Interview: Julian Quintero

Bartending is not just a job, but a sport, and an art form. The Diageo World Class combines the two in it’s worldwide competition, searching for the world’s most talented bartender. Meet the man who pours your drink, Julian Quintero, who let’s us in on the misconceptions of bartending and his favourite drink.

Can you tell us a little bit more of DIAGEO World Class?
The ultimate objective of World Class is to discover the unknown bartenders. We have always had competitions in England, US and it’s a shame we are missing out on all these talents from other countries. So the main idea is to find talents, bartenders from all around the world. I like to see it as the World Cup of bartending, where you have your semi-finals and finals and people have pride and support their favorite bartenders from their respective countries. World Class is also about education. Because if you are going to use premium spirits, you need to have knowledge of the brand and the mixology. So basically we conduct the bartenders’ search around
the world, and then we have the education program we share with them. World Class is rapidly becoming the global bartending community.

How does World Class train a good bartender?
We do believe that it’s important to know the basics and tricks behind the bar. But it’s also about sharing knowledge, so it’s a big plus for our bartenders from all over the world to share their techniques. I’m sure that bartenders in Malaysia have something to share and teach other bartenders from Guatemala or bartenders from England. It’s not only one sided where Diageo is the only teacher, but we learn from you and you learn from everyone else too. It’s like giving them the opportunity to know each other and share their knowledge together through this global bartending community. Without a doubt, people that excel at World Class become the best
bartenders in the world. They become a benchmark for the rest of the world.

How do you evaluate the Malaysian bartenders you’ve seen at World Class?
To be honest, I think it’s still an early process. For example, I heard some comments that most people think that cocktail making is for girls. They have this idea that a cocktail is something sweet, colorful, has an umbrella and a cherry. It’s actually a very sad perception, because cocktail making is an artform. So in like any artform, you can be feminine or you can be very rough and masculine, you can go sweet, bitter, sour, you can go very strong, very soft, it’s an artform. And I think in countries like Malaysia, where bartending is just starting to kick off, it will become very big and popular. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. These guys that we saw today, are definitely going to be at the top level of this new wave.

For the contestants in this competition, what’s in it for them?
First of all, they get to know the bartenders from their country or region, and then from an international point of view. So you are basically sharing knowledge with other people, and that’s important in everything you do in life, isn’t it? It’s kind of an incentive for them to push their face and technique to the next level. You can be a fantastic working behind the bar, but if you don’t have a face to show to the world, then it’s a waste. And automatically if you are good enough, you are representing your country to compete with other bartenders from around the world. Bartenders that have succeeded in the World Class, they basically become the best bartenders in their country, if not the world.

The general misconception of bartending in Malaysia is that most people think it’s a part-time job, what’s your take on it?
This is a very important point that you brought up right here. What happens is that different countries have different levels of maturity in the mixology world. For example, where I am from in Columbia, Guatemala, the old countries they have the lowest level of growth in terms of cocktail making. But other foreign countries like England, they have recognized the art of bartending in the world. So what it does is that it creates a big enough platform for the market to mature, where people who are extremely creative can dedicate their lives to this passion. It is a very serious business, and some of these bartenders become superstars as World Class provides
them with a platform to seriously get started in this career and choose to pursue for the rest of their lives.

What is your advice for someone who’d like to improve their bartending skills?
Go to bars and see how well the other guys do it, because there are certain basic things that you will not learn by yourself at home. There are certain skills that people learn behind the bar, they have learnt through years of experience and through actually being mentored by other bartenders. A good advice would be to go and see what these people are doing, and to practice at home. Even the way I started… I thought it was fascinating to see how they do it, so I took a part-time job in a bar, and I wasn’t allowed to make drinks at first, but just being behind the bar to see the actual operation of it, it helped a lot. And also just mix a lot of drinks at your house,
for your friends.

If we want to maximize our cocktail experience at home, what are the must have tools?
Well there are basic things that everybody need. You need a shaker, a strainer and a tumbler. You need your basic mixers such as soda, lime, fresh fruits. I think the greatest thing about doing your cocktails at home is that you have more room for creativity. I think people should take advantage of that, and when you are at home, be creative.

Which do you think are the few essential alcoholic beverages that you should have within arms reach at all time?
Well there’re a number of them. I think rum is one of them, it’s very versatile and some of the most famous cocktails in the world are rum based cocktails such as Mojito, Pina Colada, Daiquiri… Vodka is another very important drink, because it’s kind of neutral and it would be difficult to make a bad drink with Vodka, well to my experience. Also Tequila is a very exciting spirit, it adds a lot of excitement and emotions to your drinks. Don’t be shy and have whiskey as well, you can make drinks with Whisky and Bourbon. I think those would be the basic layers, after that you can become a lot more creative and add in a lot more different spirits and liquors that will then bring you to the next level. But as a start, I think those would be the main spirits that you should have. And Gin, I almost forgot about Gin, it has to be in your bar, it’s also extremely fundamental.

Which are your three personal favorite cocktails?
That’s a very difficult question, because it’s not like wherever I go I will always have my favorite cocktail. It’s a matter of time, situation and a matter of who you are with. So if I am by myself, I like something that I can really take my time to savor and have a personal connection with the drink, where I can take my time and enjoy the different levels and layers that I have in my drinks. But if I am with friends for something a little more festive then I would have a Mojito. I love Mojito, the main flavor to it, I really like it. And a Zacapa Mojito is something that brings it to the next level, it is a really new experience. Actually, one of my favorite cocktails is a Zacapa Royal Mojito. You basically have a traditional Mojito, you use Ron Zacapa and instead of Soda, use Champagne or sparkling wine. Now that’s the ultimate luxury Mojito and it’s fantastic.

Another cocktail I really like if I go out in clubs is Gin Tonic, basic and very simple drink but I like it very much.

Wasn’t that voted the most depressive drink?
Yea I guess as we said it’s about the time, the atmosphere and who you are having your drink with. If you have it by yourself, sitting in your living room, Gin Tonic, that’s not really how I want to enjoy it. It is more of a festive kind of drink for me.

Text: Compass PR

Find out all about the DIAGEO World Class competition at