Diageo is the world’s most prestigious and largest international spirits company with annual sales of over USD$24 billion, operating in 180 companies and employing almost 28,000 staff. The name Diageo is derived from the Latin word “dies” for day and the Greek word “geo” meaning the world, to characterize their slogan “Celebrating Life, Every Day, Everywhere.”
Diageo owns hundreds of different spirits labels, but their most prestigious brands are organized into a portfolio known as Diageo Reserve Brands. This portfolio contains iconic whiskies such as Johnnie Walker, Mortlach, The Singleton, Talisker, and Lagavulin alongside Don Julio tequila and Tanqueray gin, and all these brands are very well known here in Vietnam.
These brands are famous in Vietnam because, for many years, Diageo has been investing significantly in marketing programs to educate Vietnamese consumers about how best to enjoy and appreciate spirits such as whisky, tequila, and gin through the lens of their world-class brands.
Often global brands are established in what is known in the industry as the “on trade,” meaning that such products are consumed or drank on the premises, for example, in a bar, a hotel, a resort, or a restaurant.
And in these “on-premise” outlets such as cocktail bars, the actual bartender is very important as they will often recommend a particular style of drink, cocktail, or indeed brand for the consumer to taste. So, bartenders are very important “gatekeepers” between brands and consumers. Diageo has put so much emphasis on providing education to bartenders because this is a very effective way to reach their consumers.
Therefore, in 2009 Diageo established the World Class initiative, whose mission is to inspire people to drink better and create unforgettable experiences while encouraging consumers to care about drinking as they do about fine dining. Since the program began 12 years ago, World Class has supported, trained, and inspired over 400,000 bartenders across 60 countries.
They also provide a leading online resource called the Diageo Bar Academy, considered the industry benchmark for bartenders to keep in touch with the latest industry trends and cocktail recipes.
World Class holds a bartending competition in each of the 60 countries where it is active, with the champions of each country gathering for the global finals, which this year will be held in Sydney from 12 to the 15th of September.
World Class has been active in Vietnam since 2012, with seven champions crowned during this period. Vang Hieu Trung from Dot Bar in Saigon is the reigning champion for 2022 who will soon be packing his bags to represent Vietnam at the global finals in Australia.
We asked Trung how he felt about his upcoming trip to Australia, and he said, “I feel honored to represent Vietnam at The World Class 2022 finals in Sydney. After a long period of closed borders due to the Covid pandemic, we feel closer to the world bartender community. This is a great opportunity for me to build greater connections within the international bartender community. I hope everyone in Vietnam will support me and feel proud of my upcoming performance in Sydney.”
We spoke to Trung on the 27th of July during the "Spectacular Return Showcase of World Class 2022" held at CTY Kitchen & Bar over two evenings. This event's theme was to recreate the excitement of the grand finals of the Vietnam edition that was held in Da Nang this year, where Trung was crowned champion.
Six of the eight finalists returned and recreated the cocktails they had made for the judges during the finals. Those six finalists who headlined this event included Trung himself alongside Phan Thanh Phu (Alex) from Madam Kew, Tran Tuan Anh from ASMR, Nguyen Cong Truyen from Stir Modern Classic Cocktail, Nguyen Ngoc Khanh from Tach Spaces, and Tran Tu San from Jackalope Bar.
During the evening, Vietcetera’s Food & Drink Guru Chris Thompson shared a Tanqueray gin and tonic with Diageo Vietnam’s Modern On Trade Manager, Eve Manne, and asked her about the purpose of this global initiative.
“World Class is all about better drinking,” shared Eve. “We are building the most exciting drinking & social experience with our Reserve brands. This can’t be done without our bartender community, who are drinks influencers to consumers. World Class competition searches for the best bartenders, and together we create a purpose to increase the desire from consumers to elevate their drink experience. World Class becomes a stamp of 'quality.'
Ngoc Vu, the 2021 winner and the founder of Doozy in Hanoi and most recently ASMR in Saigon, was also in attendance at the event. He explained to us how World Class had positively impacted his career.
“For me, The World Class Competition is the most challenging and stimulating cocktail competition in the world. To arrive at the final stages, you must create up to 10 unique cocktails. Hence, it allows bartenders to make their mark on the industry by being judged by the most influential individuals in the field, the biggest legends in the game, and the previous champions. The World Class program has helped elevate and promote the career path for bartenders. Bartending used to be a trade you practiced while attending college; now, you can claim with pride that you practice it.”
The event was a great success as CTY Kitchen + Bar was packed out on both nights, with young Vietnamese guests queuing up to try out these unique cocktails (priced at between 220,000 to 280,000 VND) from Vietnam’s most talented bartenders.
I tried most of them and especially enjoyed the Keeper, which was Alex’s twist on a Bloody Mary based on Don Julio Tequila, and the Flower of Saigon from Nguyen Cong Truyen with Talisker 10 Single Malt Whisky, Black Coffee Robusta Nam Ban, and Butter Syrup.
Vietcetera Events Manager Stephanie Nguyen, who helped host this event, noted how much she “really enjoyed the good vibes and chit chat with the bartenders and seeing everyone from the industry.”
“We normally see two or three bartenders at guest shifts at any given event, but World Class and CTY Kitchen + Bar allowed us to experience 12 cocktails from 6 bartenders in 1 night. The event was such a creative way to connect people who are big fans of cocktails with the artists who make them.”
Maybe the best way to describe World Class to our readers is through the eyes of those who have most recently lived through it, so we also asked some recent finalists what this experience meant to them.
Nguyen Cong Truyen from STIR Modern Classic Cocktail said, "When I started my career in bartending, the Diageo World Class program felt like the equivalent of the Olympic games to me, so when I qualified for the finals, it was a dream come true. World Class has infused me with a greater passion for bartending, inspired me to feel even more determined to learn and improve, and helped me build even deeper friendships with my fellow bartenders.”
Ms. Tran Tú San from Jackalope Bar agreed, “World Class for me has been an outstanding experience. I loved the bartending challenges, which helped me showcase what I could create behind the stick and learn and improve my skills as a bartender. I felt like I was developing as a bartender through each different challenge. Even now, the memories from finals day of the love and support from judges, fellow contestants, and the Diageo team still give me chills.”
Phan Thanh Phu (Alex) from Madam Kew also shared, “What I love about the competition is the challenge of the three rounds because it pushes the bartenders to their creative limits, and this is how we learn and improve. World Class allowed me to meet many great people and helped take my career to a place I never expected. I also really respect Diageo for their desire to help the young generation of bartenders in Vietnam.”
Indeed, as we wrap up our feature on World Class 2022, I am reminded of a famous quote from the International Motivational Speaker & Executive Coach Azim Jamal, who said, “It doesn’t matter how much you make; what matters is what you become. Stay hungry and learn, and you’ll become world-class.”
All the team here at Vietcetera would like to send our best wishes and support to current World Class Champion Vang Hieu Trung as he prepares to represent Vietnam at the World Class Finals in Sydney, Australia next month.
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