The SA BAR Awards Announce 2020’s Local Bar Industry Stars

Top image: Peter Labese @TheeGintleman

The fifth annual SA Bartending Accolades & Recognition (BAR) Awards honoured the fallen and surviving heroes of the local South Africa bar industry last night, just as the country emerges from lockdown and bars start reopening this month. 

The SA BAR Awards was held as an online event this year, with nominees and their fans experiencing the event programme through regional watch parties that brought reflection on a tough year and celebration of the exceptional talent that exists in the local drinks industry. 

Votes by a judging panel of experts resulted in a shortlist of four nominees for each category, with the ultimate winners announced on the night. The winners are:  

Cocktail Bar of the Year brought to you by The House of AngosturaThe Art of Duplicity, Cape Town
Bartender of the Year brought to you by Maker’s MarkGeorge Hunter of Copper Monkey and Saint, Joburg
High-volume Cocktail Bar of the Year  brought to you by Sir FruitHouse of Machines, Cape Town
Bar Team of the Year brought to you by CointreauVicious Virgin, Cape Town
New Cocktail Bar of the Year brought to you by Copper MonkeyVicious Virgin, Cape Town
Mobile Bar Operator of the Year brought to you by Pernod RicardMolecular Bars of Joburg
Newcomer of the Year brought to you by Roku Japanese GinTaneale van der Merwe of Joburg
Brand Ambassador of the YearJody Francis of Inverroche (2nd year running)
Hotel Bar of the Year brought to you by CovertGorgeous George, Cape Town
Media Contributor of the YearLeah van Deventer
Brand Campaign or Event of the YearInverroche Pioneers
Bartender’s Brand of Choice Award brought to you by News CafeInverroche 
International Footprint Award brought to you by Pernod RicardGeorge Hunter of Copper Monkey and Saint Johannesburg
Social Media Contributor Award brought to you by Whitley Neill Gin  Peter Labese @TheeGintleman (this is Peter’s second year running)
Mentor of the Year brought to you by InverrocheCassandra Eichhoff (2nd year running)
Pop-up Bar of the Year brought to you by Diageo World ClassCraigellachie 51
Trailblazer of the Year brought to you by Hope DistilleryBrent Perremore of The Art of Duplicity, Cape Town
Liquor Store of the Year brought to you by Johnnie WalkerNorman Goodfellows
Main Market/Local Bar of the Year brought to you by Remy MartinSmoking Kills (Drink Rum) Bar, Joburg

“The calibre of nominees this year shows the depth of talent, creativity and diversity in the South African scene,” says Travis Kuhn, director of the BAR Awards. Kuhn manages the awards alongside event industry stalwarts, Ophelia Ross-Simms, Howard Ross-Simms and Leigh Kuhn. 

“The winners have shown true dedication to their craft and customers, and we couldn’t be more excited to provide a platform that elevates the profession of bartending in this country, especially after the trying year that the industry has had.” Vicious Virgin, the bar in Wale Street, Cape Town, that walked away with the Newcomer and Team of the Year awards, sadly had to close its doors in July due to the devastating impact of the pandemic. Sadly, a fate shared by many outstanding outlets around the country.

“We know this year was very tough on the bar industry, but we also know there is so much world-class talent and craft worth supporting and protecting. For this reason, we have set up a fund from monies received from sponsors that were traditionally used for hosting our normally glamorous awards event. The fund will allow those most affected in our industry,  businesses and people who were left with little to no income during the lockdown, to apply for financial support that can hopefully help towards some relief. We are also focusing forward on ongoing initiatives to promote excellence, safety and upliftment, in order to elevate the industry for long-term success,” said Kuhn.  

Speaking to the nominees via video, several international and local industry leaders shared words of encouragement and optimism for the future. 

“The bartender, like the sommelier, adds immense value to – and in fact sets the tone for – your dining experience and that can be increased further through training,” said chef and co-owner of Marble and Saint restaurants, David Higgs.  

Ryan Pellatt, GM of the Fournews group in Johannesburg, that owns News Cafe amongst other outlets, said the pandemic highlighted a pre-existing need for higher safety and training standards in the industry. “Safety must be encouraged going forward. Improving the industry is a good thing,” he said. 

Cassandra Eichhoff, director of the European Bartender School echoed the sentiment, saying that the industry now had the chance to turn what it had learnt in 2020 into a long-term opportunity. “I propose we create an industry association or guild to help give our consumers peace of mind when it comes to the wining and dining experience by creating specific service, health and safety standards, as well as additional education to all the people working in hospitality, food and beverage sectors. This will ensure a better and safer universal hospitality experience (for patrons),” she said. 

Cassandra Eichhoff

International greats also shared words of inspiration. Global rum ambassador Ian Burrell said it was time for bartending to be viewed as a serious career and this could be achieved through training and career mentorship. Four-time world champion bartender and international trainer Marek Posluszny assured the nominees that bartending was a profession that offered great global career opportunities. Tom Dyer, director of the World Flair Association and multiple international award-winner, left the local industry with these words: “Comfort is the killer of creativity and perhaps we’ve all been a bit too comfortable. Now we must build new opportunities through creativity.”

Global cocktailian Lauren Mote said the pandemic offered a unique opportunity to connect the bartenders of the world remotely and that there was a real opportunity for online peer to peer learning. Ludgero Da Cruz, co-founder of Covert Distributions, an import boutique liquor business, echoed Mote’s suggestion, saying that prior to the pandemic, South Africa was often too much of a long-haul destination for the world’s best bartenders to regularly visit and impart knowledge to the local industry, but the pandemic has proven that the industry could connect in new ways. Legendary London barman Sly Augustin, in turn, said the pandemic brought more knowledge-sharing opportunities to local industries. “Covid has brought everyone a broad platform and levelled the global playing field to a great extent.” 

Philip Duff, of Old Duff Genever, said alcohol brands needed to support bartenders with product and mixology training, while bartenders could return the favour through advocacy, innovative mixology and feedback on products. Finally, Salvatore Calabrese (aka “The Maestro”) sent well-wishes all the way from Italy’s Amalfi Coast and encouraged industry brands and stars to work together to advance the industry.