In Japan on October 31 I attended the 2011 Suntory "The Cocktail Award," the finals of Japan's largest cocktail competition with about 1000 entrants. As you can see in the photo below, the awards were a big production.
At this competition, the 18 finalists competed in three groups. Each of the groups used a different required ingredient in their drink (Lejay Cassis, Beefeater Gin, or Hibiki 12). A winner was chosen from each group and an overall winner was chosen from those three.
The contest was held and judged by IBA (International Bartender's Association) rules. These are very formal rules- bartenders present bottles before pouring each ingredient, wipe the bottles after pouring, stir each container of juice before using, etc. Bartenders use a little touch of flair but it's still all very formal less they lose points for messiness.
Bartending in Japan is pretty formal anyway, and despite its new popularity in the US and around the world the drinks aren't at all similar to how they are made in the US and especially dissimilar to contest drinks. Most bartenders shook their drinks and I didn't see any bitters being used at all. The drinks are heavy on flavored liqueurs, and as I learned in the Japanese bartending seminar I attended last year, drink color is important and blue is not considered a bad color.
In Japan they use cobbler shakers - the three piece ones with the built-in strainer- so they hold the shaker with two hands (so the cap won't fly off) and every bartender puts their own spin on the shake. It would be cool to have a video of Japanese shaking styles versus American. Our big, flailing, overhead gesticulating versus their frontal, short, angular, piston-like movements.
Each of these drinks had a tiny piece of gorgeous garnish. To save time in the competition, they only put it on one of the drinks they made out of the four or so they had to produce for the judges.
The winning bartender from each of the three groups gets a cash prize and will visit the US on a trip where hopefully Japanese and American bartenders will learn from each other.
This year's winner was Masako Ikegami of Bar Shake in Ginza, Tokyo. Not only did a woman win the overall contest, but all four women of the 18 finalists won either first or second runner-up.
By Masako Ikegami of Bar Shake
Hibiki 12yo 30ml
HERMES Green Tea liqueur 15ml
Mozart chocolate Cream 10ml
Fresh cream 5ml