Adrián became a bartender by chance – now he's a world champion
He was supposed to become a world champion. In ice hockey. Instead, he became the world's best cocktail maker.
"I think many people underestimate the importance of the quality of the ice cubes in creating the perfect cocktail."
"You can have the finest ingredients and the most expensive spirits in the world, but that won't help if you have the wrong shape of ice cubes."
"If the ice melts too quickly or incorrectly, it can ruin the perfect drink," explains Adrián Michalčík enthusiastically.
– "And of course, the bartender is very important as well," he adds with a big smile.
The 33-year-old bartender knows what he's talking about. He is the "director of mixology" at the boutique hotel Amerikalinjen in Oslo and its award-winning cocktail bar Pier 42.
Moreover, he won the title of the world's best bartender at the prestigious Diageo World Class Global Bartender of the Year competition in 2022. Inside the industry, the competition is better known as the world championship for bartenders.
Adrián says that the competition starts with around 10,000 participants from all over the world, which is quickly reduced to 50 finalists.
Over the course a few intense days behind the bar, the finalists must complete a series of tasks that showcase their skills, creativity, and knowledge of the profession. Last year's competition was held in Sydney, Australia.
"It was absolutely incredible to win. There were months of preparation, trial and error."
"I had planned everything down to the smallest detail - from what I was going to serve to the music and the outfit I would be wearing," smiles the bartender, impeccably dressed in a beige blazer, white shirt, and tie.
Was supposed to be a pro hockey player
Despite his world championship title, the Slovakian reveals that it was pure coincidence that led him to end up behind the bar. Originally, he was a professional hockey player in his hometown of Zvolen, and it was on the ice that he intended to earn his living. The plan was to study sports and combine this with a hockey career, but when he discovered that the application deadline for the sports school had already passed, he had to come up with something new.
"Plan B was art school, but the deadline had expired there too. Economics studies were too boring, so I chose hotel and tourism studies. It was fun from day one, and we got to try our hand at various aspects of hotel management - in the reception, in the kitchen, alongside the hotel director. But I liked the bar the best."
What is so attractive about a bar?
"There's just something magical about it. The atmosphere, the lighting, the mood. A bar is a social gathering place where you meet all kinds of people, in all kinds of moods. It's a place to unwind after a long day at work, to celebrate with good friends, or just to be alone and enjoy a drink. I was completely captivated and fascinated by all the possibilities in flavours, combinations, and everything else. It stole my heart at first sight," he reminisces.
It gradually became difficult to combine a tough sports career with studies, and he eventually hung up his skates. He spent a few years behind the bar in his home country before moving on to Prague in the Czech Republic.
Despite having worked at some of the biggest venues in Slovakia, it was in the Czech capital that Adrián truly discovered the art form of mixology. After working as an instructor at various bar schools and as a bartender at some of the more traditional party bars in the city, he landed a job at the renowned cocktail bar L'Fleur in 2015.
"It was my first 'proper' bartending job. The bar had over 700 different types of spirits, 250 different types of champagne, countless cocktail recipes... I was sure I would get fired within a month. They would quickly realise I had no clue," laughs the 33-year-old.
But Bacchus, Methe, and the other gods of drink had other plans. Perhaps it was due to his sporting background and winning mentality, but Adrián started to truly study mixology. He wanted to become the best. After work, he read all the books and articles about alcohol he could find and studied recipes and techniques. The following year, he was named the Czech Republic's best bartender.
"It all happened incredibly quickly. Three months after that victory, I placed 6th in the Diageo World Class Global Bartender of the Year in 2016. It was pure madness," he says, still humble about his rapid ascent to the top.
Oslo has become a centre for food and drink
The sixth-place finish in the competition he would later win turned out to be a gateway to the rest of the world. His strong performance gave him a spot at other competitions, and he was invited to teach courses and give lectures, including in Oslo in 2017. There, he met Norwegian bartender Chris Grøtvedt, who was the manager at The Thief. The two quickly became good friends. After a summer evening with a few too many tasty cocktails, there was suddenly a job offer on the table, followed by a handshake. Two months later, Adrián had packed up everything and moved to Oslo.
"I've always liked Scandinavia, especially Norway. Incredible nature, friendly people, and beautiful architecture. I love it."
Adrián quickly adds:
"Also, over the past six or seven years, Oslo and Norway have become a real food and drink paradise. There are numerous world-class restaurants and bars. The city is very multicultural and has many influences from different countries and traditions. It's incredibly fun."
The bartender was involved in opening the successful speakeasy ISM in the Norwegian capital. He worked there for just over two years before moving on to Amerikalinjen and Pier 42 when the hotel opened in March 2019. At Strawberry, he has been able to develop both himself and new cocktails, as well as Pier 42. The bar has twice been named the best bar of the year by the industry in the Bartenders' Choice Awards. In 2022, Adrián, unsurprisingly also won the prize for Norway's best bartender.
"It's a team effort. We have also received several awards for the best bar staff, which is incredibly fun. From day one at Amerikalinjen, our goal has been to provide five-star service but with a human touch. I think we really manage to do that," says the team player who was meant to become a hockey star.
Besides fantastic service, it is no secret that much of Pier 42's success is down to its cocktails. As the director of mixology, Adrián has developed 12 completely unique cocktails for Pier 42.
Amerikalinjen as a hotel draws much inspiration from Norway's long history and close ties to New York, through the old shipping company that had its headquarters in the building where the hotel is located.
Adrián and his team have carried this theme over to Pier 42's drinks menu. Here, you will find cocktails with names like The Opera House, Cross-Country Skis, and Manhattan Hang.
All unique and with their own colour, taste, and mix. If there's one thing Adrian has learned after all the years spent behind the bar with his nose in cocktail books, it's that a successful drink is not just alcohol in a glass mixed with water.
As pretentious as it may sound, all the cocktails on Pier 42's bar menu have a story, background, idea, and inspiration from reality.
The Opera House is served in bespoke glasses reminiscent of the building itself, Calvin Klein draws inspiration from the fashion house and the many perfumes it has launched since the 1990s.
Kon Tiki is inspired by explorer Thor Heyerdahl's breath-taking expedition across the Pacific in 1947.
"Whenever I create a cocktail, I want it to evoke a positive emotion or memory for the guest. That's why I try to build the cocktail recipes around a mood."
"When I participate in competitions, for example, I use music that fits what I want to convey."
Which drink on the menu is your favourite?
"I love all our signature cocktails, of course, but I am a whiskey man at heart, and Old Fashioned is my favourite drink. So, my favourite on the menu is probably The Opera House."
Life will never be the same
Since the victory, the 33-year-old has travelled a lot.
The winner receives no cash prize, but honour, a title, and fame. In addition, he becomes an ambassador for the profession and is invited to teach courses and give lectures, as well as judge other prestigious competitions around the world.
It sounds exhausting, but not for Adrián.
"I love it! Getting to see the whole world, meeting lots of great people, learning. A former winner told me at the party after the finals that my life would never be the same again."
He was absolutely right! It's kind of special to be able to call my mum and say that I will be in Forbes Magazine. Not bad for a coincidence," laughs the world champion.