Interview With World Class 2023 GB Winner – Matt Arnold of Birmingham’s Passing Fancies

Matt Arnold will go on to represent Great Britain at the World Class global final in São Paulo

The epic eight month journey that has been World Class GB 2023 reached its crescendo in June, when the competition’s grand final took place at Johnnie Walker’s brand home on Princes Street, Edinburgh.

Matt Arnold – World Class GB 2023 Winner

Ten finalists took to the stage to complete two challenges which demonstrated their creative flair, personality, and incredible bartending skills. Challenge one, ‘The Singleton Social’, provided the competitors with a chance to showcase their passions and personality by creating a Singleton serve to pair with a dish created by Diageo global chef in residence, Mark Moriarty.

Challenge two, ‘Johnnie Walker Journey of Flavour’  was performed for a panel of 44 judges who embarked on a one-of-a-kind World Class twist of the Johnnie Walker Princes Street Journey of Flavour tour. This challenge was held over four floors, with five pairs of competitors posted along the tour route and tasked with creating a Highball or Old Fashioned to be assessed by the roving judges as they made their way around the building.

For the first challenge, competition winner Matt Arnold of Passing Fancies in Birmingham, combined The Singleton of Dufftown 12YO whisky, plum whey, and Aztec sweet herb to create ‘The Happy Accident’ cocktail which paired perfectly with a dish created by Mark Moriarty; cocoa pod concentrate and passion fruit caramel bon bon, timur pepper. In the Johnnie Walker challenge, Matt Arnold and Emanuele Mensah paired-up to create the “Hauf & Hauf Highball” cocktail. Focusing on the fresh flavour profile of Johnnie Walker, Matt and Emanuele worked together to create a serve that brought to life the story of the iconic whisky.

Matt very kindly set aside some time after the result was announced to speak to BarLifeUK about his World Class GB 2023 experience, and what he has learned along the way:

BLUK: Congratulations Matt, tell us about the Johnnie Walker challenge, it sounds like a unique approach for a competition final
MA: It was a challenge where we were paired-up, so the top ten were paired into five couples. I was with Lele (Emanuele Mensah) who is a very talented Lyaness bartender, and we were tasked with creating a fresh serve using Johnnie Walker Black Label. We ended up opting for a drink made solely from butternut squash, which at the start was a bit whacky, but we really just clicked, and I want to highlight that the success of that challenge is not solely mine, its 100 per cent his as well. The drink is long and refreshing, but it also mirrors the process of Johnnie Walker because when you buy squashes from the supermarket they are usually four to six months old. When they come off the vine they are green and vegetal, but they get stored in temperature and humidity-controlled warehouses to get them ready, just like whisky does, so we wanted to highlight the concept that something being fresh doesn’t necessarily mean it has been freshly-picked.

Matt Arnold, on the shoulders of giants…

BLUK: I bumped into Tommy Matthews last week (Passing Fancies Co-Owner with Matt Arnold) and he told me the whole team were travelling to Edinburgh to support you. That must have helped with any competition nerves.
MA: When we opened Passing Fancies, we didn’t do it off the back of wanting to open a business venture. We opened it because of how well we work together, we have such polarised opinions on the really important things, but they are never disagreements. We balance each other out, and I am lucky to have him and my fiancé. There was also amazing support from the city, there were watch parties where they streamed the final. Me, Katie, and Jacob (Katie Rouse, Jacob Clarke – finalists from Couch in Birmingham) talked about it before the final. Of course everyone wants to win, but we were adamant that it wouldn’t be a loss as long as the title came to Birmingham.

BLUK: As the competition progressed, was there another competitor you were especially worried about, because they were doing so well?
MA: Honestly, the other nine were incredible. It would be very difficult to pinpoint one person, because everyone had their strengths. But Lele, my partner, really surprised me with how he presents and the level of emotion he can get across to his guests, so if anyone deserves the recognition, it’s that man.

BLUK: Of all the challenges, going right back to the initial entry phase, which was the most difficult?
MA: I think it was the initial entry challenge. As bartenders we can focus on ingredients we make ourselves a little too much, but the first challenge really stripped that back and only allowed one homemade ingredient.

BLUK: Over the whole World Class process, is there something that stands out as a ‘thing’ you have learned, whether that is about yourself, or bartending?
MA: If nothing else, I have learned to allow myself to have a bit more confidence. It’s easy to get imposter syndrome in the industry, but when you are sat in front of these world-renowned people that you really look up to and they are saying ‘well done, congratulations’ it really gave me a boost. It’s fuel for (the final in) São Paulo, and I no longer feel like I’m doing this just for me. I’m doing it for the other nine competitors, and the home town of Birmingham.

BLUK: So would you recommend any bartender to enter World Class?
MA: Without a shadow of a doubt. I think it’s easy to get caught up with the word ‘competition’ and of course there is a competitive aspect. But there’s a lot more to it, this is the best networking opportunity, you create and grow, and forge relationships you wouldn’t anywhere else.

BLUK: So the final takes place in São Paulo in ninety days, how do you feel about representing Great Britain on such a big stage?
MA: The pressure is there, but I feel like I work best when the pressure is on. So of course there will be nervous excitement, but that will be the fuel for me to obsess about it until I end up just a bartender from Birmingham in Brazil.

BarLifeUK will of course be keeping a keen eye on Matt’s progress at the World Class final in Brazil, and have absolutely no doubt he will be a superb representative for Great Britain on the world stage, it would be a brave person who bet against him bringing the trophy back to Birmingham.

In the mean time, congratulations also go to the final’s Challenge Champions, who stood out to the judges by showing raw passion and skill, as well as room to benefit from mentorship over the next year to take their career to the next level. The Singleton challenge champion is Emanuele (Lele) Mensah, Lyaness, and for Johnnie Walker, Danilo Frigulti, NoMad. These two winners will join the already chosen five champions from earlier stages of the competition and enter a series of career progressing masterclasses, events, trainings and mentorship under the watchful eye of World Class GB Ambassadors, Jo Last and Pippa Guy.