Get Josh Varna’s advice for entering The Vero Bartender 2023

Flights to the national final — and Italy for the winner — are on offer.

Get Josh Varna’s advice for entering The Vero Bartender 2023
Last year's winner, Tom Opie. Photo: Supplied



I’ve written before about the enduring power of Amaro Montenegro — how it is a bartender favourite, how it’s made and more. And this piece might be a useful reference point, because right now, entries are open for The Vero Bartender, Amaro Montenegro’s global cocktail competition.

They’ll be flying the national finalists into Melbourne in February next year to compete for the prize: a flight to Italy, to tour the Amaro Montenegro facilities, get some famous Italian hospitality, and the chance to win the global prize, a trip to BCB in Brooklyn next year. To enter, visit to put your entry in before November 27th.

To help you put your best foot forward, I spoke to Josh Varna, brand ambassador for Spirits Platform, for some advice.

Boothby: What makes The Vero Bartender different to other cocktail comps out there?

Josh Varna: I think what’s great about Vero is how it uniquely puts its product at the core. I find when it comes to a lot of cocktail comps, it’s taking the base product and really reinventing a way of delivering it, whether it be through storytelling or whether it be inspiration from home or something like that. With Vero, it’s always about the hero product, Montenegro, and then finding your concept around that.

You gotta remember that it is one of the most balanced products that’s out there. So there’s a lot to play with. So it’s really trying to not lose that balance — but still make it your own.

Tom Opie at the national final last year. Photo: Supplied
Tom Opie at the national final last year. Photo: Supplied

So it’s still gonna taste like Montenegro. What’s the prize on offer? What do people win?

So this year it’s a two part prize. So the first prize will be for the national finalists. We’ll bring in 10 finalists for the national final and that winner will head off to Italy for an all expenses paid trip to Italy where they’ll go to the distillery. They’ll be romanced by the story of Montenegro, see its production, go to some seminars as well with some botanists to talk about the herbs that go into it.

Obviously you get to go to some premium and some very beautiful venues that are in Italy, and then they will compete there for the global prize. The global prize is an all-expenses paid trip to Bar Convent Brooklyn in June 2024.

Last year’s winner, Tom Opie, how did he get there in your opinion? What did he do that was amazing?

Tom last year had a real personal touch to his story about his drink. Anyone that’s had a drink from Tom will know that it’s exceptional. The way that he looks at flavour is something that I don’t think I could have ever thought of, and his use of native ingredients is also really spectacular. And it’s something that meshed really well with the Montenegro story. Taking something that’s a core product and then reinventing it and pushing the boundaries of what that product can supply, whether it be perfume or oil or flavour. Tom really showcased that with lots of different aspects of his drink.

And obviously Tom’s got a very wonderful personality, unique, which makes him stand out above everyone. He’s a great representation of Australian bartending right now.

He’s one to watch, I reckon. What else do we need to know?

The theme is 90s Calling. The 90s — what a great dark decade for drinks, the 90s. In a world before rotovapping and sous vide, the 90s was where it was at. I think I’m personally gonna try and set the record for the most blue drinks in a competition.

With the 90s, inspiration for the drink can be in the name, the delivery, the vessel, how we work with the ingredients, all that. I’m looking for a lot of blue drinks like I said. They’re personally some of my favourites. The vessels are going to be definitely very angular cut glassware that’s for sure. Everything’s got martini at the end of it for the name.


I think there’s time to put a bit of shine on the 90s and bring it forward. So we’re looking at that in the concept of how we can make our drinks very 90s themed, which is I find very ironic because most bartenders wouldn’t know what that is — they’re too young.

They weren’t even alive in the 90s.

Call it a throwback!

What advice do you have for them? What tips would you give them?

My advice when it comes to The Vero Bartender is to be looking at the core ingredient, which is obviously Amaro Montenegro. It is incredibly balanced, you have so many flavours that you can extrude. Really try to identify those inside Amaro Montenegro, and then find what works really well for what you want to deliver.

I’ve always found making cocktails is kind of like Lego for adults. You find the little bits that fit together perfectly and then you can make something really great. Look, find your best 90s hip hop song — that’s going to get some great inspiration. I want some great 90s fashion when they present too, no suits. Ski suits only.

What are they going to do when they do present at the national final? What’s the task that they have ahead of them?

So the key aspect is that all the drinks will need to have 30ml of Amaro Montenegro. You have five ingredients that you can add on top of that. Two of them can be homemade. And of course you can be a little bit cheeky and mix them together to get a little bit of an advance on there. So five ingredients, 30ml of Amaro Montenegro, and you’re going to need to make four drinks. And we’re looking at individual serves.

Every finalist will present in front of our panel of judges. Obviously we’ll have a nice big room packed full of people to present to and yeah, ski pants, parachute pants, bring it on.

It’s gonna be a lot of MC Hammer.

I think I’m personally going to build the playlist for the night.

When do entries close?

The 27th of November, so we’re gonna finish it off just before Christmas, which is fantastic. There is gonna be some downtime in between though, because no one really wants to be focusing on a cocktail competition during the busiest part of the year. And then come January, we’ll announce the finalists. We’ll do the final in February and then we’ll be off on our way to Italy.

To enter, visit to put your entry in before November 27th.

Want to learn more?

This primer was made possible by support from Spirits Platform’s Spirits Academy. Their team of ambassadors conduct trainings around the country, sharing their in-depth knowledge of spirits, cocktails, and their big portfolio of products.

Get in touch with your Spirits Platform ambassador for your state to find out more.

National Ambassador Manager: Mark Hickey — email him on
NSW, ACT: Josh Varna — email him on
QLD, NT: Jack Creighton — email him on
VIC, TAS: Max Borrowman — email him on