Japan’s Michito Kaneko named World Class Global Bartender of the Year

World Class Michito Kaneko Japan

Michito Kaneko (pictured) from Japan has been crowned World Class Global Bartender of the Year 2015 after a week of challenges in Cape Town.

He was selected last night (September 4) from among 54 contenders who had won places in the Diageo Reserve global final in national competitions around the world.

Along with GB winner Ali Reynolds of Hawksmoor Spitalfields in London, he was one of just six bartenders who made it through to the final stage on Wednesday. Their challenge was to build their own pop-up bar that reflected their personality and bartending style.

For the past three years, Michito has run his own bar, The Lamp Bar, in Nara, south of Kyoto in central Japan, where he is the manager and sole bartender. He gave up his job as a construction worker to become a bartender 13 years ago.

He said: “When I heard my name, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was in total shock. I’m very happy to have won. This is definitely a turning point in my life. But I must remember that even though I am the World Class champion, I must stay humble and true to myself and what I love.”

The final “Cape Town Shakedown” pop-up bar challenge also featured Ariel Leizgold from Israel, Vítězslav Cirok from the Czech Republic, Jack Sotti from Australia, and Manolis Lykiardopoulos from Greece.

For his pop-up bar, Michito looked to his own name for inspiration. Michito means “Man on the Road”, so he incorporated the iconic Striding Man of Johnnie Walker whisky into his bar’s theme, “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.

Spike Marchant, World Class judge and global brand ambassador, said: “Michito produced some wonderful performances throughout this year’s World Class. As a bartending personality he was the personification of Japanese hospitality with an engaging spark of gentle humour and whimsy.

“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. In addition, as part of a 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.

Ali, who created British-inspired pop-up bar Yellow Hammer, was praised for his exceptional skill, quick wit and creative flair, impressing the judges at every turn.

He said: “I feel very honoured to have made it into the final six of the competition, and although it would have been fantastic to be crowned this year’s winner, it’s been such a rewarding experience to get this far.

“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to represent my country and compete alongside the top bartenders in the world.”

Nick Temperley, head of Diageo Reserve GB, said: “The World Class competition is all about recognising the crème de la crème of mixologists across the world and ultimately helping these bartenders raise their profile, and it was truly inspiring from a UK point of view, to see Ali Reynolds in the final six of this year’s competition.”

During the gala ceremony, the top performers from each of the five first-round challenges were also honoured: Jurgen Nobels of Belgium earned top scores in the “Against the Clock” pressure test; Kenneth Bandivas of the Philippines took the judges on a journey of flavour during “Around the World”; Tyson Buhler of the USA delivered a perfect pair of cocktails in “Night and Day”; Filip Navratil of Slovakia dominated in the “Street Food Jam”; while champion Michito served up a trio of masterpieces in the “Future, Retro, Disco” challenge.

Israel’s Ariel Leizgold also delivered a standout performance during the “Cape Town Shakedown” where he created a “secret garden” that was a “sensory joy and a cocktail paradise”, according to the judges.

The final list of winners placed Ariel in second place followed by Jack Sotti in third, Ali Reynolds in fourth, Manolis Lykiardopoulos in fifth and Vítězslav Cirok as sixth in the world.

Spike added: “The talent on display this year has surpassed our already high expectations. It was almost impossible to predict who the top six would be because the level of skill was consistent across all competitors – exceptionally high.

“But what else would you expect when you have the best bartenders in the world under one roof? It was the toughest competition we’ve ever had the honour of judging.”

Johanna Dalley, global director for World Class, said: “Since its inception, World Class has been passionate about giving the best bartenders in the world the global spotlight they richly deserve – these are incredibly talented professionals whose skill is on a par with the world’s best chefs but who also deal directly with the public on a nightly basis, have the flexibility to create great drinks that to the exact specification of each and every one of their guests, be part sommelier, part maître d’, part host, part alchemist, part entertainer and part confidant.”

Updated September 7 with placing of top six.

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