Amaro Montenegro’s The Vero Bartender competition made its Australian champion Adam Lau, Grain Bar Supervisor in Sydney’s Four Seasons Hotel.
Becoming the national winner of any cocktail competition is a huge achievement, but for Lau its all the more special, being the first professional competition he’s entered. Bars&Clubs sat down with Lau before he jetted off to Italy for the global final, to hear about his approach and commitment to the bartending profession.
Originally from Hong Kong, Lau started his hospitality career as a bus boy in Melbourne when he was 19. Describing his start, Lau said: “I actually applied as a waiter but back then I didn’t really have much experience. So I had to start from scratch, start from the bottom and work my way up.”
When he realised his love for the food and beverage industry, and his desire for a career in the field, Lau started studying hospitality, which led him to placements all over the country in different capacities. But from his first taste of bartending, he knew he belonged behind the bar.
“I sort of jumped around and out of the F&B industry a little bit… I wanted to experience the rooms division path because I really like working in hotels,” Lau described. “But still, bartending was in my blood, I really loved doing it so I was still picking up a shift or two here and there… I just couldn’t let it go!”
Lau moved to Sydney specifically to work for The Four Seasons Hotel, and in January this year he transitioned across to the hotel’s Grain Bar and his current role. Listening to him describe his career path, his passion for the bar industry is undeniable.
It’s this passion that helped drive Lau to apply for The Vero Bartender. While looking for an opportunity to challenge himself further, the prospect of positively influencing the industry caught his eye.
“I don’t like the feeling of feeling comfortable, because if I’m comfortable, that means I’m not learning and I’m not moving,” Lau said.
“At the same time, when I looked at the competition I was like, this competition is not just about making a delicious cocktail, because it’s a given, but also it has a really good message behind it. It’s about human spirit, it’s about sustainability – because it’s a sharing cocktail, a drink that has to be able to share between friends.”
“I just thought that was super meaningful and Amaro Montenegro itself wants to make an impact in the industry. Also for me physically, seeing so much wastage, you know, in a bar we throw away oranges and juices every day and I think there’s something we can do about that. For the competition itself, you have to make something out of waste material… so hopefully we can start small and make an impact moving forward.”
In designing Australia’s winning The Vero Bartender cocktail, Lau thought about this essence of the competition, while also aligning with international trends in the drinks industry and highlighting the flavours that Amaro Montengro adds to a cocktail.
The cocktail, which is dubbed Te Nero, is a low ABV concoction of citrus and tea flavours, intended to honour the “perfect drink” for socialising in Hong Kong, iced tea. Lau said it’s super easy to make, with hopes for it to be replicated around the world.
Following this desire, Lau has been reaching out to other bars around the world to spread the word about what we can do here in Australia. He’s had Te Nero replicated in Singapore, Mumbai and Hong Kong, to name a few.
Lau’s now in Milan for the global final. Before leaving Australia though, he reflected on the significance of this journey.
Seeing as Melbourne was where Lau: “first picked up a shaker and started bartending… winning the competition in Melbourne means a lot to me, it brought me back to where everything started.”
“I’m super stoked, I’m still overwhelmed at the moment. It’s just super unreal because seeing all these legendary bartenders going around and making drinks, joining competitions on a global scale, that’s like me now. Amaro Montenegro has given me a chance to be able to do the same thing as these people before so it’s super amazing for me for sure,” Lau said.
Here in Australia, we’re all rooting for Lau and wish him all the best in the competition.