Two wins for Cape Town bar as bartenders prepare for national competition

Alecs Maai’ke Powrie won first place at the Diageo World Class Cape Town regional competition. With her is Justin Shaw, who was runner up.

Two bartenders at the Cape Town CBD’s secret bar, Art of Duplicity, took the top two places at the Diageo World Class Cape Town regional competition.

Diageo World Class competition, hosted by the Diageo Bar Academy, is an annual global bartending competition in which bartenders from more than 50 countries around the world are identified through extensive challenges to compete in the competition’s global finals, which is set to take place in Sydney, Australia, in September this year.

This year, first and second place in the regional competition went to the Art of Duplicity’s Alecs Maai’ke Powrie and Justin Shaw.

The two colleagues competed against 11 other competitors, and will go on to the national finals, taking place from Wednesday May 25 to Friday June 3. The winner will represent South Africa in the global finals.

Alecs Maai’ke Powrie

Ms Powrie, from Plumstead, said when she was announced the winner of the regional finals, she didn’t believe it. “The hosts alluded to it being a male (on purpose), so I was getting ready to congratulate Justin, then it was me, so my instant reaction was tears.”

She said her winning drink, The Tale of Two Seas – Talisker whiskey, with fig infused Antica Formula and a bacon fat float – was simple and stirred down but it was about flavours and the story. “The story is one of two families coming together when I recently married my husband, so it was in honour of him and our journey.

She will be the only woman to compete in the finals this year.

Ms Powrie, who studied musical theatre, started her bartending career eight years ago at Cause Effect in the Waterfront. “ I got so excited about what the bartenders got to do that I started bar backing at Cause Effect and learning. I eventually earned my jacket there and decided this would be my new path.”

Over the years, Ms Powrie has managed restaurants, bartended, waitered, worked for distilleries, in sales and as an ambassador. “This has helped me know the direction I want to go, and where I see my legacy going.”

Ms Powrie says her style of bartending and mixing drinks changes as she learns. At the moment it’s classics with a twist. “My best-selling twist has been a rum sours with orange and honey, and citrus bitters – it’s nothing crazy but it’s the subtle flavour change that excites the people.“

However, she said one of her signature bartending tricks was one she learnt at Cause Effect, where she and another bartender used to “tomahawk” bottles to each other across the bar – throwing a bottle quite far without damaging the bar or the bartender, and the bartender has to shout tomahawk as you do it almost as a “heads up”. “It became a bit of a joke amongst a few of us and we will tomahawk random items at each other. I often teach it to other teams that I train, for fun and team spirit as you really have to trust that the person will catch what you throw.”

With the finals happening later this month, Ms Powrie says her goal is to learn. “I’ve made it this far – how can I be even better, how can I learn from the other contestants who made it so far. And of course, to represent the females, I truly hope there will be more in next year’s World Class Finals.”

Justin Shaw

Runner-up Mr Shaw, from Rosebank, fondly known as Awehwolf, has been bartending on and off for about 15 years. He learnt his tricks of the trade from behind a variety of bar counters.

He said when it was announced that he took second place, it was bitter-sweet because he was not first. However, he said: “It’s always good to have a teammate come in first place… I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out.

He has been in the hospitality industry for around 18 years – working from bar back to general manager – bottom to top.

He said his career was born out of necessity – the side hustle to be a musician. “I was a cold and gold bartender, you know – a beer and tequila diver bartender. Honestly speaking; I was pretty terrible.

“It was only when I introduced myself to cocktails that things really picked up steam, and I started studying flavour and technique. I’d always had the style.

“I began my journey into understanding balance of flavour and the roll a bartender plays in society, that is what drove me to study and hone my craft.”

While Mr Shaw dreamt of a life as a rock star stage, he is now sold on bartending and mixology, and describes his style as storytelling. “The bar is just another stage I perform on.”

Asked about a signature bar trick, Mr Shaw said: “If I tell you something I make isn’t delicious. It’s a trick.”

He said although the nationals will bring a new set of challenges and competition, he says he feels that he will win.

The drink that got him to second place was Talisker Burnt Moth, inspired by the seaside malt of Talisker and the strange nature of the Isle of Skye.

Ms Powrie and Mr Shaw’s winning drinks will be on the menu at Art of Duplicity for the month of May.