All eyes are on Berlin for the annual Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year 2018. Diageo Reserve World Class competition is like the Olympics of the bartending community where every aspiring bartender dreams of representing their country in the global arena.

This year, 57 bartenders from different countries will be battling it out for the prestigious 2018 title. Launched in 2009, Diageo Reserve World Class has transformed the mixology industry and helped over 250,000 bartenders worldwide through its training and advocacy programme. Last year, Kaitlyn Stewart from Canada bagged the title, she is the second woman and first Canadian to join the World Class Hall of Fame.

Filipino bartenders have been representing our country in the World Class competition for the last six years. In 2015, Philippine champion Kenneth Bandivas (ABV) won the “Around the World” challenge during the global finals with his Ampalaya Marula and Zacapa cocktail. In 2016 contender Michael Tubiera (Rambla) brought a taste of the Philippines to the global stage with flavors lechon, pinikpikan, and green papaya atchara. Last year, Royce Pua represented the Philippines in Mexico for the 2017 global finals.

Diageo spirits used for World Class competition

This year, ABV’s Lester Ligon will be representing the Philippines in Berlin for the finals. “It’s Lester’s time!” exclaims Diageo Reserve Brand Ambassador Rian Asiddao. Third time’s a charm. The Manila cocktail scene touted Lester as the “Pia Wurtzbach” of World Class PH. After competing for three consecutive years, he finally landed the title. “I am happy that Lester won,” adds Rian, “I saw his passion, dedication, and progress over his three years of joining world class and it’s as if the past two years were just a preparation for this year’s edition.”

Lester’s World Class cocktail at the PH finals– Iridescene, made of Singleton of Dufftown 12, Don Julio Blanco, Salted Blue Berry Cordial, lemon juice, heavy cream, Giffard Vanille de Madagascar, and Oloroso Sherry Blend Cacao Nibs–infused Absinthe
2018 World Clas PH Champion

Just before leaving the country for the competition, Lester already ranked top five out of the 57 bartenders who competed for the first challenge, the Ketel One Vodka – Better Drinking Challenge. Competitors were given a task to create a twist to a classic Ketel One Drink and dedicate it to advocacy. Lester created a twist to Moscow Mule inspired by the victims of Marawi siege, and he named it Marahu Mule (Marahu, coined from the former name of Marawi, Marahu-wi). The cocktail is made up of with Ketel One Vodka, palapa cordial (palapa is a Maranao delicacy made from local scallions called sakurab, ginger, and chili), and fermented rice soda.

Before the global finals, he mixed and sold Marahu Mule behind the bar for a two-pop-up bar shift held in Oto in Poblacion and Toyo Eatery in Chino Roces. Sales from the pop-up will be for the benefit of Marawi refugees. “The global winner for the first challenge will receive €5,000 to continue the advocacy in their local,” explains Lester. “Toyo Eatery got me in touch with UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives and protecting the rights of refugees and forcibly displaced communities). If I win the pot money, they will help me disseminate the proceeds to Marawi,” he adds. “I want for them to have a sari-sari store, or to buy crops or punla para maitanim nila. Or maybe the money can be a start-up fund to package palapa for export and sell it widely in Metro Manila to support their livelihood.” By 4:45 pm Berlin time, Lester will be presenting this signature serve at the global finals on October 5.

He also prepared another cocktail, To the old High Juan, a twist to a Johnnie Walker Highball made with copra, tamarind cordial, and fat washed nipa wine. Inspired by bayanihan and colorful sari-sari stores, he will also bring other Filipino flavors–papaya from Luzon, mangoes from Visayas, and mangosteen from Mindanao.

“Manila cocktail scene is rooting for him,” says Rian. “I am happy with the progress of World Class in the Philippines, I am very proud of our former winners, and I’m excited for Lester!” he adds.

The winner of the competition will win a prize package valued at more than €15,000 which includes—a 12-month contract to tour with the World Class team hosting workshops and bartending at high-profile and prestigious events; an exclusive two-day culinary training experience with a famous chef at the Ketel One Distillery in Schiedam in the Netherlands; a two-day intensive Malts Advocate Course in Scotland with whisky gurus Dave Broom or Charles MacLean; a chance to be part of the World Class Bartender Exchange, which means traveling to three European countries to guest bartend behind some of the World’s Best Bars; and a £300 voucher for a high-quality bartender kit from Cocktail Kingdom.

Catch the livestream of the competition at starting at 9:45 pm Manila time. For updates, visit World Class Facebook page.

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