Charlie Ainsbury was studying fine arts when he needed a job, so like most uni students, he took a job in hospitality. A decade later, he doesn’t do much of the drawing and painting he studied, but next month he travels to London to compete in the Diageo Reserve World Class, the world’s biggest and most prestigious bartending competition, after winning the Australian final.
Ainsbury, who works at The Bulletin Place in Sydney’s Circular Quay and The Anchor, Bondi, beat 375 rivals to take out the final round of six-month competition on Monday. His ultimate challenge was to make a cocktail to match with an 18-ingredient dish of kingfish, cuttlefish and avocado by Three Blue Ducks chef Darren Robertson. Ainsbury had 30 minutes to select ingredients and decide what to make. He blended tequila with parsnip juice, sesame oil and lemon thyme to create the perfect match, but it wasn’t without drama.
“You don’t get much juice out of parsnips,” he said. “I was a little nervous and gone just a shot out of two parsnips, but that was enough.”
His win is a remarkable achievement, since Ainsbury’s been entering the competition since it began six years ago and this is the first time he’s made it past the first round.
So what’s his secret? Well, he’d spent the last few years managing bars, rather than working behind one, more focussed on spreadsheets, stock and rosters. He resigned to get back to what he loves most.
“As a result, I had time to relax a bit and focus on the creative side,” Ainsbury said.
So what does he love most about the job? “I really like taking care of people and everything else comes after that. It’s really about people, not just about drinks and I love giving people a great night out,” he said.
What advice would he give to anyone who fancies throwing a cocktail shaker?
“Start at the bottom. Wash the glasses, clean up. It’s like being a chef – you can’t just walk into cooking, you’ve got to know all the aspects of your craft. It’s a matter of knowing the rules so you can break them,” Ainsbury said.
“And don’t forget it’s a service industry, so if you don’t like being around people, helping and entertaining them, then bartending’s not for you.”
Ainsbury flies to London on July 25, representing Australia in the Diageo Reserve World Class international final.
As part of his prize for winning the Australian title, Ainsbury will visit the Johnnie Walker distillery in Scotland; the Ron Zacapa distillery in Guatemala, the George Dickel distillery in Tennessee; and even visit Australia’s own Bundaberg distillery to learn how to blend a small-batch rum.
NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.