Kaitlyn is a familiar face to us. She was one of the first bartenders to sign up to be listed on our site when we launched in 2016. Six months later when we announced that we would be holding a cocktail competition in Toronto, she threw her name in the hat – even though she lives in Vancouver and would have had to pay her own way to get here to compete. We ended up randomly drawing her name. She booked her flight without hesitating and she ended up placing second in our ridiculously silly comp (let’s say there were ingredients like vegan protein powder involved). To us, this is what a truly great bartender – and human – really represents. Kaitlyn is someone who when she sees an opportunity, she grabs it. She sees potential in things and she always seems to be looking for ways to grow and improve.
We were in the room when she won World Class Canada. A look of disbelief covered her face when her name was called and once the shock wore off, she was both ecstatic and humble. We watched from our computers – like I am sure many of you did – as she competed in Mexico City for the finals in August. What we saw was an incredible woman who was professional, knowledgeable and not afraid to not only be herself but to put herself into everything that she did and created. That is World Class. And with that, here’s a little interview that we did with the 2017 World Class Bartender of the Year, Kaitlyn Stewart.
Bartender Atlas: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into bartending and how long have you been doing it?
Kaitlyn Stewart: I started working in the industry straight out of high school. Started off as a server then eventually worked my way behind the bar. It was a great job to have while in University. I never thought it would turn into a career. Once I got behind the bar, I never wanted to go back to serving. So I guess I’ve been bartending for about 11 years now.
BA: What was the moment or experience where you decided that you really wanted to make something of this “bartending thing”?
KS: I always had other jobs while bartending. It honestly probably wasn’t up until 4 years ago that I thought I could make something of this “bartending thing”. I was working with a guy named Justin Taylor, and he’s really the one who showed me a whole other side to bartending. He encouraged me to explore the storytelling and creative side to bartending. He entered me in my first competition (without my knowledge) and forced me to step outside my comfort zone. I will forever be grateful for that.
BA: Before winning World Class 2017, had you entered the competition in past years? And if you did, how far did you get those times around?
KS: I did a handful of other competitions before World Class. I always seemed to fare pretty well. Winning some, placing top three in others. But World Class was my first Global competition.
BA: As the competition progressed through some very specific challenges, where did you draw inspiration for the drinks?
KS: I try and make the “inspiration” process as organic as possible. So I draw a lot from personal experiences. Whether that be the music I listen to, my surroundings, books I’ve read. Even my cats.
BA: How much did you lean on your surrounding community while competing in World Class? How did your friends and fellow bartenders in Vancouver play a part and how did past World Class Canada winners help?
KS: Just knowing I had the support of so many bartenders across Canada was an incredible feeling. So many people reached out and offered to help. I had a few local friends/fellow bartenders come sit at my bar and taste cocktails and make suggestions. We did a mini boot camp in Vancouver before heading to Mexico City, where Grant and Shane (both past Canadian winners) and myself went through the entire challenge booklet and hashed out ideas. They also sat at my bar one night and ordered 8 cocktails at a time to test me on my speed skills. The community love did not go unnoticed.
BA: What was most challenging about participating in World Class?
KS: For me one of the most challenging part was convincing myself that I actually belonged there. I wanted to show the rest of the world what Canada had to offer, and I didn’t want to mess that up.
BA: What advice would you give to other bartenders who are thinking about entering the competition?
KS: Do it! You’ll never feel ready enough or prepared enough. Even if you don’t make it to the global finals, you have the opportunity to learn so much from your fellow bartenders. World Class has a huge sense of community. Nobody wants you to fail. One drink could change your life, and I’m living proof of that.
BA: How has your life changed since winning World Class?
KS: Well my small farm to table restaurant has turned into somewhat of a cocktail bar now. I get to do a ton of travelling and meet so many rad passionate bartenders from around the world. It still hasn’t fully sunk in yet, so ask me again in a year.
BA: Now that you have won World Class, you will be travelling a lot. Is there any place you are scheduled to visit that you have been waiting your whole life to see?
KS: I’m super excited to explore Asia. I’ve never been to Japan, so I’m hoping I’ll make it there and get to eat some incredible ramen and drink some delicious cocktails. But to be quite honest, I’m excited for every stop.
Thank you, Kaitlyn for taking the time to chat with us.