Young Capetonian bartender Joshua Hendricks flew to Australia in September to represent South Africa in the global final of the Diageo World Class competition.

The 24-year-old, from Bergvliet is the youngest person to claim top honours in the local leg of the competition, which has supported, trained and inspired over 400 000 bartenders, across 60 countries, for over 12 years. We caught up with him before he left for the finals to find out about his experience.

What has been the highlight of your competition experience so far?

I would say my highlight has been forming new relationships with fellow South African bartenders. I thought I would be on my own during the competition, but we all help each other prepare for each round. Lots of things can go wrong like serving vessels can break and ingredients can spoil during travelling and whenever that happens someone was always there to assist and make alternative plans.

How did you prepare for the finals?

We’ve created a team of very talented industry leaders and previous World Class winners. They all help critique my concepts and offer guidance and advice. There are daily meetings where go over recipes and concepts behind the drinks being served in each round. We are currently still in the planning phase of most of the challenges but by the start of August, I will be rehearsing all of my presentations to ensure that everything not only goes smoothly but is also presented in the most captivating way. The competition is going to be fierce and there is a lot of work that goes into the development of concepts before the practising starts.

How did you get into the world of mixology?

I started bartending in sports bars as a way to make extra money while studying engineering at university. During that time, I was also really invested in becoming a musician with the plan of trying to turn that into a career so that I wouldn’t have to pursue engineering as I wasn’t very passionate about that industry. Unfortunately, neither music nor engineering worked out and I dropped out of university and continued bartending while trying to figure out what the next step would be.

After a while, I realised I was getting a bit too comfortable and there wasn’t much growth if I stayed in sports bars. I had to either change my path or find a way to increase my skill set in bartending. From there I grew an interest in cocktails and decided that I wanted to work as a bartender on a cruise ship with hopes of learning new skills behind the bar and travelling to other interesting countries. During my application for a cruise liner, the pandemic hit which brought that to a halt. After restrictions opened up, I signed up for a short bartending course and found a job in a cocktail bar. I then took part in the Protege Bartenders programme run by Jody Francis, a programme that helps upskill and new bartenders. The programme really showed me the more in-depth side of the industry and how creative it can be and really stimulated my passion for the craft side of things.

Ever since then, I have tried to work my way through bars to gain experience and get to a venue that really resonated with the type of creativity that I am into. That venue is Fable, where I currently work. It’s the perfect space to express creativity in an interesting and unique way with like-minded and inspiring bartenders. While working at Fable I also took part in Diageo SA’s Hand-Up Mentorship Programme which is a Diageo World Class initiative that has helped upskill bartenders within the community. Since it was directly related to the competition, it provided a lot of exposure to what is expected. This helped me prepare quite a bit before competing. Luckily, by sticking with bartending I had already taken the correct step in choosing my career and found something I am passionate about.

Where do you see yourself growing from here and what would you like to achieve in your future career?

I only expected to eventually win World Class a couple of years from now so winning so soon has forced me to rethink my goals for the future. I’m still young and I still feel like I can put in more work to develop my craft so for now I would like to train and research a bit more but the next thing I would like to do is help start a bar built around one of my own concepts. I would also like to start travelling a bit and gaining experience in bars around the world so that I can bring those skills back to South Africa.

Are there any cocktail trends that you see being big this Summer?

From what I’ve noticed, tequila has been trending a lot lately. We usually see a lot of fresh gin cocktails in summer, but gin has started taking a bit of a backseat and I think we’ll start seeing tequila slowly taking its place in a lot of cocktails. Sustainability has also been trending a lot lately amongst the bar community. Lots of waste is produced in bars, especially ones that press fresh citrus. Husks that are thrown away are now being used to make citrus juice alternatives, so I think we’ll start seeing lots of cocktails containing those alternatives.