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And the Winner of the Whiskey Olympics Is …

Thursday, 26 Aug 2010 | 6:10 PM ET

Despite a strong showing by the U.S., the winner of Bushmills competition to be the whiskey maker’s apprentice (aka the Whiskey Olympics) was … Bulgaria!

Irish whiskey maker Bushmills held a competition for a month-long apprenticeshipto master distiller Colum Egan. Competitors sent in videos and essays from all over the world and nine finalists were selected.

The finalists, which included the head sommelier from a three-star Michelin restaurant in southwest France and a former Wall Streeter from the U.S., were at Bushmills the past two days to compete for the title.

The events in this Olympics of the whiskey world included: archery (no joke), barrel making (seriously, no joke) and wall climbing (you can’t make this stuff up).

Of course, there were also whiskey events, which included sorting bottles of Bushmills by age and identifying different Bushmills whiskeys by taste.

The winner was Ivan Ivanov, 28-year-old bartender and lifeguard from Bulgaria, who shot, climbed and swigged his way to the title.

“It’s unbelievable!” Ivanov said. “Amazing. It’s like a dream come true!”

So, how did he do it? Is he a skilled archer? Did he spend a lot of time exercising his whiskey-drinking muscles?

Actually, he said he didn’t do any training at all.

“I’m a Bushmillers lover,” he said. “I’ve tasted most of them. So I relied on my senses!”

On his senses — and his marketing degree.

He was at a disadvantage during the online campaign to be selected as a finalist, as there was no Internet on the beach where he was working as a lifeguard.

But, he said, he tried hard to remember his lectures from school.

His secret weapon?

"I actually went for the oldest marketing strategy in the book — mouth to mouth!” he said.

(Oh, I'll bet you say that to all the girls!)

Along with the month-long apprenticeship, a month’s stay in a luxury penthouse and £5,000 ($7,700) spending money, Ivanov will also have the opportunity to make his own whiskey. It has to have a base of Bushmills but he’ll be able to put his own stamp on it.

So what will Ivanov’s signature whiskey be?

“It will be a little taste of Bulgaria!” Ivanov said. “I’m sure anybody’s going to like it.”

Looks like that marketing degree is paying off already!

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  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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