World Class Belgium 1st Semifinal, Impressions,Tips & Tricks

Reserve Brands, the luxury spirits portfolio from Diageo, has named Jeroen Van Hecke of L’Apereau in Blankenberge as the winner of  World Class 1st Belgian Semifinal, gaining his place to the European Final in Madrid!

Jeroen (pictured above) won his place, in the stunning “Event Lounge” at Felixpakhuis, Antwerp on 10th December 2012 amongst 7 other World Class Bartenders that may try their luck again in April 2013 in the last Belgian Semifinal when the second ticket to Spain will be given out.

– The winning recipe –

The PT cocktail (inspired by Jim Meehan of PDT bar in New York)


60 ml coconut oil infused Zacapa 23
12.5 ml orange blossom honey
2.5 ml Lagavulin Distillers Edition
2 Dash Angostura bitters
2 Dash chocolate bitters


Stir  with ice in an old-fashioned glass on a large block of ice. Spray a zest of orange over the drink and use it as a garnish. Add a wooden honey stirrer.

The Judgin Panel for the day consisted of Frank Van der Auwera (wine and food writer), Gerty Christoffels (leading television presenter in Belgium and Communication Coach), Ben Belmans (teacher at Nine-X Cocktail Academy) and myself.

The bartenders were judged on technique, presentation, creativity and taste.

It was a great pleasure to work, laugh and dream with all the competitors in this amazing event organized brilliantly by Ben Belmans and his Nine-X staff and our incredible Antoine Ghyselen who hosted the event and brought the Master of Ceremonies role to the next level!



Written Challenge:

– Questionnaire focused on the history and technical characteristics of Zacapa, Tanqueray N° Ten and Johnnie Walker SDLX range.

Signature Cocktail:

– Zacapa 23 was the featured product in the “Bartender / Barchef” theme

– Tanqueray N.10 was the protagonist within the “Hollywood Cocktails” concept

Shop of secrets and Diageo Classic Cocktails:

– Bartenders had to show their mastery of flavours from “mistery” ingredients and create an amazing Johnnie Walker cocktail as part of the “Flavour is King” theme.

– Besides they were tested on classic cocktail knowledge and technique from a list of 18 Classics

The other Bartenders we were honoured to judge are:


– Dries Botty – L’apereau (Blankenberge) – 2nd Place

– Dieter Van Roy – Josephine’s (Antwerp) – 3rd Place

And in alphabetical order:

– Ben Bruyneel – Jigger’s The Noble Drugstore – Ghent

– Jan Van Ongevalle – CASINO KNOKKE

– Kevin Ligot – Elixir of LIFE – Brussels

– Steve Okhuysen – Old Fashioned – Ghent

– Tom Neijens – Old Fashioned – Ghent


FROM A BARTENDER TO A BARTENDER (A few words out of personal experience)

Please understand that the following has to be intended only as a constructive discussion on this competition and that can be helpful for future reference.


1) I can’t hide there was a quite lot of tension within some of the contestants. Of course this is understandable to a certain extent, provided that we don’t allow it to overpower us.

As the competition continued though, they started to be more focused and relaxed, impressing the jury and their peers.

A bit of tension can be used at our advantage as the adrenalin rush wil help to focus the mind and ready ourself for the competition; it acts as a positive motivator too!

It’s wierd to see that what we do every day with hard work, passion and love for the craft and for our guests gets a bit mixed up in our heads when we are in a competition, making us go “out of focus” sometimes.

The fact we always have to be aware of, is treating the competition as an (extra)ordinary day behind our Bar, visualizing our regular customers, friends and situations that force us into a peaceful state of mind, where we feel in the comfort zone…even if we’re not.

Our mind doesn’t actually know the difference between reality and imagination, I experienced it personally and…guess what? IT WORKS!

To make you understand my point, another similar experience I had lately, was when judging some recipes by mail and found that ingredients really gave me that mouth watering sensation you only get when really tasting a drink, so…it wasn’t real.

2) In the Diageo Classic Cocktails Challenge, generally some homework to do is handed out to the contestants beforehand, this to give the chance to be prepared on the history, method of preparation and to try our routines in our Bar environment, so there would be no reasons for forgetting ingredients, stir a drink instead of shaking or not knowing where a drink’s name comes from.

Since “Classic s a Classic” and it’s because of its nature that it has survived the test of time, another issue is that variations on this challenge are NOT requested, otherwise it would have been called “Twist on Classics” or else.

3) The Shop Challenge or also called Market Challenge in other events, is the time for us as Bartenders to shine and show our mastery of flavours; so by playing safe on this particular challenge we take away the chance to our guests or judges to be really impressed by us.

– If performing in English is requested in our Country even though is not our primary language, this is done for a number of reasons, the most important of which is to push us to do our homework directly in the language used in the European Final so we would have part of the job ready for the next step that is the Global Event.

This really worked for me, going from my national Final to the Global Final in Athens back in 2010, where by going through this steps, I became so much more confident and in control of what to expect!

I hope you’ll find this useful as I did.


Even though I understand that often for timing reasons this is not possible, I wanted to stress that the need for performance feedback from our contestants is crucial to add elements to their learning experience at a deeper level.

This will be “THE” thing that would enrich them and change their approach and attitude towards the craft…at least it did to me!

But please Bartenders, let me remind you it will be also your commitment to help us understand what you would love to find in the future events and trainings (product/support/facility-wise) in order to always improve World Class performances towards our beloved community and getting closer and closer to your needs.

Thank you for making our day, an oustanding day

Max La Rocca