Observations from Diageo World Class 2018 Benelux Finals

Well, the first one is easy of course, David Lebeer won for Belgium! He’ll be representing Belgium on the Global Finals hosted this year in Berlin and we wanted to create a little buzz (pun intended) here. Didn’t get the pun? Well he has a thing going on with bees and with a surname which (very) roughly translates as “the bear”, he’s probably after the honey too! And apart from David the Bear championing the BeLux Finals, there are a few more things turning this edition into a historical one for Belgium. Read on below.

The Benelux Finals this year took place in Amsterdam during the Taste Festival which resulted in an afterparty filled with spareribs and brisket drowned in bourbon sauce. I don’t know if you’ve ever had Bulleit Ribs, but you’d really have to try these. They’re a gift from heaven! Brought down by angels on a silver plate, while little cherubim drizzle the amber sauce over them! But enough about food, I’m drooling over my keyboard and the risk of electrocution is too severe.

So, beautiful Amsterdam, the venue was great. The Dutch candidates were to be judged by Dennis Tamse (Nolet Distillery), Naushad (Cocktails @ 9) and Ingmar Voerman (an excellent cocktail journalist from the Netherlands). The candidates from Belgium and Luxembourg were to be judged by the beautiful Lauren Mote (Global World Class Ambassador), Alberto Matallana (bartender at Dr.) and my humble self (from the Cocktail Nation). As I was judging the BeLux finals I can’t really write much about the Dutch competition, but I’m quite certain Ingmar will write a piece about it. Joining the jury to judge the best out of the final four competitors was none other than Nick Bril (Master Chef from The Jane).

Lauren Mote, myself and mustachioed Alberto Matallana judging some drinks


David Lebeer won! As you might have guessed from the preamble and the big picture up front. He won the jury with his disarming charisma and impeccable technique while making a twist on the Ramos Gin Fizz with honey grown on the rooftop of his bar (The Cobbler in Ghent) and Tanqueray Ten fatwashed with olive oil. A simple, straightforward recipe, but perfectly balanced. He made a strong case to protect the bees and he’s right, because without the bees it would all be(e) over soon! After his presentation he was handing out fake tattoos of bees to anybody who wanted, so the jury ended up covered in bees… Which reminds me of something actually, so here’s to you David Lebeekeeper:

David’s signature drink. Notice the bee tattoos 😉

Pho sure!

Now here’s something new: it is the first Belgian Final in which a bartender from Brussels ended up with the final four! Even better, this man made second place! Yen Pham from Yi Chan Brussels! He’s actually a chef and owns an Eastern style restaurant (Yi Chan). These guy’s drinks are actually amazing and closer to liquid kitchen than anything I’ve tasted before. His signature drink was based around Pho, which is actually kind of a Vietnamese soup. The cocktail was a real flavour bomb made with the actual stock from the Pho. So congrats to Yen and to Brussels, because we all know that BXLLES and the southern part of the country had to come a long way to the cocktail world. Seems like they’re finally there.

Yen Pham with a Pho-dispenser. Lauren actually told me that she loved Pho so much she’d use it as a perfume.


The previous thing, together with what I am about to say really made this Final a historical one: it was the first final with a bartender from Luxembourg in the top four! He’s originally from Greece and therefore owns a name which is very difficult to pronounce (Spike knows!): Nontas Sampatakos (Urban Bar). His drink F-Zine is a modern transcription of the ancient Greek philosophy of wellbeing (Eu Zein) and it was fantastic!

Our professional presenter, the amazing Spike Marchant, trying to pronounce Sampo’s name! 

Sampo has an adorable charisma, he always reminds me of a crazy alchemist. He has a very nice technique, lots of sprezzatura, warming hospitality and he’s very passionate about bartending. Also his drink was amazing! Well done Luxembourg, we’ll be seeing this guy a lot on stage I believe. Efcharisto Sampo!

Nontas the crazy alchemist!

And finally…

Let us not forget Sofian from CocktailsAt9 who also made it to the final four who blew the jury away by mixing two different cocktails and then throwing them together in a punchbowl! This guy will never cease to amaze us. Now some other observations in general:

Apparently saline solutions are very popular again whilst in the pre-finals it was all about kombucha and kvass.

Don’t use plastic squeeze bottles at competitions! They’re ugly and when the theme of your cocktail is sustainability, plastic is not done!

And lots of you used a home made vermouth and most of them were really nice, but at least put some wormwood in it and preferably have it wine based. We have to be careful calling anything fortified that contains spice a vermouth. It is already confusing enough for the greater public. That doesn’t mean they tasted bad of course, we had some great stuff at the finals. I especially remember a spiced Geuze made by Thomas which was mind blowing!

We’re just one big happy family really.

Cheers and see you in Berlin!



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