Japan’s Michito Kaneko has been named the world’s best bartender, taking out the top gong at the Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year competition, held in Cape Town.

Kaneko is owner of The Lamp Bar in Nara, and participated in four days of challenges along with five other finalists from around the world, including Australia’s Jack Sotti.

In the final ‘Cape Town Shakedown’ challenge held at the city’s V&A Waterfront, the final six had to create a pop-up bar to reflect their personality and bartending style.

‘Michito’ means ‘Man on the Road’, so he incorporated the iconic striding man of Johnnie Walker into the theme for his bar, and called it ‘The Travelling Bar Man’. The installation was covered in maps and treasure chests, and Michito took visitors on a journey from Scotland to France to Japan with his creations.

“Michito was the personification of Japanese hospitality,” said Spike Marchant, World Class judge and global brand ambassador. “His cocktails across all the challenges were subtle, harmonious, and impeccably calibrated. He is a complete professional and produced a sustained level of excellence throughout the competition.”

As World Class Bartender of the Year, Michito will have the opportunity to travel the world as a global brand ambassador for World Class. Plus, as part of a recently announced partnership between luxury resort group One&Only and Diageo Reserve, Michito also wins a trip to the One&Only Palmilla resort in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Sotti, who works at Melbourne’s Boilermaker House, secured his spot in the finals by creating the ‘Stealth Bomber’ Bulleit Rye cocktail – the competition's first levitating cocktail – during the 'Retro, Disco, Future' challenge. He finished third overall.

During the gala ceremony, the top performers from each of the five first round challenges were also recognised. These were:

1. Against the Clock – Jurgen Nobels (Belgium)
Nobel’s range of 10 cocktails encompassed a goat’s milk Bloody Mary twist called a “Mry” (his spelling to emulate the sound of a goay) and a Boulevardier variant.

2. Around the World – Kenneth Bandivas (Philippines)
Bartenders were asked to tell the story of their homeland and South Africa through cocktails. Bandivas took the judges on a journey of flavour from the Philippines with the exotic taste of Bittermelon and Palawan fruit, to Cape Town with a Marula and Zacapa cocktail.

3. Night and Day – Tyson Buhler (USA)
Buher produced the Caf Brulot Celeste using Don Julio 1942 and Cameronbridge Estate cocktails with Tanqueray No.10.

4. Retro, Disco, Future – Michito Kaneko (Japan)
Kaneko went time travelling in this challenge, starting in the past with ‘The Judge’ – a Bulleit and Tanqueray No.10 cocktail, through to disco with his Tiny Bouquet masterpiece. He completed the journey in the future with a Croc experience combining sauternes wine and a secret ‘sunshine’ spray.

5. Street Food Jam – Filip Navratil (Slovakia)
This was one of the most demanding food-matching challenges World Class has ever staged. Snook, stinky bokum, kudu, boerewors, chakalaka, and Malay prawns were the mystery South African dishes confronting the bartenders.

6. Cape Town Shakedown – Ariel Leizgold (Israel)
Finalists had 24 hours to open their own pop-up bar. The winner of this challenge had to master design, ambience and three cocktails to produce a compelling and professional environment. Leizgold created a ‘Secret Garden’ that judges described as “a sensory joy and a cocktail paradise.”


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