Michael Lis Talks About His Path To The IBA World Cocktail Competition

By Emily Hourican
Michael Lis Talks About His Path To The IBA World Cocktail Competition

Michael Lis represented Ireland at the IBA World Cocktail Competition last November in Cuba, where he won Gold in the pre-dinner cocktail category, and was second overall out of 69 countries. He is also a glassware designer and brand developer for hospitality oriented glassware, and was previously bar manager in many establishments including the multi-awarded Sidecar bar by Westbury hotel. He talks to Hospitality Ireland about his path to the competition, and the inspiration behind his winning cocktail.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in March of 2023.

Tell us about your business.

I arrived in Ireland 15 years ago, with no particular hospitality experience. Time went by, while my vision and pure passion for this business was formed. My motto was always, give my best, 100%, and invest in the future. Hospitality became more of a lifestyle, and not only a way of paying bills.

I very quickly understood that Ireland is the place where lots of time is spent in pubs, enjoying each other’s company. My constant eagerness to learn took me to many places, where I met fantastic teams and ultra-talented individuals, from whom I have learned most of what I know now – well, this process never ends, and there is constantly something new to discover.

I believe that hospitality is a key element of every society – we are keeping people together in hotels, restaurants, cocktail bars or nightclubs. We are making our guests feel good – it is not only our pleasure, but our duty.


Describe your route to the competition.

The route to the championship was never easy, I guess. I tried to become the Irish champion for long time, without success. I think the key for that achievement would definitely be hard work, as well as the patient and strong belief that it would eventually happen.

Imagine that, when I finally won the Irish final and became the champion of Ireland for 2020, the pandemic started and the Cocktail World Cup was cancelled, without any notice and certainty that it would take place at all. My intuition was telling me that I should keep on waiting and work hard on my skills, knowledge and technique. I have focused not only on my own development, but I spent a long time talking to people who went through similar experiences and pressure.

Then, when I got the information that the competition would be in Cuba and I was picked to represent Ireland on the global stage, I could not have been happier.

Tell us about your choice of cocktail.

The cocktail to be prepared by Ireland’s representative was picked by an international committee, and it was predinner, with a few other countries to compete with. Then I had to prepare a recipe according to certain requirements: a very limited amount of sugar content could be in the final product; I could use only six specific ingredients from the sponsors’ list; and the cocktail could not exceed seven centilitres of alcoholic ingredients. So, they told me the style of cocktail, and then I created the unique combination of flavours and aromas to then present it on the global stage.

Why did you choose this particular cocktail – i.e. how does it tie in with you, your life, drink trends, etc.?

I was very happy with the pre-dinner category assigned. I love these kinds of concoctions. Dinner is always a good occasion for meeting people – the idea of sharing food and time together is the essence of hospitality. I believe that all dining experiences very often start with the first sip of your aperitif. It is very often the first impression and standard-of-service indicator. Pre-dinner is just like the beginning of the party and the night, with all the good expectations. I love this feeling.


I wanted to create a cocktail that would impress, with balance, vibrancy, and the gentle bite of aromatic bubbles, coming from the champagne. The name of my competing drink was Lady C – C from the Spanish creer, representing belief and hope, much needed in our turbulent times.

What was the competition like this year?

It took place in Cuba. It is hard to imagine a better place for a cocktail contest – the land where many famous cocktails started, and the heritage of rum production is literally on every corner. The Cuban music and sunshine gave the competitors and the audience a special boost of positive energy. After hard day of challenges, we could always enjoy a relaxing session in the swimming pool.

I have to say, it was extremely competitive, and the level was very high this year. Despite this, we could still feel the atmosphere of brotherhood and that, at the end of the day, we are all bartenders, and literally everybody was supporting and helping each other.

Michael Lis.

What do you feel that you learned from this?

Thank you for that question because learning and experiencing new things was a big part of the event. On the way back to Dublin, I was taking notes with relevant feedback, and I spent a long time on it. I have rediscovered the essence of long conversations – well, many times, we were all offline.

Seeing other countries’ champions, from different parts of the world, tells us a lot about culture, style, and work ethic. Small things – like to see Japan’s cocktail-shaking technique or the Canadian approach to ice-handling – gave me the impression that I still have to learn a lot.


I think the experience of performing in front of a few hundred people and cameras streaming globally gave such a mixture of endorphins and adrenaline that not many things in life can give a similar feeling. So, learning step by step how to prepare for it was my daily routine – just close your eyes and visualise that you are already there and how it will go, then open your eyes, smile to yourself, and repeat.

What did winning mean for you?

Winning a gold medal in the World Cocktail Competition is like achieving something very special and unusual, indeed. I do not know many champions of the world, personally.

It is great inspiration, kind of proof to myself – and, I hope, to others – that if we put in hard work, lots of passion, and belief, we can do amazing things in life.

It is remarkable because I won it not only for my name, but for Ireland as well. This kind of event means a lot because I would like to tell my kids about it and then instil a certain belief in them as well.

Tell us about your other endeavours, e.g. glassware design.

This is my long-term goal, and I will stick to it. It is like a constant call to action and the most rewarding feeling, of creating something new, from scratch.


For me, glassware is a very particular thing. It gives our guests a profound experience when consuming a beverage – even water tastes better from a nice glass – and it’s ultra-personal because, when having a sip, we touch the glass with our lips – almost like kissing.

I constantly see new options, new shapes, and new expressions of beauty, and I don’t want to see it only in my imagination, but a real person drinking from it and enjoying their time.

A cocktail.

What's next for you?

I want to be in the hospitality world long term. The energy and soul of this business is very hard to replace. I want to keep meeting new people and learning from them.

I believe that, in this virtual world that we are creating around us these days, hospitality will remain an oasis of our human nature. I want to be part of it, and I would love to bring my passion, hard work, and glassware to make this place even more remarkable and beautiful for all of us.

I put my hopes and beliefs in the hospitality world, in our little space where we serve others, and can promise, for sure, to never stop chasing my dreams.

What trends are you seeing in cocktails among Irish consumers?

From my perspective, I see three very important trends:

  • Low-alcohol-content cocktails are growing in popularity and definitely quality.
  • I have noticed consumers looking for places to discover and experience something new and exciting. It has to come with all types of beverages – creative cocktails, beers from all corners of the world, or premium wine tastings – but as well as interior design, art or music. Venues want to be different and memorable.
  • Great local establishments. As an industry, we are seeing plenty of new places out of the city centre. Often great bartenders and chefs with many years of experience get involved in local venues. Many times, I’ve been wowed by the level of service, hospitality, and world-class cocktails in small local venues. I hope that soon we will swap our Wednesday TV evening for non-alcoholic or low-alcohol cocktails with our neighbours – playing chess, meeting new people, and experiencing something together.

Read More: Hospitality Ireland Spring 2023: Read The Latest Issue Online!