The second annual Nikka Perfect Serve Bartender Competition, which made its debut in the U.S. in 2018, took place in two regional heats this past September, resulting in two winning bartenders who will go to Melbourne, Australia, for the global finals in December. Ten finalists gathered at Williams & Graham in Denver for the West Coast competition, and at Drink in Boston for the East Coast competition, where their focus was on the Nikka Coffey Vodka expression in the bartending style of Omakase – “I leave it to you.” The emerging victors were Payman Hahmani of Shibumi in Los Angeles and Jena Ellenwood of Dear Irving in New York City.
Unlike other bartending competitions that judge competitors on technical skill alone, Nikka Perfect Serve encourages bartenders to place the guest at the heart of the bar experience. With a judging panel comprising leading members of the cocktail industry who perform as different characters representative of the wide array of customers, competing bartenders are challenged to be attentive and aware of their guest’s presence, state of mind, and palate in order to offer the most suitable service and cocktail at that specific moment. The process is as important as the cocktail itself.
Nikka Whisky ambassador Stan Vadrna oversaw both contests alongside internationally acclaimed bartender Jim Meehan, who served as judge with fellow industry heavyweights Mary Allison Wright (RiNo Yacht Club) and Bryan Dayton (Acorn) in Denver, and Ezra Star (Drink) and Ryan Lotz (Bar Mezzana) in Boston.
The two winners of the U.S. competitions will represent their country in the global finals on Monday, December 2, 2019, in Melbourne, Australia. The winner and runner up of the finals will be invited on a trip to Japan to experience the Japanese bar scene and visit the Nikka distilleries, Yoichi and Miyagikyo.