Man making cocktails behind the bar
Dylan Brentwood

Meet Canada’s finalist for 2024’s The Vero Bartender Competition

Halifax bartender Dylan Brentwood’s inventive Amaro Montenegro cocktail stole the show.

The results are in, and bartender Dylan Brentwood is the winner of Canada’s national qualifier for Amaro Montenegro’s 2024 The Vero Bartender competition. Brentwood’s winning cocktail “Dem Apples”, which features Peychaud’s bitters, Smith & Cross rum washed with cheddar popcorn, caramel apple soda and Amaro Montenegro, cemented his spot representing Canada at the upcoming The Vero Bartender Competition global final in Bologna, Italy.

“I’ve been jonesing for a national title for a minute now, so this feels really good,” says Brentwood, who accepted his crystal trophy to the sounds of thunderous cheering and Smash Mouth’s 1999 hit ‘All Star’, an ode to the ‘90s theme of the competition. Brentwood is a native of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and is bar director of Bar Kismet  in Halifax. He’s been refining his mixology skills at other bars and restaurants, such as French bistro Le Swan in Toronto, and will now go on to compete against 9 other professional bartenders at The Vero Bartender global final in Europe on April 10.

Man holding crystal trophy
Dylan Brentwood

The Vero Bartender mixology competition was launched by Amaro Montenegro in 2018, with bartenders from countries around the world competing in national qualifying rounds before going on to chase the global championship. The winner will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Bar Convent Brooklyn, a New York trade conference). Each year’s tournament has a different theme – such as “Twist on Classics” or “Sharing Cocktails.” 2024’s theme is “‘90s Calling,” a tribute to the decade that saw the creation of iconic drinks like the Cosmopolitan, Long Island Iced Tea and Tequila Sunrise. As Tad Carducci, Director of Outreach and Engagement for Montenegro, explains, the competition is an invaluable way for Amaro Montenegro to stay on top of trends and nurture up-and-coming mixologists. “It’s so important to support young talent like this,” he says.

man in pink room with microphone
Tad Carducci, Director of Outreach and Engagement for Montenegro

For Josh Lindley, the co-founder of Bartender Atlas, an online worldwide directory of bartenders, the competition offers a unique opportunity to see how bartenders interpret the spirit of a decade they may not remember. “As someone who actually lived through the nineties, it’s been so fun and interesting to see all these young bartenders who may not have even been alive then present their take on the decade. And so many of them nailed it so accurately,” he says.

cocktail and bottle of liqueur on bar with man standing behind bar

At the centre of the competition is the celebrated Amaro Montenegro, Italy’s number one premium amaro. Born in Bologna, Italy in 1885, Amaro Montenegro has stood the test of time. One of the world’s best bittersweet liqueurs, Amaro Montenegro is a favourite of internationally renowned bartenders for its versatility and approachable flavour profile. For Brentwood, a ‘90s baby and long-time fan of Amaro Montenegro, it was easy to make the premium amaro the star of his cocktail. “I’m not joking when I tell you that it’s my favourite amaro; it’s my wife’s favourite amaro,” he says about the smooth-tasting liqueur, which is crafted from a secret blend of 40 botanicals and has hints of citrus, floral and herbs. With a balanced 23% ABV, Amaro Montenegro is delicious, neat or on the rocks, and in inventive cocktails just like Brentwood’s.

cocktail and bottle of Montenegro on bar
“Dem Apples” winning cocktail

Brentwood’s “Dem Apples” cocktail pays tribute to the contest’s theme by memorializing his favourite memories from the nineties. He recalls watching movies and eating junk food, which is represented by the rum washed with cheddar popcorn and the caramel apple soda in his drink. The elegant layers of botanicals in Amaro Montenegro add a final touch of sophistication.

Ultimately, Brentwood, who’s competed in several mixology challenges, like the World Class Canada Bartending Competition, distinguished himself by staying cool and calm under the pressure. “All of the contestants were so talented, but Dylan really just has the edge of a practiced competitor, and it’s what set him apart today,” says Lindley.

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