In 2015, Dosa Ivanov went up against 64 of the best bartenders from around the world and walked away on top. It was no easy feat.
When you are fighting for the title of champion, making a gin and tonic involves a bit more than mixing the two ingredients together.
“[Anyone] can do a really good cocktail, but it’s really hard to make a pleasant ambience,” said Mr Ivanov, who was named World Bartender of the Year at the International Bartenders Association World Cocktail Championships four years ago and took top prize for Best Long Drink with his creation, Grand Horizon.
“You need fresh juices; you have to drink local, think local. But the way to make it stand out is how you present the cocktail — if you do it with passion and heart and explain the flavour profile. I think it’s really nice if you have taste, aroma and smell.”
It is a mindset the Swedish champion put in play last weekend at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club’s restaurant Marcus’, where his Bermuda-inspired cocktails were served.
“This is my first time here,” said Mr Ivanov, a bar manager at the Clarion Post Hotel in Sweden where Marcus Samuelsson, the celebrity chef, opened Norda Bar & Grill in 2012.
“Me and Marcus are from the same town and we’ve been working at my hotel in Gothenburg in [his restaurant] and done some events together. He asked if I would come to Bermuda and I said, ‘Of course, I would love to come’.
“I’m really happy to be here sharing my ideas and trying to inspire fellow bartenders and get inspiration myself.
“A couple of years ago I was proud to say I knew how to make 150, 200 cocktails. Today I would say I know 20; I would like to do 20 really good rather than 100 mediocre. It’s always important to stop to learn new things, new flavours, new ingredients, new trends.”
He got his start at 16 working as a busboy in a restaurant.
“In the beginning it was more the hospitality — taking care of the guests, making them feel comfortable and creating a nice ambience. I was working on weekends, washing dishes, waiting tables and so on and I really enjoyed being in the bar. I really liked the creative part of it, making cocktails and exploring new flavours.”
On completing culinary school in Norway in 1993, Mr Ivanov took a bartending course. His performance did not give a hint as to what was to come.
“I was not at the top of my class, I don’t know if I was even in the middle,” he said. “But I liked the trade, the craftsmanship of it.”
He then became a member of the Swedish Bartenders’ Association and started to compete.
“The first time I was nervous like hell, but in a strange way I really liked it,” he said.
“I’m really glad I did it. I continued to compete and meet other bartenders, which was good for networking and exchanging ideas, which I think is really important for the trade.”
In 2014, he represented Sweden at the IBA WCC in South Africa and placed eighth. In Bulgaria the following year, he took the grand prize, combining 30 millilitres Angostura 1999, 30ml Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge, 20ml spicy syrup flavoured with cinnamon, 20ml peach purée, 40ml cloudy apple juice and 10ml fresh lime juice to make his winning drink.
“I took a couple months to create the Grand Horizon,” he said. “I started to explore flavours and see what worked. It was a long process. I was not satisfied with it in the beginning, but I tried it on family and friends and got a lot of good feedback.
“Sixty-five nations were competing and I was nervous like hell. It means a big deal [to represent your country]. Everyone was so talented and all the cocktail creations were amazing. Mine stood out, the judges liked it.”
The story behind Grand Horizon added points to his score, Mr Ivanov said.
“We had a presentation before the judges to pitch it, which involved a lot of storytelling. My inspiration was the satellite Nasa sent to Pluto, New Horizons,, in 2015. I named [the drink] Grand Horizon because on that satellite were the ashes of [Clyde Tombaugh] who discovered Pluto [in 1930]. So when he circled around Pluto he [finally] had a grand horizon.”
The win changed the bartender’s life “dramatically”. “There was a lot of TV and radio interviews; lots of journalists. I got jobs in Europe judging competitions, there were lectures and trying to inspire young bartenders and, a lot of people came to my bar and asked for the Grand Horizon. I was really happy with that.”
As for his favourite tipple, it’s a whiskey sour.
“I like a refreshing cocktail and a bourbon cocktail suits me really well,” Mr Ivanov said.
Mix Master: Dosa Ivanov’s Raspberry and Liquorice Daisy
4cl Gosling’s Gold Seal
3cl raspberry cordial
3cl lemon juice
2cl egg white
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake, and then shake with ice and strain. Pour into an old-fashioned glass and add a splash of soda water on top. Garnish with a lemon twist and liquorice sprinkle.