DRiNK Awards 2022 winners – and some commentary

From cocktail bars to badass bartenders and brands, here’s who took home trophies at China’s annual bar industry awards.

Now in its seventh edition, DRiNK Awards 2022 (formerly known as DRiNK Magazine Bar Awards) went on last night after being delayed at the end of 2022 due to you-know-what. For those of you who don’t know it, this is China’s biggest bar industry awards ceremony (really the biggest in Asia, alongside Asia’s 50 Best Bars).

This year DRiNK handed out 20 awards. Each category had five nominees; the winners of five regional awards ceremonies held last autumn. This new format, first introduced in 2021, brings wider attention to the national drinks scene – in the past, bars and personalities around the country really had to fight to be seen amongst those in Shanghai, which remains the dominant city when it comes to cocktail culture. Shanghai is undeniably awesome, but there are a lot of killer talents and venues around China, and it’s cool to see those receive recognition.

When it comes to celebratory gatherings, this is arguably the best party of the year, and DRiNK works very hard to make it happen. It’s a time when people come together from around the country (and in normal times, the world) to reconnect and recognize each other and all good shit that makes the bar scene worth being a part of – which, after the last few years when the struggle has been real, some may need reminding of.

At the event, there are dozens of bars set up collectively serving hundreds of cocktails created by some of the China bar world’s top talents. Attempting to try a significant number of them is thirsty work… challenge eagerly accepted. Many fuzzy heads the following morning.

Let’s talk about people winning stuff.

The highlight of the night, for me, was Blacky Su of Beefeater winning the Brand Ambassador award. In an industry historically dominated by men, so few women ever see the spotlight – an ever-present issue around the globe, but even more so in China, where really the drinks scene is comparatively still in its infancy. The simple truth is that women have to worker harder than their male counterparts in order to succeed – and to actually receive recognition for it is a whole other story.

After Jackie Lo (China Bartender of the Year 2018), Blacky is only the second woman in China and third woman ever (after Bannie Kang, Asia Bartender of the Year 2020) to receive a solo DRiNK award (ie, not part of a team win). There have been 21+ chances for them to do so (through annual awards Bartender of the Year, Brand Ambassador, Founders Award, plus some others). Two winners, that’s 9%.

Now, that’s not to say DRiNK doesn’t do its part to support women in the industry – Thirsty Work Productions (creators of DRiNK) currently employs more women than men (who rock its most important roles); from its early print days through now, the publication has always featured great editorials on women. DRiNK Managing Editor for Asia Holly Graham is one of the loudest voices around the globe when it comes to championing women in the industry – view DRiNK’s list of female drinks industry professionals, which serves as a brilliant “fuck you” to people who claim they don’t know any. I will say, though, a woman receiving Founders Award is overdue.

So besides the patriarchy, what’s the issue here? Why aren’t more women getting a shout? Further, why did one bar or bartender win instead of this or that one?

Rock the vote, rock the boat.

In every awards ceremony in every industry ever, voting processes are always points of contention and controversy. How does this one work? DRiNK Awards winners are determined by a voting panel of industry peers, which continues to grow and diversify. These voters are not allowed to vote for themselves or bars they have financial stakes in.

Having formerly been a part of DRiNK/Thirsty Work Productions, I can tell you firsthand the hours upon hours the team spends tallying votes, removing those that go against the rules, and double, triple checking the results. It is a grueling process and extremely stressful, and so to anyone who says these awards are bought by clients or winners/chosen by the DRiNK team/any number of things, I politely say shut it. I’ve not been paid to write this article.

I believe this voting system is as honest and fair AS POSSIBLE. Key words, AS POSSIBLE. Are there flaws? Sure. Is it perfect? Of course not. Think you know a better way? Go on then.

The term “unbiased voter” is an oxymoron. As fair as everyone want things to be, of course awards have a lot to do with popularity.

You want this to change? Start with human nature. A large majority of people – not all, but many – are always going to vote for the bars and people they simply like most, even if they swear they won’t, and regardless of whether there are better ones out there.

The simple truth is, statistically, most people will never win anything. It’s just math. There are hundreds of worthy bars in China and thousands of worthy bartenders, but only 20 awards. For every one deserving winner, there are dozens more that are equally deserving. Unfortunately, this isn’t third grade where everyone gets an honorable mention ribbon for participating.

