Each year, the Diageo World Class Canada competition celebrates the craft and evolution of cocktail culture, and today we are raising a glass to Jacob Martin from Bar Banane on Ossington and Dundas in Toronto for bringing home the championship title. We chatted with Jacob to learn more. —Noa Nichol
Hi Jacob! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start
In some ways it’s hard to know where to begin. I am the son of two contemporary dancers turned scientists, born and raised protestant to be an opera singer in North York. Skip forward a few years and I fell in love with a girl at a cheese counter named Dianna that would set my life down a culinary tailspin. While I would eventually attend Queens/UofT for food history and Psychology, my passion for working with products and people pulled me back into the industry. Before long, I had my own specialty teams, cheese catering business, and was opening cheese counters around Ontario. After I hit 10,000hrs in the cheese industry I was admitted as one of the youngest members of the American Cheese Society, and graduated as the youngest American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional in North America. My transition to bartending was more or less by accident. Wholefoods was purchased by Amazon, and I lost the majority of my specialty products overnight as the company was consolidated into a more corporate model. All of the sudden I lost my autonomy to do my life’s work and I left a few weeks later to start a cheese programme at an up and coming restaurant called Hexagon. While pushing my cheese cart around a marble clad dining room I saw this guy, Jared Boller, mixing magic and I was star struck. I never saw someone so fast and so professional who just had this natural charisma. Right away I gave up the cheese life and followed him headfirst into some of the best bars in the city. Over three years I traveled around the world working in the bars and restaurants of my dreams, only to return to Toronto 2 years ago and open up Bar Pompette with Maxime Hoerth and Hugo Togni, who in my opinion are the very best bartenders in the Toronto game right now. They gave me the tools to find a level I didn’t know was possible and that’s what I brought to the competition. Now you can find me doing my own thing at Bar Banane but I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people who trained me along the way.
Congrats on bringing home the championship title at Diageo’s 10th annual WORLD CLASS CANADA Bartender of the Year 2023 competition. What does this achievement mean to you?
More king crab and more daiquiris. Just kidding. In some regards the possibility of winning in my first year never seemed realistic, so I deliberately chose not to size the ramifications while competing. However, reflecting on the past week has served as a potent reminder that the real work has just begun. I have always wanted to be in the creative drivers seat and produce the best drinks I am capable of. That said, in many ways I am still a beginner. My ultimate hope is to leverage this opportunity to learn from the best in the world, and transpose those lessons for my team and bar back in Toronto.
What was the competition like? What did it involve? How were you challenged? What did you create to secure the win?
I can only think to describe the World Class as an incredibly elegant three alarm fire, with marathon intensity, and consistent breaks for steak. For example, our first day of competition started at 8:00 am (which is 4 a.m. for cocktail bartenders) and ended at 10 p.m. after just over 14 hrs of straight back to back challenges. The pace is genuinely herculean, and your skill sets need to be wildly diverse. Thankfully, everyone who showed up to compete was a complete gem. We all competed as one big team, helping one another through the challenges, and working collaboratively to develop ideas and put out fires. On day one we completed four challenges, an improvisational Ketel One check in challenge, a Johnny Walker storytelling challenge, a whisky tasting, and a Tanq 10/ Seedlip garden party with over 100 attendees. You’re constantly being tested on presenting skills, as well as raw bartending ability and time management. The following two days were more spread out, with a Don Julio market challenge, where we had $100 dollars to shop for a Don Julio cocktail in Granville Island market, and Ketel one closed loop sustainability challenge on our third day. For me the biggest challenge was stepping out from behind my home bar and bringing my skills to a foreign city. I am not a competitor by nature, but I love to push my skills to their natural limit, and I find the best way to do that is to seek out the best in your industry and compete alongside them. World class was an excellent example of this, and I am so grateful to have made those friendships along the way. In so far as securing the win. I just focused on flavours and techniques that make sense to me with a clear sense of storytelling. Most of my drinks such as my Ketel One Mcintini, a vodka, calvados, apple core sherry, and clarified apple cordial are really just love letters to trashy drinks from the mid 90s. Other drinks such as my Cranachan Johnny Walker carbonated milk punch, a combination of cream, raspberries, burnt cereal, and camomile tea were inspired by my team and their Scottish heritage. Every drink I make is a little thesis or love letter to something or someone I care about.
You’re now off to represent Canada at the Diageo WORLD CLASS GLOBAL competition in Sao Paulo, Brazil this September. How are you feeling about this next step?
Controlled panic haha. No, honestly my mindset is the same as it was going into the Canadian National. Make delicious drinks, show my love of the craft, laugh and cry with a bunch of strangers covered in lime juice and bourbon. I have a fanatic devotion to my team and my country, and I want to show the world what Toronto bartenders are made of.
Where does your passion for cocktails come from? How do you continue to innovate in your trade?
My passion for cocktails is really just an extension of my passion for food liquified and blended with booze. Bars have this unique power to be a place of elation and mourning. It is rare to find venues in society where you can wear your emotions on your sleeve without pretense or judgment and enjoy genuine gastronomy while dealing with the little victories and tragedies of life. Innovation in bartending is a funny thing. There is really no limit to how far you can push your imagination and develop drinks, but there are clear limits to what your clientele will drink. Obviously I can sous vide moonshine with meteorites, and put it in a nitro siphon with buffalo milk, and call it a “Space Bison Ramos” but my guests fundamentally don’t want that (unless they do in which case I am so down). So instead, my form of innovation is working within clear parameters instead of outside of them. In big cities there are thousands of ingredients, techniques and spirits at your fingertips, so much so that the sheer magnitude of choice can sometimes be an impediment. What I desire is to focus on the simplicity of ingredients and build drinks that naturally compliment them.
How will you prepare for the global competition in Brazil this coming fall?
Busy nights and long days. Preparing for any test is always the same. Practice and review, practice and review. The only difference this time around is that I have some of the best bartenders in the world helping me refine my skills, and the support of Diageo Canada who has given me so much love and support I can hardly believe it. Working bar is profoundly humbling. There are so many incredible bartenders in this city and I look forward to leaning on them so we can bring home the global win.
What’s your all-time favorite drink? Can you recommend a good cocktail recipe we can all stir up at home?
All time favourite is a Chartreuse Swizzle. A super simple combination of fresh pineapple juice, green chartreuse, spiced falernum, and lime juice. My preferred recipe:
- 60ml Green Chartreuse
- 60ml Fresh Pressed Pineapple Juice
- 22.5ml Fresh Lime
- 15ml Falernum
Combine ingredients in a double collins glass (at least 10oz), mound with crushed ice. Dilute cocktail with swizzle stick or bar spoon, mixing the spirits and ice until the desired dilution is reached. Garnish with pineapple fronds and a long barber pole straw.
A note on Falernum, which is a spiced rum based syrup. While this can be purchased it is far better to make your own. I like this recipe from Punch.com
- 240ml Over Proof Rum (I like wray and Nephews)
- 40 Cloves
- 10 zested limes
- 100grms Fresh Ginger fine grated
- ¼ Fresh grated nutmeg
Combine and let sit for 24hrs, Mix in a 2:1 ratio of Rich simple syrup (400grms sugar to 200grms water) to Falernum. Enjoy!