Words by: Simon Difford
Back in 1997 when I started writing about cocktail culture, the most important bartending competition was the Martini Grand Prix. This was a truly international competition and the one that every top bartender wanted to win. The competition was relaunched in style on 7th May 2015 in Barcelona with the 2015 final held in Milan on the 13th October.
Martini Grand Prix is one of the longest standing cocktail competitions, celebrating its 46th edition in 2016. It is a skill and knowledge based competition aimed at the international bartending community encouraging the exploration and development of the concept of Aperitivo.
The history of this esteemed bartenders' competition dates back to the 1960's and a man at Martini & Rossi called Pier Luigi Paissa. As Italians recovered from the austerity of WWII and the post-war cocktail boom started, Paissa forged links with the rapidly growing bartending community. He became something of an ambassador for the industry, and in 1949 contributed to the foundation of the Associazione Italiana Marman e Sostenitori (AIBES) and the International Bartender's Association two years later. Paissa passed away in 1965 and the next year Martini launched a bartender's competition called the Pensiero Paissa Award in his memory. What started as an Italian competition turned into an international competition and in 1982, became known as the Martini Grand Prix. Given Martini's long history in Motorsport, it seems an eminently appropriate name for a cocktail competition today.
The Aperitivo hour, actually a few hours, in the late afternoon and early evening, is part of Italian culture. After a hard day's work, Italians head to the bar to enjoy one or two cocktails on their way home with friends. These tend to be relatively low in alcohol and are usually accompanied by small bite size snacks that won't ruin the drinker's appetite for the dinner that will follow later that evening. Martini Vermouth is one of the most used ingredients in these Aperitivo cocktails and with the trend for Aperitivo spreading around the world, it is fitting that the Martini Grand Prix Cocktail Competition centres around the Aperitivo experience.
Manolis Lykiardopolous, 2016 Martini Grand Prix Champion
Walter Gosso, 2015 Martini Grand Prix Champion