Has there ever been a better time to be a cocktail lover? We think not. London Cocktail Week is a case in point. Do you think that a seven-day event primarily aimed at consumers and wholly dedicated to the art, craft and business of drinking could have existed in the capital 15, or even 10 years ago? Highly unlikely. And even if it did, we’ll wager it wouldn’t have been half as innovative, inclusive or immersive as the jam-packed programme on offer last week.
Seriously, it’s taken us until now to recover from the enormity of it all. Every day there was something to inspire, inform and delight – from hard-hitting trade talks during the day to cool parties and overseas bartender takeovers every evening. During the week we sipped excellent drinks from the teams at The Suffolk Arms in New York; The Clumsies from Athens; Manhattan Bar in Singapore; The Tailor from Amsterdam; Little Quarter in Stockholm; Glass in Paris; Broken Shaker from Miami and La Factoria, San Juan – not all at the same time obviously and seeing as you’re asking, we sampled everything responsibly.
The Show has Blossomed
Blame Hannah Sharman-Cox. What she started in 2010 as an ambitious but admittedly small scale pop-up in Selfridges in central London has blossomed and grown into an entire cocktail village located over in the East End. The number of bars taking part in the festival has increased in size dramatically too. Check this, at the start there were 50 on the list – each offering signature drinks for reduced prices to anyone wearing a London Cocktail Week wristband. This year the number had risen to over 250. The figure may have inflated but the price for the specially created cocktails has hardly budged: creeping up from £4 to just £5 for a top-notch libation in some of the finest bars in the capital.
That’s just one of the reasons why London Cocktail Week has become the biggest and best drinks festival in the UK – it’s the perfect time to check out the bartending talent on all points of the compass whilst sticking to a reasonable budget. There are other factors as well, including an array of ever-inventive events ranging from hands-on whisky blending sessions and distillery tours through to learning about the synergy of fragrance and cocktails.
Stimulate every Sense
The learning doesn’t stop there either. The Cocktail Village in Spitalfields was a veritable smorgasbord of bite-sized immersions into what makes the 40 or so participating brands tick, taking in fun Scotch egg and whisky pairings to rum cocktails served from a ship (yes, really). The same goes for the way the Diageo Reserve team did things over at the World Class House. Located slap, bang in the middle of the West End in Piccadilly and sprawling over five carefully curated floors, this was the other main hub, where LCW wristband wearers could step inside the forward-thinking worlds of luxury labels such as Lagavulin, Ketel One, Tanqueray No.10, Bulleit Bourbon and Haig Club.
For something that was so thoughtfully conceived, we loved the calming and very inclusive nature of it all. Yes, if you wanted to get your geek on, there was plenty to stimulate every sense. Not only that but you could get a glimpse into the future of drinking as predicted by the World Class team in their recently published report.
For instance, on the ground floor guests could take their time to chill out with expertly made classic drinks in the Retro Bar. Then if and when they were ready, they could walk through to taste the reimagined version of the same cocktail in the Future Bar headed up by World Class GB winner 2016, Aidan Bowie. We loved the space age Martini, featuring umami tastes of charcoal and cheese, as well as the whiskey sour presented in real eggshells addressing sustainable service ware – this got a big thumbs-up of approval.
Temperature and Texture
Up one floor was home to Tanqueray No.TEN gin and the Future Forest. Again, the aim was to educate and stimulate, this time by walking through a mini-botanical garden filled with rare herbs, plants and ingredients the report predicts we’ll be using more of in years to come. Guests were encouraged to let their noses and curiosity be their guide, choosing two to three ingredients that they then flash-infused to create a bespoke Tanqueray and tonic. The Bloody Mary also got a futuristic makeover with new and exciting spices and experimentation with temperature and texture. And for those who wanted to push the boundaries with Scotch, there were blending sessions as well as a host of masterclasses.
The best bit was that the entire week had plenty to satisfy the increasing thirst for knowledge from both cocktail curious consumers and savvy trade. Who cares if there are bigger drinks events around the world? There’s only one London Cocktail Week. If you missed it this time round, make it your mission to check it out in 2017. We can’t wait to see what will be on the menu next.