Please tell us about yourself
NZMA (New Zealand Management Academies) hospitality graduate Sai Hamsala has taken out the title of World’s Best Bartender in Diplomático’s World Tournament Finals, which took place in Venezuela in April.
Battling it out against 27 of the most talented bartenders on the planet, Sai’s ‘Just in Time’ cocktail proved too good to beat. A sophisticated mix of rum, pineapple and thyme, it impressed judges enough to land him $10,000 cash and the prestigious title of Diplomático’s new Global Brand Ambassador.
For Sai it was the ultimate reward for many years of training and hard work.
“I’ve always dreamed of winning a global cocktail world tournament. I feel that I have achieved something very big thanks to all the passion and work I’ve put into bartending for the past eight years,” he said.
Launched in 2012, the Diplomático World Tournament has drawn more than 1000 participating bartenders. The event takes place over eight days, in three separate rounds, and contestants are judged on technique, presentation, décor, garnish and organoleptic subjects (such as taste, texture, aroma and balance) as well as their knowledge of rum.
Sai won the New Zealand final of the tournament late last year, with his inspired concoction ‘Rich Heart’. It quickly became a favourite tipple for Mt Eden locals, at Scarlett Slimms & Lucky where he is bar manager. He then headed to Barquisimeto, Venezuela in April to compete in the World Final.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Sai Charan Hamsala was born and grew up in the small city of Vizag, India. With a keen interest in how things work, Sai studied mechanical engineering in India at the collegiate level. After graduation, he had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand and fell in love with the beautiful country and people. Shortly after this trip, Sai moved to New Zealand and decided to pursue hospitality and business management. This choice proved to both compliment and match his outgoing personality.
Sai launched his career after completing his Diploma in Hospitality Management at NZMA six years ago.
Sai Hamsala turned his back on the nine to five lifestyle.
He was studying to become an engineer but threw it all in to work behind a bar.
“They are worlds apart, those two careers,” he says.
“But I’m a people person. I tried to do that nine to five thing but I couldn’t. I love being here, talking to people, finding the drink for them and coming up with new recipes.”
“During my NZMA studies it was the bar side of things that fascinated me the most, so I started competing in the cocktail events at the Culinary Fares. I entered both regionals and nationals, and won several medals and awards, including Bartender of the Year in 2013.”
And he didn’t stop there, going on to compete in a host of other top competitions including the NZ Bar Masters at the Restaurant & Bar Trade Show.
“If you want to be a bartender you should definitely get involved in industry competitions. They’re a great way to hone your skills and get your name out there.”
Please tell us about your work as a Mixologist
“You want to be a landmark that people come to for your cocktails.”
But the bar manager at Scarlett Slimms & Lucky in the Auckland suburb of Mt Eden says it’s not as easy to do that as it once was with bartenders stepping up their game.
“It’s all about molecular mixology. The new crazy things they do with food, well we implement those techniques with cocktail making.”
But he says at the end of the day, fancy ingredients and intricate techniques mean nothing.
“A good cocktail is one that any person can go into a bar anywhere in the world and order. It has to be replicable.”
Hamsala stores hundreds of recipes in his head to whip out on demand.
But he says it is impossible to pick what a person will drink when they walk in the door.
“That is a myth. Not unless they are a regular anyway.”
“A bartending secret is to use a few broad questions to narrow down what the person is really looking for.”
He says he has been left scrambling a few times.
“A girl came in and asked me if I knew my cocktails. I said I wasn’t bad so she asked for a vieux carre. I hadn’t made one in years.”
He says the job does have it’s drawbacks – mostly New Zealand’s binge drinking culture.
But he says he works hard to educate people on the art of drinking.
“Some people come in with that mindset to get smashed, asking for those types of drinks and we will say: ‘Look you can have this sophisticated drink for the same price, sit down, enjoy it, take your time and talk to your friends,” he says.
“Drinks are made to enjoy not abuse.”
So what would he suggest you try this weekend? Order a negroni or a martinez – Hamsala says these drinks are becoming more popular.