Graham Warner is a tired man.
"I went to bed at 6:30 a.m. and woke up at 9. I’m hoping to catch a few winks before I pick up my son this afternoon from daycare."
The exhaustion is tempered by a sense of accomplishment. Last night Warner helped put on another successful confab of Montreal’s best cocktail-makers at his Chinatown bar, Le Mal Nécessaire, one of Eater's essential cocktail bars in Montreal.
The event, dubbed Drunken Masters, pits 10 to 20 bartenders in a test of speed and cleanliness, as they plow through a set list of cocktails. (Yesterday’s five were: Toronto Cocktail, Amaretto Sour, Boulvardier Léger, Painkiller and Mexican Bulldog.)
Competitors pony up a $20 entry fee and the winner takes all. A panel of industry veterans judge the proceedings and the public is invited to take it all in. The addition of GoPro cameras heightens the sense of theatre.
In a tight race, Simon Lesperance (Le Slang, late of B1 and Datcha) took home the glory last night. The next event takes place at Le Mal Nécessaire on December 21.
Here’s Warner’s Drunken Masters postmortem.
The competition is amicable. Whatever paths have brought you to this point, you all share this one interest.
"The competition is amicable. Whatever paths have brought you to this point, you all share this one interest. Once you get everyone together you have an automatic bond, a commonality. The vibe was intense last night. Intense in the sense that it was like a room full of frat brothers and sorority sisters. But it was sincere. Even though everyone wants to beat each other, there were high-fives all around. Some bartenders have practiced for weeks. It’s a small community and the same people pop up. Everyone knows each other."
"Last night we had 16 competitors. It’s one thing to be fast and another to be clean. Everyone had to build their drinks on a piece of paper first. Then we take a picture to document it. The fastest and cleanest do the best. Cleanliness is important. Just to give you an example, Andrew Pink from Kabinet was in the running even though he wasn’t as fast; but he was super clean."
"Simon Lesperance won by a nose. It was crazy because he didn’t win outright the first round. Between him, Fred Lafontaine (L'Gros Luxe) and Val Chagnon (Le Mal Nécessaire) there were four seconds in difference. Just to give you context, one mistake is a five second penalty. So we had to do it again and Simon won."
It’s about belonging to something.
"Me and Sam Dalcourt [longtime Montreal bartender, Diageo brand ambassador] spearheaded La Ligue des Coqueteliens du Québec. It’s about belonging to something. I had people who gave me guidance and advice. Now that I’m older I want to pass that on. Through mentorship, being present in the community, putting on and taking part in different events. Drunken Masters is purely about having fun and making bartenders in our city stronger. The mentality is ‘I want to beat you but I want you to do well too.’ It’s all about the best interests of the group."