Meet the best bartender in SA

Nick Koumbarakis will be representing South Africa at the Diageo Reserve WORLD CLASS Bartender of the Year 2013 this July.

27 Jun 2013

WORLD CLASS, the world’s largest and most credible mixology competition will take place aboard boutique Azamara Club Cruise’s ship, Azamara Journey, from 4th – 9th July 2013.

Only the 50 best bartenders, including SA's Nick Koumbarakis, have been selected to compete at the Global Final for the coveted title of Diageo Reserve WORLD CLASS Bartender of the Year.

Setting sail along the French Riviera in Nice and Monte Carlo, the voyage will include stopovers in some of the Mediterranean’s most iconic and chic destinations including St. Tropez and Ibiza, before culminating in the Catalan capital of Barcelona.

The world’s most respected mixology cognoscenti as judges, boasting the likes of legends Dale DeGroff, Salvatore Calabrese, Peter Dorelli, Hidetsugo Ueno and Gary Regan, media glitterati, renowned bar owners and international stars of stage and screen, will join the Global Final.

Together over 600 attendees will celebrate the craft of bartending with exclusive insight into testing cocktail challenges, high-profile evening events and inspiring industry talks and debates.

Q & A with Nick Koumbarakis

We'd like you to get to know the guy who will be representing South Africa at this very prestigious competition.

Q: What was behind the decision to become a bartender?

A: We all do it differently, I was never going to be a professional footballer or quantity surveyor, even though I played the former and studied the latter. Certain lines of work compliment certain personality types and skill sets and bartending as a career compliments those who are ambitious, driven and creative. Dependent on the individual, it is a career that branches into numerous roles within the industry that can be rewarding and beneficial.

Who inspired me? Not a particular person, rather a moment where I knew deep down that it was my destiny to become a bartender, for life. 110% committed by choice not necessity. It took many years before people in my life accepted my career choice, mostly when I started to get a little public attention here and there. I truly am fortunate knowing that I wake up with purpose every day and have no regrets on the path I have chosen.

Q: What makes bartending worthwhile for you?

A: Bartending is the only profession that personally gets me excited for work. From conducting  seminars, to inspiring and educating a new generation of bartenders, working with brands that have a vested interest in bartenders, to creating drinking experiences with my guests.

The bar is the only place where any type of individual could be a guest. Irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economics, status, gender, age, as long as they are over 18, I will treat each individual with the same level of integrity, respect and service as the guest sitting next to them.

It is amazing how one drink, a few minutes to listening someone vent or a compliment can completely change someone's day.  There is nothing more satisfying than serving a drink, whether it is an Old Fashioned that is delicately built over time to opening a crafted beer and connecting with someone.

Bartending has led me to forge incredible networks amongst the bartending fraternity that I would never have encountered. The profession is versatile in that talented bartenders can travel across the globe working in various establishments constantly evolving their craft, thus imparting a wealth of knowledge to a generation of bartenders wanting to develop themselves.

Q: What are some cool cocktail trends this year?

A: Bartenders are growing moustaches, sporting tattoos even creating their own lingo. :) Individual creativity in terms of presentation and garnishes, art beyond the drink. Return to flavour. Food and drink pairing.

I am pleased to hear that people are once again focusing on the importance of hospitality and customer care.There has been a constant obsession with different trends like; crafted ice, barrel aged cocktails, vintage glassware, speakeasies and styles of shakers, to name a few. All of these aspects have influenced and shaped the industry for the better, but looking after your customer is of the utmost importance to me.

Q: Do you think bartending is getting the recognition it deserves now?

A: There is a definite shift in attitude towards the craft of bartending, especially within South Africa. I believe that in ever increasing numbers, there are people that have chosen to remain behind the bar and are quite proud to be there.

I firmly believe that within several years the continent will have representation within every major country vying for a place at the Global Finals of WORLD CLASS, with South Africa spearheading the development in conjunction with WORLD CLASS.

Bartending is currently in a period of renaissance, these are exciting times and I am honoured to be a part of fraternity wanting to elevate such a noble profession.

Brands are focusing on the importance of hospitality and customer care. 12 years ago when I started within the industry I did not have the benefit of technology/educational programmes that we are noticing today. Brands are taking a vested interest in bartenders by providing these educational platforms. The Diageo WORLD CLASS BARTENDER programme is not only assisting the overall development of the profession but providing the skill sets for bartenders to realise their true potential.

Q: Do you think South African restaurants are coming to the party?

A: In South Africa I have not extensively visited every restaurant unfortunately, but I am lucky enough to live in Cape Town, a city globally renowned for our great restaurants.

El Burro, a Mexican Restaurant make the best Margaritas, their wide selection of tequilas and sangrita offerings, their food is authentic Mexican matched with friendly staff.

&Union for their fine selection of crafted beers and steak rolls. We are now seeing well-known restaurants taking an interest in their beverage menu equalling that of their food offerings.

Q: Talk us through where you are now within the industy?

A: I have been involved within the industry for almost 12 years now. I have tendered bar in various well known establishments across South Africa and the UK.

I have managed a portfolio of brands to now evolving my own brand The Alchemist Says… a platform to advance, educate and inspire bartenders, and consumers on the vast craft of bartending whilst advocating the importance of responsible drinking and working with brands that have a vested interest in bartenders.

Time permitting I guest tend at The Orphanage. I still have an absolute affinity for working behind the bar, it is my stage that makes me smile from ear to ear. :) 

Q: What would winning Diageo Reserve WORLD CLASS mean to you?

A: Winning WORLD CLASS personally would be the apex of my bartending career, for any bartender for that matter. It would change my life for the better, especially for a competitor representing the African continent, wanting to inspire a new generation of bartenders. In saying this, whatever the outcome being a part of a competition of this magnitude is the aspiration of every bartender.

“We are all searching for something in our lives, that one thing that will change everything you ever lived for, that will become everything you ever hoped for, and fulfilling everything you ever dreamt of. “ – Nick Koumbarakis

Q: Some of your recent achievements?

Bols Around the World Global Bartending Competition National Winner 2012
Bacardi Legacy South Africa 2013 Title Holder
Bacardi Legacy Global 8 Finalist 2013
World Class South African Bartender of the Year Title Holder 2013

Q: Your perfect cocktail moment?

A: A Negroni with Tanqueray No.10, simple yet elegant, served by Gary Regan himself #fingerstirred, with Bill Murray on Piano and Dale DeGroff on vocals in the background. I heard Dale is an excellent singer. The setting… at the Global Finals with every competitor. That would be a World Class moment.

Check out the Facebook page for Global WORLD CLASS Finals to find out more about the competition and the other 49 competitors.

Follow Nick on @alchemist_says on Twitter and please feel free to leave comments of support below! publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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