THE KZN leg of the largest and most reputable bartender competition kicked off at El Toro restaurant in Durban North earlier today.

The Diageo World Class SA 2017 competition marks the search for the South Africa’s best bartender.

The competition’s regional events began in Joburg in the first week of March before moving on to Cape Town. The Durban leg of the challenge takes place today with a regional winner expected to be announced tonight.

Steve Saunders, Senior Reserve Brand Ambassador at Diageo South Africa, said: "World Class, globally, is the largest bartending competition in the world. So basically we find the best bartender here in South Africa, and that bartender then represents South Africa against 64 different countries to compete to be the best bartender in the world.

"If you look at competitions like Master Chef, it’s on that same type of level. Bartenders are now praised for what they do and given the appreciation they deserve. Whereas in the past it has always been the chef’s in the kitchen who were the big names. Now all around the world bartenders are becoming famous and they travel the world as global celebrities and World Class looks to do that."

Thirty of the country’s finest bartenders compete in their respective regional competitions. At the national finals, scheduled for later this month in Joburg, a South African mixologist will be selected to join the best bartenders from around the world to compete for the world’s coveted cocktailing prize in Mexico later this year.

Saunders explained that World Class is a global luxury drinks programme that is 100% owned by Diageo and features brands from its Reserve portfolio.

“...The programme consists of two parts; a trade cocktail competition as well as a very high end training programme.”

Diageo Reserve features a plethora of luxury spirits namely, Cîroc Vodka, Ketel One Vodka, Tanqueray No TEN Gin, Ron Zacapa Rum, Bulleit Bourbon, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Singleton of Dufftown , Singleton Tailfire, Cardhu and Don Julio Reposado Tequila throughout the competition.

Durban's El Toro restaurant is buzzing with activity as 10 mixologists from the KZN region present their best mixes to judges Tinashe Nyamaduko, Alex Farnell and Dom Walsh.

Nyamaduko is Head Sommelier and Beverage Manager at The Test Kitchen, former Sommelier at The Oyster Box hotel and Nobu restaurant at The One and Only Hotel. He holds several accolades including winner of the wine service award at the 2016 Mercedes Benz Eat Out Top 10 restaurant awards, Winner of the best wine steward 2013 Showcook Inter Hotel Challenge, and named as one of the 100 Young Independents, inspiring and aspiring leaders in 2016.

Walsh, from Molecular Bars, hails from the west of Johannesburg. He has competed on an international level numerous occasions representing South Africa in the Angostura Global Cocktail Championships in Trinidad, placing 4th globally. He represented in Mexico for the Tahona Society global finals and finally placing 15th in Diageo World Class Global Finals.

Farnel has been in the industry for just over 16 years and has traveled extensively starting from restaurants and bars as a professional mixologist and flair bartender, to managing food and beverages on a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean. He has been with Diageo for over eight years now and has moved through various roles. He is now Diageo’s National Account Manager for their luxury brands portfolio. He has also just built his own cocktail bar in his home and continues to collect, design and enjoy the fine art of bar tending.