Bartending mentors share their knowledge and flair

Sabrina Traubner is a head instructor at the European Bartending School and one of the mentors for The Hand-Up Mentorship Programme.

In line with World Bartender Day, on February 24, two bartenders in the city centre were among 10 recognised for mentoring 100 previously disadvantaged bar staff through Diageo SA’s newly-launched The Hand-Up Mentorship Programme.

The “by bartenders for bartenders” programme aims to upskill entry level bartenders to become competitors in Diageo Bar Academy’s World Class competition, which has supported, trained and inspired more than 400 000 bartenders across 60 countries.

Brent Perremore, one of the programme founders, World Class 2021 champion and owner of Art of Duplicity in the CBD, said the programme aimed to help create better bartenders so they can have great CVs and can get themselves good jobs.“Many low-income people start out doing bar tendering as a form of employment until they can find something better, but through the Bar Academy and now The Hand-Up Programme, this could become a career path for them as they can have a successful career.

“We decided to focus on a diverse group of young women and black men bar staff as, every year, the Diageo Bar Academy gets solid entries from them, but they tend to drop off before the national finals and don’t make into World Class.

“We want to focus on upskilling these bartenders by providing them with stock, equipment and training to practice mixing drinks to help them improve, thereby adding diversity to those working in the bartending industry.”

The programme started in August 2021 and sees the mentees prepare for the World Class National in April 2022.

Sabrina Traubner from Walmer Estate and Leighton Rathbone from Milnerton are two mentors who are currently preparing the mentees as part of the programme.

Ms Traubner, previously a bar manager at the Athletic Club in Buitengracht Street, now is a head instructer at the European Bartending school in Woodstock, and Mr Rathbone is the bartender at Gigi Rooftop at the Gorgeous George in St Georges’ Mall.

Ms Traubner, who has been in the industry for six years, said she got into bartending because she didn’t know what to do after she matriculated. “I kinda stuck with it because I really enjoy interacting with people and giving them some sort of positive experience in their day.”

Ms Traubner calls herself a “speed queen” – “I make delicious drinks in a really fast amount of time, so people won’t be waiting if I am making drinks.”

She said as a head instructor, she gets to share her knowledge and passion with bartenders who walk through the doors of the school from all over the world.

Ms Traubner said she doesn’t have a signature drink as she goes through phases with her favourites, but currently, it’s Johnny Walker Black and coke. “I know it sounds odd but the flavour profile is amazing.”

Ms Traubner compares mixing cocktails to being a performer on stage. “I love using my hands and interacting with people. Even with teaching, there is great interaction and I thrive off the energy and passion my students have for what they are learning.”

She urged up-and-coming bartenders to push through the struggles they may be facing as it pays off, but also to take care of themselves.

“We work in an industry where we need to show our guests a sense of hospitality and we often do that at the expense at our own health, so take the little time to eat better and sleep.”

She said in bartending, you need to have a good energy, as you exchange energies with different people everyday, whether someone wants to chat, or just wants to be left alone for their peace. “I think we play an important role in society and how people are doing on a general day-to-day basis.“

Ms Traubner said being chosen as a mentor for The Hand-Up Mentorship Programme was one of the highlights of her career. “I saw it as a way for me get deep in the elements of bartending in different formats other than in a bar.”

This course touches on a number of aspects including your mental and physical health, how to be sustainable, how to mix drinks and how to be aware of your environment, among other things, she said.

She said in bartending or any other industry, respect goes a long way. She encouraged bartenders starting out to always be humble. “Always be open to listen, if you make mistakes, be accountable and learn from them, and never be afraid to ask for help. If you reach out to any of the industry folk, we’re always happy to help.”

Leighton Rathbone is a beverage manager at Gigi at Gorgeous George and a mentor in The Hand-Up Mentorship Programme.

Mr Rathbone, who has been in the industry for 12 years, started bartending to pay for his studies in graphic design, fully intending to leave hospitality and work behind a computer once qualified, but by the time he graduated, he realised he was making more money and having more fun as a bartender.

Asked to describe his bartending style, he said: “ I don’t know if there is a name for it, but essentially I just love making great looking tasty drinks, efficiently with a show, and a good side of banter.”

Mr Rathbone says for his own drinking preference, he is a sucker for Rob Roy, which is a scotch version of a Manhattan – it is a stirred own mix of Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve, Sweet Vermouth Rosso and Angostura Aromatic Bitters – that’s if he isn’t drinking beer.

However, on the menu at Gigi, his most popular drink, he says, is the Mai Tata – his African twist on the classic Mai Tai. It consists of Cachaça (Brazilian Rum) almond, rosemary, red pepper, passion fruit and citrus. “It’s a tropical slightly spicy drink that is a hit in winter and summer.”

Mr Rathbone was approached to be a mentor in the bartenders programme, and “said yes without hesitation”.

“One of best things that happened to me when I started out was meeting people that showed me how awesome this career can be, and I feel the need to replay that gift by sharing it with the new generation of bartenders.“

He said bartenders are important and skilled members of society, but they must never forget the term bartending falls under hospitality, which is about providing guests with amazing experiences. “So stay humble, but know your worth.”

Other mentors include Mr Perremore; Mish Cherrie Channah, four-time World Class contestant; Haroon Haffegee World Class National runner-up; Chantelle Horne, former World Class Ambassador; and Casandra Eichhoff, third place finalist World Class 2020 and winner of Mentor of the year at the BAR awards two years in a row.

The programme will run in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town, with mentors split between the cities.