martinez at The Last Word, open 5pm-2am Tuesday-Saturday
Find out more about the World Class competition at


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