Cocktail chat: World Class winner Adrián Michalčík
Oslo-based Slovakian bartender Adrián Michalčík won last year’s Diageo World Class competition in no small part thanks to his love of storytelling as an intrinsic part of hospitality.
*This feature was originally published in the November 2022 issue of The Spirits Business magazine.
In the 30 minutes I spent talking to Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year 2022 Adrián Michalčík his smile did not disappear. The Slovakian bartender, who in September won the global final in Sydney, Australia, says: “I have been trying to chase this dream for the past six years, and now it’s part of my reality, so I couldn’t be happier.”
Michalčík, who this year represented Norway, where he lives, in the global cocktail competition, began his World Class story in 2016, when he took sixth place at the global finals in Miami, US. Despite coming so close to victory, he didn’t rush back to apply the following year. Instead, career aspirations and the pandemic put on hold the goal of taking the top spot on the podium. “I wanted to come back and meet people,” he explains. “So I’ve been waiting for two or three years to return – but the plan was always to come back and take the title.”
Served with ice
Michalčík’s career was originally going in a very different direction. Though his passion for the hospitality industry is palpable, his first love was ice hockey, which he played professionally before starting his bartending career. “I love sports, and I still play, but I had to decide between sports or school, and I chose to stay with my studies.”
Michalčík attended the Hotel Academy in Slovakia, where he was given training in hospitality, from cooking to waiting, but the bar captured his heart. “It is this magical place where you have a chance to speak with and host people.” Hospitality has been a part of his life since an early age, he says. “My parents always hosted our neighbours, something that is rooted in our Czechoslovakian culture, and in a bar I saw the same thing, and I really loved it.”
Michalčík moved to Prague in 2013, where the mixology chapter of his career took off, after having secured bartending roles at the Prague Bar Academy, and L’Fleur Mixology and Champagne Bar. The competitions came next, and it was the travel opportunities awarded to him following his success at World Class 2016 that put Norway on his career map. “I’ve lived in Oslo for five years now, and I work at Pier 42, a bar located in the Amerikalinjen hotel.”
While Michalčík’s World Class success has already started to affect the bar’s covers (“people want to try a winning cocktail, and they want to see the ‘Best Bartender in the World’”, he says) the venue is popular irrespective of its star bartender, and is full most nights. Named after New York’s Pier 42, the bar has been designed to blend the heritage of the building in which it is situated (the former headquarters of the Norwegian-American cruise line, built in 1919), with the cultures it represents in the modern-day cocktail world. Storytelling is at the heart of the bar, illustrated by the creative menu Michalčík and his team have created.
“Storytelling is part of our DNA here in the hotel. We are focused on the two cultures of Norway and America, and we are running the bar by the heritage of these destinations, with drinks inspired by both,” he says. “You can enjoy a good drink anywhere, but our stories add something more.” It is clear that it was Michalčík’s enjoyment of telling stories through his cocktails that took him to World Class victory. “It was one of the reasons why I felt comfortable on the stage,” he explains. “Telling stories is part of my daily routine.”
Imagination and creativity
For each of the cocktails he made throughout the competition, he was led by his imagination and creativity, something apparent in the Don Julio Pour Amor challenge, in which the contestants were tasked with creating three drinks inspired
by community, craft and land. For this, Michalčík chose to bring his own interpretation of the theme to life, calling it instead ‘Between Heaven and Earth’, and creating his three serves to represent heaven, Earth, and the community that resides between them.
“For the heaven drink I chose to celebrate the craft of Renaissance mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who uncovered plenty of theories about the universe that are still relevant now.” This first drink offered characteristics similar to a sparkling Margarita, using Don Julio Blanco Tequila, a green apple liqueur, green tea syrup, and a carbonated shiso dry vermouth, with presentation chosen to mimic the imagined appearance of heaven, using smoke trapped beneath a glass cloche.
His depiction of Earth, offered something heavier, with Don Julio Reposado Tequila, beetroot-cassis-burned hay cordial, edible soil and micro herbs, built to mark the importance of the land, and presented in a wooden box, similar to a vegetable planter.
His final cocktail in the round was inspired by community and the “beauty of different flavour preferences”. This was basically the community that is living between heaven and Earth,” he explains. “I remember that after this first round some people came to me and said ‘wow, this was wonderful – it’s super-nice storytelling’, so taking that approach definitely gave me an advantage.”
The storytelling continued through the remaining rounds, which saw the contestants design a cordial using surplus fresh produce to make a highball using Johnnie Walker whisky, through to stirring the ‘perfect’ Tanqueray No. Ten Martini.
Travel the world
But Michalčík’s World Class story didn’t end when he lifted the trophy. In many respects, it has only just begun. He has some hopes of what the win could mean for his future. “I want to travel and learn as much as I can. I love different cultures that have different tastes, flavours and people, so I’m looking forward to that,” he says, though he confirms he will keep returning to Oslo to tend bar. “I’d like to stay at Pier 42 and continue building the brand. We want to put this bar on the map. There will be a lot of travelling for me, definitely, and I’ll be representing the bar wherever I go,” he confirms.
“I also have a couple of projects that I would love to launch – now is the right time for us to create our own glassware, something cool for our cocktails. My home country of Slovakia is producing a truly amazing quality of glass, and I have a couple of contacts for producers there.”
However for Michalčík his success is a two-way street. “I’m enjoying that I’m now marked as a source of motivation for people. I like to support people and give them power, give them hope. I want to do that with energy and, if I can, share the knowledge I get, while still learning myself. I believe the only way to stay on top is to continue doing that every day.”