Canada crowned winner of Altos Tequila sustainability comp

Vancouver bartending duo Alex Black and Makenzie Chilton have been crowned the winners of the inaugural Altos Tequila Tahona Society Collective Spirit competition.

Canadian duo Alex Black and Makenzie Chilton celebrate winning the inaugural Tahoma Society Collective Spirit competition

Taking place last week in Guadalajara, Mexico, faced with tough competition from 14 other global competitors, the Canadian duo won a US$50,000 grant that will go into helping develop their Mind The Bar project – a mental health initiative providing information and support to the hospitality and bartending community in Vancouver. The pair are hoping to scale the project up to become an international franchise.

In the 9th year of the Tahona Society, this is the first time the format has broken away from a classic cocktail competition, replacing the shaking and stirring with a sustainable business pitch that serves to benefit the wider bar tending community.

Fifteen countries made the final stage of the competition, with attendees flying in from as far as China, with bartenders from South Africa, Singapore, the US, Bulgaria, Belarus, Latvia, the UK, Finland, France, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Mexico also taking part.

Common themes centered around recycling, ways to minimise waste through closed loop waste disposal methods, supporting local farmers and their families, innovative in-bar herb garden creations, and several mental health initiatives, notably from the US and Canada.

During the competition, Black, who works at Vancouver bar Wildebeest, spoke candidly about his own recent struggles with mental health, illustrating the wider issue within his pitch with the use of a lightbulb set to flash once every 40 seconds – the frequency in which somebody in the world will take their life.

Black and Chilton were overcome with emotion on being announced as winners

He cited the total economic burden of depression as US$240 billion a year, adding that there is a “250% return on investment for every dollar spent on suicide prevention.”

Chilton, a mental health advisor and former prison-worker, helped to write the Canadian Suicide Prevention Policy. “We’re going to save lives”, she said when asked how the prize money will be spent.

Over a challenging four days, each of the finalist teams gained one-to-one mentoring from four participating judges – Kirén Miret, executive producer of Mexico’s Shark Tank; Valerie Kramis, social entrepreneurship expert and co-founder of Design Studio Agenda 28, international spirits guru Dre Masso – co-founder of Altos Tequila; and marketing specialist Christophe Prat, vice president of House of Tequila.

The bartenders also attended seminars from speech coach Luis Antonio Espino (advisor and speech-writer to high profile public figures in Mexico), and finished with a Sustainable Bar 101 presentation by Trash Tiki founders Ian Griffiths and Kelsey Grammer – winner of the Tahona Society competition in 2016.

The finalists were encouraged to paticipate in mindfulness workshops and a yoga class, which took place on the morning of the pitch process.

Carlos Ramirez, advocacy and hospitality manager for Altos Tequila, who came up with the new competition format, said: “We are a community of bartenders founded by bartenders. They are our main stakeholders so, we need to consider what can we do for them.”

Unlike chefs, he added, there is often a “less clearly defined career path” for bartenders, and less access to social security benefits, holiday entitlement and other necessary support that more traditional careers offer as standard.

This is a sentiment echoed by Dre Masso, who in his competition pep talk mentioned having been continually asked, despite his international success, when he was planning on finding ‘a real job’.

Altos Tequila was initially founded nine years ago by Masso and the late Henry Besant, who died from a heart attack five years ago.

Besant was represented at the competition by his three younger brothers, who presented the first Henry Besant Scholarship to Mexican bartender Adrián Lopéz.

Lopéz received US$10,000, which he he intends to spend on learning English and travelling to the UK to work at the soon-to-launch ‘FAM’ bar in Bar Termini’s former Duke Street site.

Altos Tequila is part of House of Tequila, a division of Pernod Ricard. The drinks giant appointed Christophe Prat as its vice president last year.

Prat intends to grow Altos Tequila’s production to 1 million cases a year, despite the ongoing challenge of the agave shortage in Mexico.

One Response to “Canada crowned winner of Altos Tequila sustainability comp”

  1. Richard T Davidson says:

    Absolutely incredible accomplishment put together by an unbelievable group of very dedicated and wonderful people.
    Kudos to Alex and Makenzie for their winning presentation for “Mind the Bar”,
    A great start.
    Now the work begins!

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