The Aussie behind Diageo World Class

The Diageo World Class global final will be held in Sao Paolo, Brazil from 24-28 of September 2023, with Eduardo Conde of Sydney’s El Primo Sanchez representing Australia.

Drinks Digest caught up with the other Aussie who will be playing a starring role in the event – the Global Head of World Class, Trade & Social Advocacy at Diageo, Marissa Johnston – for the lowdown on what Conde can expect from the competition, plus her highlights from last year’s global final in Sydney.

“Following the success of last year’s World Class Global Finals in Sydney, we are so excited to bring World Class Global Finals to São Paulo in September,” Johnston said.

“Brazil’s cultural capital is a city of richly blended heritages, artistic innovation and of boundless energy. The city is home to some incredible bars – from Bar dos Arcos to Sub Astor, we can’t wait to explore the tastes of Brazil.

“This year, we’ll also be bringing the Industry Forum to life as part of our World Class program; with seminars to educate, inspire and provoke the drinks world and further afield. World Class brings the world’s leaders in drinks – and part of that is to bring them to some of the most exciting venues in São Paulo where we cultivate an environment of learning and appreciation for people working in hospitality from across the world. I’m looking forward to seeing what else the incredible week of activity will bring!”

Conde (above, centre) will join over 50 other global finalists from countries including the United States, Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom, to represent their nation and battle it out for the coveted title of World Class Global Bartender of the Year.

Johnston’s Aussie heritage

Johnston was born and raised in Australia and started in the local drinks industry more than 12 years ago.

“My first taste for World Class was actually in Australia when I was a brand manager in drinks culture at Diageo Australia,” she said.

“As part of that role I led and delivered all aspects of the World Class Australia competition – including running the first ever World Class Cocktail Festival where we brought Ryan Chetiaywardana’s White Lyan to Melbourne for a pop-up.

“A couple of years later I had the opportunity to move to Amsterdam to take on a global role and it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. That then led to my current role as Global Head of World Class & Advocacy at Diageo.

“For me, working on the World Class program has opened up so many amazing opportunities that I never would have imagined early in my journey. I’ve not only had the chance to collaborate with amazing teams from many backgrounds, but I’ve also worked with some of the best bars, bartenders and restaurants in the world. For someone with a huge passion for great hospitality it’s been an absolute joy.”

Johnston gives her verdict on the Australian bar scene

Johnston tries to travel back to Australia at least once a year to catch up with family and friends – and, of course, to keep tabs on the bar scene!

“The bar scene in Australia is flourishing and in my opinion is up there with one of the best in the world,” she said.

“It was a dream to be able to mix work and pleasure last year when Sydney hosted World Class Global Finals; to showcase the very best of a city I still call home truly was one of the proudest moments of my career.

“World Class Cocktail Festival was an extraordinary celebration of Sydney’s vibrant cocktail scene – we were lucky enough to collaborate with world-renowned Australian venues across the city, including Maybe Sammy, RE, Shell House [above], Bennelong and Quay.

“Getting to showcase these incredible venues to the rest of the world was a real highlight for me.”

As for what is it about Australian bartenders that makes them so successful globally, Johnston said Australian bartenders and Aussie hospitality workers in general have an incredible attitude to service and really know how to make a guests experience memorable.

“I’m always delighted when I come across Australian bartenders in my travels as I know I’m in for a good time,” she said.

“The beauty of World Class is that we can celebrate the best of World Class not just in Australia, but all over the world. Over the past 14 years, World Class has supported, trained and inspired over 400,000 bartenders worldwide and has been continually evolving cocktail culture to support the trade.”

The Diageo World Class view of Sydney

Johnston said the feedback from the bartenders, judges and other attendees at the World Class Global Final in Sydney was incredible.

“Sydney is such an iconic city, so the mix of location, bartending talent and exciting events led to a sell-out week,” she said.

“Some of my personal highlights included Ago Perrone and Peter Gilmore’s food and drink pairing at iconic Sydney venue Bennelong which showcased the best of Tanqueray No. TEN with the finest modern Australian cuisine and Matt Whiley of Re leading a week-long circular economy of participating festival bars with The Barbershop, PS40, Old Mate’s Place and The Lobo using each other’s unwanted food and bar waste to create cocktail additions – it was a fantastic showcase of Ketel One’s bartender-led program ‘Garnished with Good’.”

The top cocktail trends for 2023

Johnston said one trend that’s not slowing down this year is the rise of the tequila category globally, in particular luxury tequila.

“In Diageo’s F23 preliminary results, tequila net sales grew 19% globally, with Don Julio and Casamigos growing 20% and 16% respectively,” she said.

“This is making way for exciting new twists on tequila-based cocktails like the Margarita and Paloma – two of my favourites!

The no or low-alcohol category has been growing at pace for years now with more people making “damp lifestyle” choices.

“I think we’ll continue to see the world’s best bars putting non-alc options on their menus and providing more creative options for their customers in 2023,” Johnston said.

“We’ve also seen premiumisation take off over the last few years and I think it’s a trend that will continue into 2023 and beyond. More and more, consumers are prioritising quality in their drinks choices which aligns with a key value instilled by World Class which is to drink better, not more.”

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