On the Shoulders of Giants was just one of eleven original cocktails Jeff Savage created for the three-day Diageo World Class Canada national finals in Whistler, BC last week.
And now he stands among those giants after winning World Class Canada Bartender of the Year.
Savage, the head bartender at Vancouver’s Botanist Bar in the Fairmont Pacific Rim (#9 in Canada’s Best Bars for 2019), will head to the Netherlands and Scotland in September to represent Canada at the World Class Global Finals.
The competition, one of the world’s biggest, prestigious and most comprehensive, tests bartenders not just on their technical skills, but also places a strong emphasis on hospitality and community engagement. Last year, more than 10,000 bartenders from 58 countries competed.
Jenner Cormier, now the co-owner of Halifax’s Bar Kismet, was the first Canadian to compete at the global finals in 2013. Since then, the West Coast has dominated the national finals (five out of six years), with Vancouver’s Kaitlyn Stewart winning the world title in 2017.
Of those five Vancouver contenders, Savage is the third to come from the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel – a near hat trick that includes beverage director Grant Sceney in 2014 (who placed 4th in the global finals) and, in 2018, the Lobby Lounge’s Chris Enns (Canada’s Best Bars’ Bartender of the Year for 2019).
Some might cry foul.
“The best begets the best,” said Savage last weekend, as he recreated Open Arms – a carbon-neutral martini with which he won the three-part Ketel One Better Drinking Challenge.
In addition to using a kitchen-scrap oleo extracted from citrus peels and bruised herbs, he garnished the martini with tokens from a local non-profit that helps feed marginalized people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Three hundred tokens were distributed at pop-ups prior to last week’s finals, during which he presented a video to the judges, explaining the outreach component. As part of the challenge, which included a taste test, he was also interviewed about diversity in the bartending community while riding the mountain resort’s Peak 2 Peak Gondola.
World Class is definitely not your average speed challenge — although last week’s Canadian finals did include one, as well as a blind cocktail tasting and an Amazing Race-type scavenger hunt.
“We’re trying to emulate the global challenge as much as possible,” says Grant Sceney, one of the judges. “That’s why Canada keeps doing so well.”
Savage, who says he is still “in shock,” credits the entire Fairmont team and his larger bartending “family” across the country for helping him rise to the top.
“When I was younger, I used to play in bands. My Dad always told me ‘Make sure you’re the worst player in the band. If you’re the worst, everyone else is better than you and they’re going to bring you up to their level.’”
— Alexandra Gill, Canada’s Best Bars
Alexandra Gill has the been the Globe and Mail’s restaurant critic in British Columbia since 2005 and is the owner of Dine Like A Critic food tours. She is also a judge for The Food Network’s Iron Chef Canada and the Vancouver-based Chinese Restaurant Awards. She has been a contributor to Canada’s 100 Best since the beginning.