Five countries, one World Class List of drinks
Carey Watkins, presenter of a new travel show exploring cocktail culture around the world talks about his trip of a lifetime
Presenting World Class List was advertised as a dream job – and it really was. The idea of travelling around the world tasting cocktails and meeting the people behind them was incredible, and it was a no-brainer for me to audition for the role. Food and drink have always been a passion of mine, so to be able to talk to the world's best bartenders about the craft and skills behind the drinks was fascinating.
We travelled to five cities – Sydney, Taipei, Barcelona, San Francisco and Mexico City. I'm Australian and know Sydney well. Actually, it was quite funny because I ended up knowing everyone that we were filming with. But apart from there and San Francisco, I hadn't been to any of the cities before. What was particularly interesting was the way I got to experience them for the first time by being shown around by the bartender from that city, allowing me to live like a local for the week.
On the surface, the cocktail culture in those places is very different but, when you delve deeper, you start to see the similarities, and wherever you go the bartenders have the same passion for what they do. Most of the places they took me to were full of like-minded people who had dedicated their lives to food and drink. Their commitment went so much deeper than just simply making a drink; even the very last garnish would be used to create a new smell or other experience. At the end of every visit, each bartender created a special drink that summed up my time in the city and represents the place to them, and the thought and love that went into these creations was amazing.
Before this experience, I never realised how much of an art form mixology was and, just like chefs, bartenders experiment with so many different ingredients for both aesthetic and flavour reasons. In Taipei, where there is a very strong tea culture, I went to a plantation with Nick Wu; his family grew up farming tea so it features in a lot of his drinks. Elsewhere, Adriana Chia, who I met in Barcelona, focused instead on using saffron and other spices. The most surprising thing for me were the little details, such as how much it matters what size ice they used (it waters the mix down) or the shape of the shaker (some put more air into the drink than others).
Beyond the food and drink, we had some amazing experiences. There were a couple of times when we were woken up at the crack of dawn and left the hotel at 4am to watch the sunrise. The most awestruck I'd been the whole time we were away was when we hiked up a hill to a monastery just outside Barcelona – I'd never seen a sunrise like that. Then we did the same thing in San Francisco near the Golden Gate Bridge, and it was really interesting for me to talk to the bartenders as we were watching the sun go up and looking over their home city.
It has definitely changed the way I look at cocktails. I've always loved to go out to bars, but now I don't mind waiting a little bit longer and paying a bit extra for a really good drink. The biggest change, however, has been at home. Instead of grabbing a bottle of wine, I will text Andrew Meltzer – who guided me around San Francisco – and say 'my girlfriend and I are having salmon tonight – what should we have with it?' And he will recommend something. How many times have you been to a dinner party where you are eating delicious or really expensive food and people turn up with cheap and basic drinks? Just like cooking, drinking is based on the same principles: use good ingredients and take time and care to make the drink and it enhances everything.
CAREY WATKINS is an LA-based musician. He was selected out of hundreds to present World Class List, which will be screened on Amazon Prime. The series sees him explore cocktail culture around the world, guided by winners from Diageo Reserve's World Class Bartender of the Year competition. Diageo Reserve consists of an award-winning portfolio of luxury spirits, including Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Ciroc, Don Julio, Bulleit, Tanqueray No.10, Ketel One vodka, Zacapa and a fine collection of single malts; makeitworldclass.com