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SB Voices: Appreciating the industry

SB’s Owen Bellwood recently travelled to Mexico for the final of Altos Tequila’s Tahona Society Collective Spirit competition. What he saw made him think, do enough people appreciate their bartenders?

15 teams of bartenders gathered in Mexico for the final of the Tahona Society Collective Spirit

At some point in their career, every bartender will be asked if they’re going to get a “proper” job. While many are able to shrug off this rude question, I think it’s time the on-trade turned to these people and showed them what makes the industry so great – and infinitely more rewarding than many “real jobs”.

Which brings me onto my time in Mexico, where I met some of the most inspirational bartenders working in the industry today.

I traveled to the home of Altos Tequila for the final of its Tahona Society Collective Spirit, which was originally launched as an advocacy scheme and Margarita competition. Today, the competition is a chance for bartenders to create a new sustainable initiative, project or event that could improve the on-trade and their community.

Over the course of four days in Guadalajara, Mexico, 15 teams of bartenders were given mentoring sessions on pitching, finance and creating business plans – have many people in regular nine-to-fives ever had to go through this?

They then had to pitch their businesses to a fierce panel of experts, made up of Altos Tequila co-founder Dré Masso; Pernod Ricard House of Tequila vice president Christophe Prat; Shark Tank Mexico executive producer Kirén Miret; and co-founder of design studio Agenda 28 Valerie Kramis. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be too confident pitching to that crowd.

All this is an impressive achievement before you even consider the businesses these bartenders were concocting. Loga Raj, from Singapore, was there to pitch Life After Bars, a charity that aimed to help ex-convicts find work in the hospitality industry. The UK’s entrant, William Campbell-Rowntree, had created Wstd Soul, a business that would collect waste plastic from London’s bars and repurpose it into useful items for the on-trade. There were also schemes to end homelessness, businesses that would use food waste to create cocktail ingredients and a company that aims to reduce water waste in cocktail bars.

Then, there were the winners. Alex Black and Makenzie Chilton triumphed with their business, Mind The Bar – a mental health resource, information and support system for the hospitality industry, which focuses on the major issues of depression, anxiety, addiction and workplace harassment.

Black gave a heartfelt pitch that showed how essential support like this is to the on-trade, before the pair walked away with US$50,000 – which they say will help them to make a real difference in Vancouver and the rest of Canada.

I understand that a lot of other people have taken steps to do their bit to save the planet and its people. But I think there are few people who would expect this kind of action from their local bartender.

It’s about time that the world’s drinkers began to realise the talent of the people serving them, and competitions like this could be the first step to achieving this.

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