A young bartender working in the city centre will be the only one representing South Africa in the Diageo World Class competition taking place in Australia in September.
Joshua Hendricks, from Bergvliet, who works as a mixologist at Fable in Bree Street, went from being a mentee in The Hand-Up Mentorship Programme to the South African national winner in the Diageo SA World Class competition.
The Hands Up Mentorship Programme, launched in 2021, is a “by bartenders for bartenders” programme which aims to upskill entry level bartenders to become competitors in Diageo Bar Academy’s World Class competition.
Joshua, 24, who has been bartending for five years, was the youngest person to claim top honours in the local leg of the competition.
The national final was held in Cape Town over three days in June, where 10 contestants were put through their paces in front of a judging panel which included celebrity chefs, influencers, as well as previous champions of the competition.
Joshua started bartending at sports bars while studying engineering as a way to make extra money. During that time, he said, he was also invested in becoming a musician, with the hope of music becoming a full-time career.
Unfortunately, neither music nor engineering worked out and he dropped out of university, but the bartending continued while he tried to figure out what the next step would be.
“Luckily, by sticking with bartending I had already taken the correct step in choosing my career, and found something I am passionate about.”
Joshua said he stuck with bartending because he was earning decent money and became comfortable in his position. “After a while, I realised there wasn’t much growth if I stayed in sports bars. I had to either change my path or find a way to increase my skill set.“
He decided he wanted to work as a bartender on a cruise ship with hopes of learning new skills behind the bar while travelling.
However, the application to work on the ship fell through due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “After restrictions opened up, I signed up for a short bartending course and found a job at a cocktail bar.“
He also joined a bartenders programme, which showed him an in-depth side of the industry and “stimulated his passion”.
Joshua didn’t look back, working from bar to bar, trying to learn as much as he could, until he ended up at Fable, where he felt he belonged.
He said he found out about the Diageo Academy along the grapevine and knew he had to be involved. “It is directly connected with World Class and as a community initiative, it helped prepare me for certain challenges in the competition.”
The national competition was challenging, he said. “The first day kicked off with a mastery challenge, where we had to identify 50 cocktail ingredients by smell and taste alone.”
In the knock-out challenge, 50 different spirits had to be identified correctly by the contestants until just one person remained. “I came fifth in this challenge, so I didn’t do that great. In fact, I did not win any of the rounds but I managed to be consistent about placing in the top three and this is why I had the highest mark at the end of the competition.”
In the speed round, contestants had to create 10 original cocktails in eight minutes. “My best creation from this round was a Singleton honey sour, with a red wine and pear reduction between the foam.”
There was also a heritage challenge where mixologists had to make a group serve based on their culture. “I am coloured, so I made a rooibos pinotage tea blend which represented the aunties that sit and skinner in the kitchen, and a vermouth with crackling.”
The serve went into what Hendricks calls a “fancy papsap” – a laser cut Johnnie Walker copy of box wine.“
Joshua made it to the last day, where he and five other competitors had to create a pop-up bar within 24 hours, using a concept of their own choice.
“My concept was chrysalis – the metamorphosis of a butterfly, and the bar featured a garden atmosphere with autumn leaves and origami butterflies.”
Contestants had to supply a four-drink menu. “Each of my cocktails represented a stage of the metamorphosis of a butterfly’s life cycle. The judges liked the concept and for me, this challenge was my favourite despite being stressful as I’d been planning it for such a long time that seeing it come to life so that people could experience it was really exciting.”
When he was announced the winner after the national competition, Joshua said he was completely overwhelmed, but also a little confused. “It almost felt unreal and I won’t lie, I got very emotional.
“Before the competition started, I would imagine how it would be to win and I thought I would be cool, calm and collected but the exact opposite happened.”
His prizes included a trophy, a bottle of Johnny Walker and a cash prize.
Joshua will attend the Diageo World Class global final in Sydney in September, where he will take on 49 of the world’s best bartenders in a quest for the title of best in the world. “I think if I prepare, I can do well. I am already preparing and planning and trying to get my head into the game and practice.”