Inevitably, people are simultaneously elated and bitter about the results, every year. Again, human nature. So outwardly sweet, so secretly salty. I have seen years where the crowd sheds tears of joy over a particular winner, and the following year they’re complaining that that same winner continued to crush it and won something else. Fame is a fickle beast.

On that note few more winners of the night…

Bar Team of the Year went to The Union Trading Company, which spent the better part of 2022 waiting for permission to reopen after that little 60-day homestay Shanghai enjoyed… probably one of the city’s last venues to be allowed to resume business. Despite what can only be called shit luck, the homeless team made the most of it: pop-ups around the country, a residency at The Ritz Bar, events that saw bars and coffee shops team up when the former couldn’t operate but the latter could. When most would’ve thrown in the towel, Yao and his team rolled up their sleeves and got to work, showing what people are capable of with a little stubbornness, a lot of peer support and some next-level commitment.

Shanghai’s EPIC, a bar that for many years really did not get enough attention, took home Bar of the Year, while Changsha’s CMYK won New Bar of the Year; the latter a new and much needed awards category. Tough category here – people definitely have some strong opinions about what Bar of the Year should mean. Here’s what could be cool to see: Bar Legend (bars 5+ years old), Bar of the Year (bars 1-5 years old) and New Bar of the Year (newly opened within the last year).

Allen Fang won Bartender of the Year after spending the last couple years crushing it: opening his own bar (Dreamsicle) and winning Bartender of the Year for China at bartending competition World Class 2022. Young Bartender of the Year is another new category, which went to Tong Yang of CMYK. What makes someone young? Young in age, or young in the industry? What if you’re too “new” to be Bartender of the Year, but too “old” to be Young Bartender? Life’s great questions…

羊男槽记 (Yang Nan Cao Ji / Bad Goat), run by Leo Siu, won Influencer (aka KOL), also new category at this year’s awards. This accolade is a worthy addition to the list – people seriously underestimate how difficult that job is. Leo and his brand are well-known and well-respected throughout the industry, and he’s a very worthy recipient of the first edition of this award. 加油 creatives!

Closing out, congrats everyone, you’re truly awesome. And congrats to those who aren’t named below, because you’re truly awesome too. To all of you who work your asses off day in and day out, keep doing what you do best, which is make guests happy with your brilliant drinks.

Now, the full list. All of these winners are great! So are all the non-winners!

Design Award • Presented by Luxardo
Hide & Seek, Beijing

Tap HousePresented by DRiNK
No. 18 Brewpub, Wuhan

Beer Menu • Presented by DRiNK
Peiping Machine, Beijing

Whisk(e)y Menu • Presented by Dewar’s
Maison à 3, Shanghai

Cocktail Menu • Presented by Loch Lomond
CMYK, Changsha

Visionary Award Presented by DRiNK
The Makers

Bartender Brand • Presented by DRiNK

Service Award • Presented by SIP (Pernod Ricard)
Flavor Tiki, Chongqing

Wine Bar • Presented by Viña San Pedro Tarapaca
Pudao Wines, Shanghai

Restaurant Bar • Presented by Disaronno
Hide & Seek, Beijing

Hotel Bar • Presented by Belvedere
Jing Bar, The Temple House, Chengdu

Influencer • Presented by DRiNK
Yang Nan Cao Ji

Brand Ambassador • Presented by DRiNK
Blacky Su, Beefeater

Bar Team • Presented by Chivas Regal
The Union Trading Company, Shanghai

Entrepreneurship Award • Presented by DRiNK
Jimmy Zhang, Flavor Group, Chongqing

Founders Award • Presented by DRiNK
Ethan Liu

Young Bartender of the Year • Presented by UK Government
Tong Yang, CMYK, Changsha

Bartender of the Year • Presented by Beefeater
Allen Fang, The Nest/Dreamsicle, Shanghai

New Bar of the Year • Presented by Bacardi
CMYK, Changsha

Bar of the Year • Presented by Maker’s Mark
EPIC, Shanghai

All photos courtesy of DRiNK/Thirsty Work Productions.