As published in www.stuff.co.nz on 12 May 2015. Read more on Stuff.co.nz about the great work NZMA hospitality graduate Sai Hamsala is doing.
Sai Hamsala turned his back on the nine to five lifestyle.
He was studying to become an engineer but threw it all in to work behind a bar. "They are worlds apart, those two careers," he says.
"But I'm a people person. I tried to do that nine to five thing but I couldn't. I love being here, talking to people, finding the drink for them and coming up with new recipes."
The 28-year-old was crowned World's Best Bartender in the Diplomatico tournament in Venezuela in April.
The Auckland resident had to test his theory, senses and creativity against 27 of the best bartenders from around the world before walking away as brand ambassador for the rum company and with US $10,000.
He started entering competitions as a way to make a name for himself. "You want to be a landmark that people come to for your cocktails."
But the bar manager at Scarlett Slimms & Lucky in the Auckland suburb of Mt Eden says it's not as easy to do that as it once was with bartenders stepping up their game. "It's all about molecular mixology. The new crazy things they do with food, well we implement those techniques with cocktail making."
But he says at the end of the day, fancy ingredients and intricate techniques mean nothing.
"A good cocktail is one that any person can go into a bar anywhere in the world and order. It has to be replicable."
Hamsala stores hundreds of recipes in his head to whip out on demand. But he says it is impossible to pick what a person will drink when they walk in the door "That is a myth. Not unless they are a regular anyway. A bartending secret is to use a few broad questions to narrow down what the person is really looking for."
He says he has been left scrambling a few times. "A girl came in and asked me if I knew my cocktails. I said I wasn't bad so she asked for a vieux carre. I hadn't made one in years."
He says the job does have it's drawbacks - mostly New Zealand's binge drinking culture.But he says he works hard to educate people on the art of drinking.
"Some people come in with that mindset to get smashed, asking for those types of drinks and we will say: 'Look you can have this sophisticated drink for the same price, sit down, enjoy it, take your time and talk to your friends," he says.
"Drinks are made to enjoy not abuse."
So what would he suggest you try this weekend? Order a negroni or a martinez - Hamsala says these drinks are becoming more popular.
Photos by Rose Cawley.