After beating out 10,000 contenders and crafting over 60 drinks, Kaitlyn Stewart took first place at this year’s World Class competition. Stewart, who works at Royal Dinette Vancouver, is the ninth bartender and the second woman to win the distinction. She didn’t know she had it in her.
“I entered because I said, why not?” she says. “Lauren Mote, who was one of the Canadian finalists a couple years ago, told me, ‘One cocktail could change your life, so why not?’ I went with that.”
Stewart made one cocktail, which she called the Matriarch in honor of her late grandmother, and that one cocktail got her past the regional competition. From there, she headed to the final round in Mexico City and ultimately, victory. So yes, life-changing. She spoke to Esquire just hours after winning about women in bartending, trends to watch, and the cocktails that got her to the top.
It’s time to highlight the badass women in bartending.
It was really amazing to see Jen [Le Nechet] win last year, and it definitely put female bartenders on the map in a serious way. And this year, having a second female bartender—I mean, nobody says when three or four guys win in a row that it’s out there, like, “Oh my gosh, three guys won in a row!” But if two girls win in a row, it’s a statement, and I’m really really proud to be a part of that. Now, it’s like we’re here to stay. There are some badass women out there who really need to be highlighted, and I got to meet a bunch of them this week.
Sexist customers and hipster mixologists can’t ruin bartending.
There’s always a stigma that it’s a boys club. It’s some crazy customer who comes in and sees me behind the bar, and they say, “Do you know how to make an Old Fashioned?” with some wonderment. You have to smile it off and be like, “I don’t know, but I can sure try.” You get that from time to time. You have to play it off.
Just going across Canada, there’s some really amazing people—strong female leads to follow my example. Somebody who I really look up to is Ivy Mix from New York. She and Lynnette Marrero put together a badass women’s program [Speed Rack], and I see them doing really well. I hope I can be a role model for other women out there—or anybody really. It doesn’t have to be women. Other people who think that they might not be good enough just because they don’t wear a fancy three-piece suit when they’re behind the bar or have a curly mustache.
Get excited about sustainability and simplicity in cocktails.
The big buzzword this year was “sustainability.” I don’t want that to be a trend; I want that to continue to carry on. It should be a conscious thing that we’re aware of every day behind the bar. It’s really easy to implement not using straws; when you have a whole piece of fruit, trying to use everything from root to tip. Keep a compost bucket behind the bar so when you have those pieces of fruit or coffee grounds, you can chuck them in the compost bin instead of the garbage.
For me, I think it’s bringing simplicity back to bartending and really staying true to why classics are classics. The Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, the daiquiri—those cocktails have like three ingredients. Simplicity like taking those classic styles of cocktails and twisting them in a modern way, not having a 30-ingredient cocktail or some insane contraption. It’s fun to drink really delicious cocktails and have the consumer think that they can go home as well and try themselves.
Her go-to cocktail:
I always go for a Tanqueray No. 10 Corpse Reviver. I like drinks that are light and refreshing—and always shaken.
Her favorite travel drink:
You can never go wrong with tequila. Tequila and tonic—any day I could drink that.
Her signature cocktail, Spilt Milk:
There was one challenge here called Signature Serve. We had to create a cocktail that was to our ethos as well as the ethos of the bar we currently work at. I called it Spilt Milk because it’s my personal mantra: What’s the point of crying over spilt milk? What’s done is done. It was a Bulleit Rye cocktail with cherry shrub, a local Vancouver-based amaretto, house-made milk liqueur, and a little pinch of salt, some bitters, and some wedges of lemon. (Recipe here.)
Her big break cocktail, the Matriarch:
I wanted to go as outlandish as possible, so I used coconut Ciroc as my base spirit. It had matcha green tea, honey, coconut oil, and cream as well. It tasted like really delicious, melted-down green tea ice cream. I come from a family of very strong females, and my grandmother was always the matriarch of our family. About a month before I committed she passed away. She had dementia and Alzheimer’s in her later life, and green tea and coconut are both really good health benefits for your brain. I called it the Matriarch in honor of her.