Chicago can now proudly lay claim to the world's best bartender. Charles Joly of The Aviary just took home the title from the Diageo World Class, an esteemed cocktail competition that culminated in London. Naturally, I wanted to know what it's like competing on an international scale, what it's like working at The Aviary, and how he got into the bottled cocktail game.
When did you first know you wanted to pursue mixology as a career?
Just prior to opening the Drawing Room around 2007, I met a woman named Bridget Albert. She would become a mentor and friend showing me the possibilities in the world of spirits and cocktails. The guests' expectation for what they are drinking has become equal to that of food, allowing for us to dedicate ourselves as spirit and cocktail professionals in the same vein as chefs.
What has been the most memorable work lesson or experience for you?
This career teaches you to read people. Guests come to bars for every reason imaginable. It is your job to be a host at a party being thrown every night. You learn to know when someone wants conversation or personal space. You can determine an appropriate cocktail based on disarming conversation and can really customize to personalities. It's like you're giving out hundreds of little gifts every night.
What has been the most rewarding moment (or moments)?
Being able to contribute to the culinary and beverage landscape of Chicago is immensely rewarding. I'm born and raised in the city with deep pride for my hometown. I love to be an ambassador for us. Being able to continually help show the nation and the globe our unique, world-class approach to hospitality, food, cocktails and more is amazing to me.
What are bartender competitions like? How do you prepare for something like that?
Different competitions require different approaches. My most recent win for Global World Class bartender was over five days with nine challenges from food pairing, to speed, to classics, written exams, blind tastings and more. The common thread is hospitality. Anyone can learn to make a cocktail, but the love of hospitality is intangible and has to be driven by passion. If you treat the judges as you would guests, you're off on the right foot.
What is it like working at The Aviary and why do you feel that is a good fit for you?
The Aviary program is unique among cocktail bars the world over. It's the result of when a world-class chef decides to open a cocktail bar. That being said, the guest always comes first and the flavor and balance of the cocktails are paramount. We have the amazing opportunity of only being limited by our imaginations.
How would you describe Chicago's cocktail scene?
Chicago has a vibrant and diverse cocktail culture. From spots like the Aviary, to tiki, to gin bars, whiskey as far as the eye can see, great neighborhood spots and more. You can spend a week touring our liquid offerings.
Aside from The Aviary, where else do you like to go for cocktails in Chicago?
Too many to list! Scoflaw, Billy Sunday, Analogue, Longman and Eagle, Big Star, Bar Deville, Maria's, Barrel House, Sepia, Three Dots, Berkshire, Celeste, Drum Bar ... There is no shortage of quality drinks.
What brought about Crafthouse Cocktails and why do you deem this movement in bottled cocktails important for consumers?
We started Crafthouse Cocktails to give people a high-quality, balanced and delicious option when they were enjoying a drink outside of their favorite bar. We wanted to give a cocktail option you could be proud to serve your friends in lieu of a craft beer or glass of wine. We work with local distilleries for our base spirits (except for the tequila of course) and don't use any preservatives or anything artificial. These are a refined choice when your favorite barkeep isn't around.