Monday, May 11, 2009

International Bar and Cocktail Events - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I am fortunate enough to have attended in the last year Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, BCB in Berlin and Cocktails and Spirits in Paris, each event was amazing for a variety of reasons which I will go into later.  The question I am asking myself again is why is the offering in the UK for the global cocktail community is so poor? We have by far one of the most impressive cocktail cultures in the world with some of the pioneers of the modern cocktail culture and many of the worlds best bars but yet our effort to educate and entertain our international peer group is way below standard. 

I am not alone in my view. The Bar Show in the early days was great, based at the Islington Design Centre, it was personable and well thought out. The last 2 years of the London Bar show I have been horrified by the thumping loud music, dodgy scantily clad promotional girls, very little in the way of innovative or interesting new products and hordes of drunken student bartenders. They need to drastically have a re-think or another organisation or collective need to create a new event.

It is not all bad, we do have some good events and organisations in the UK but maybe they need to be brought together to create an event that we can be proud of. We have the Connoisseurs Club over in Belfast, they have had some of the most impressive speakers in the world since they launched and continue to attract a big crowd all self funded by the attendees and no payment for the speakers. We have the Boutique Bar Show which allows small independent brands to be seen and doesn't allow any one brand or portfolio to dominate. There is Rum Fest which is also open to consumers that is growing each year and never has such a great collection of rum brands been under one roof. Rum Fest is particularly interesting as it is a category event, something I think other spirit categories should look at as I'm sure they will. There is also Distil which is part of the London Wine Trade Fair, still in its early stages but not as well publicised as the Bar Show despite being a much more serious and useful event.  

Perhaps if the UK could create a good event it shouldn't be held in London? So many of our other cities have significant cocktail scenes especially Edinburgh and Leeds.  The only positive of the London Bar Show is that it brings everyone in from all over the world and clever brands have made sure that they create events around the show that ensure these visitors have a good experience.  

So what do the aforementioned events do so well? Tales is the largest cocktail convention in the world, it is the place to meet up with everyone on a global level from brand owners, brand ambassadors, global distributors, writers, bloggers and bartenders. The fact that its in New Orleans and not in NY or San Fran, pretty much in one hotel adds to its success and charm.  

BCB created by Mixology Magazine and partners had some of the most informed and educational seminars I've ever attended. BCB clearly put a lot of thought into what was relevant for the industry to be educated on and then secured the experts in that field from the industry to present. It also ran over 2 days as does Cocktail and Spirits which is more than enough for any of us.  

Lastly, Cocktail and Spirits which I have just left had a dream team line up of inspiring creative bartenders and bar owners talking to bartenders about how many of their great bars were set up. This is what bartenders want to know, they want to know how to set up their own successful bar. The brands at this event were a nice back drop rather than the focus but they also had new and interesting brands as well as the famous brands we all know and love.  

As a member of the UK drinks industry I will endeavour to stop complaining and see what can be done, many of us are already talking, albeit late night normally at Jake's and scribbling notes on napkins but I am pretty confident in the next couple of years the UK will up its game.


jindi said...

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