Looking Back at Bar Convent Berlin

By Stephanie Jordan

I’m Stephanie Jordan, Global Brand Ambassador for Tanqueray and I’d like to give you my thoughts and views on Bar Convent Berlin, the bar show that took place 11-12 October. Considering my good friends and colleagues Tim Judge and Paulo Figueiredo were by my side and this was my first BCB, I decided to ask them for their views.

However before we get to Paulo’s and Tim’s thoughts, here’s my take on the show.

Berlin Bar Convention just gets bigger

When BCB started there was only eight exhibitors – yes eight! Now there are six halls dedicated to the show, with more than 900 brands and over 9,000 visitors. This was by far their biggest year yet.

I must admit that it was hard to navigate through the huge space, crowds and various seminars in order to truly understand and distil down the essence of this trade fair.

BCB states in its marketing materials that “International flair and quality are the ingredients that have made Bar Convent what it is today”. Considering at least 50% of all attendees came from abroad, I can agree with the international part of this. However, in terms of quality, yes the movers and shakers from this crazy industry were all present, but perhaps by becoming so big, there was too much noise. It was hard to stay focused on the quality over quantity.

Aside from that, it was possible to spot a few changes. Every year BCB create an honorary country and this year was the turn of the UK. Many seminars flew under the Union Jack banner with topics such as ‘New Breed of British Gins’ and the ‘Best Non-Aged Statement Scotch Whisky’. Of the 900 brands showcased, from beer, to rum and vodka, nothing was better represented than my beautiful gin, with over 180 brands on show. And even better as the organisers stated, there’s ‘No BREXIT from BCB’ – which made me smile.

World Class Presence in Berlin

World Class had a great presence with a branded bar hosting some of Germany and Austria’s finest World Class bartenders. An exclusive BCB menu was curated and over the course of two days, 10 bartenders shook, stirred and served their way through some delicious creations. In true World Class fashion, we also had an educational room. Here there were seminars on the potential pitfalls of opening a bar, as well as the influence of Japanese bartending in the western world. Talks were undertaken by, among others, Dee Davis, creator of Jinzu, and the legendary Angus Winchester.

So that’s the key facts from me – over to Tim & Paulo!

Tim Judge’s Take (Global Brand Ambassador, Bulleit)

Among the highlights for me this year were the branded stands: the Whisky Union truck strategically placed outside the venue (shame about the weather!). Then there was the Absolut stand on Wednesday morning serving Bloody Marys to those who had stayed up a little too late. Plus the Bombay Sapphire stand was one of the few interactive, experiential stands where you could 3D print your own speed pourer or infuse a G&T from a live herb wall using a rotovap.

One of the most anticipated and attended seminars of the week, however, was Angus Winchester’s ‘How to Open a Bar’. Combining his experience with Diageo’s Business of Bars programme and his personal journey of opening a bar in New York, Angus delivered a deeply engaging and information-dense seminar to a standing-room-only audience.

Offering advice such as ‘just because you’re a good bartender doesn’t mean you should open a bar’ and ‘the importance of building a meritocracy’ kept the crowd engaged. Plus of course there was his typical high speed, fluid and energetic delivery. Someone joked that after his seminar everyone in the room would go off and open a bar. But actually by the end, no one was in any doubt as to the amount of work involved.

Martin Hudak is a man who spans two industries. By day he’s an award winning, pioneering and passionate barista, having twice been placed in the top 2 at the international Coffee & Good Spirits competition. By night you can find him tending behind London’s longest standing the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. In his ‘Around the World in Coffee Cocktails’ presentation, Martin gave insight into the history of coffee cocktails. He moved from the Irish Coffee to the Espresso Martini before treating us to two delightful coffee cocktails from the American Bar, along with an exploration into different types of coffee products such as the newish Mr. Black coffee liqueur.

Next year I hope that there are more experiential activities and workshops like this, rather than just free bars, tastings and seminars. BCB is such a well attended and packed event, so you can never attend everything. But focusing on the quality of engagement is key to a really successful show. Oh, and more vegan-friendly food would be nice!

Paulo Figueiredo’s Finds (Global Brand Ambassador, Ketel One)

The last time I was at BCB eight years ago, the event was very, very small. When I walked in there on Tuesday morning I couldn’t believe the difference. To be honest this is great news for our industry – I truly wish I was starting my career now and not 17 years ago. Then I could have attended the seminars … and oh boy I would have avoided so many mistakes!

Generally the quality of the seminars was good. They were also diverse, so no matter what you are into there was something for you. But I felt that there were too many things going on at the same time – so I had to be selective, which was really tough! Anyway it is what it is, so let’s roll with that – I just a thought an extra day for the show would have been nice.

It was very interesting to see the two sides of what some call ‘trends’. I still struggle with this word. On the one side there were a lot of conversations about ‘keep it simple’ and don’t try too hard to come up with the next ‘most weird sous vide infusion, rotovap etc.’. But on the other, I felt some were trying too hard to come up with flavours and drinks that besides them nobody really understood. Honestly it’s not that cool. But fortunately there were some great ideas too – and to be fair they were totally doable – no matter your budget.

Here are a few things that I really believe will become a trend:

Keep it Simple You don't need a rotovap to be one of the best bars in the world.

It’s all About the Customer I heard this topic in five of the eight seminars I attended. Stop making drinks or menus for bartenders because that is a very small part of the experience. Focus on your costumers.

Listing Fees to Go These are going out of fashion: collaboration is the future. There was a great talk about this from Alex Kratena, Monica Berg, Simon Ford, a guy from Mavericks in the UK and Philip Duff.

Local Liqueurs and Herbs Use what’s around you.

How to Open a Bar There were more seminars about this than cocktails and drinks.

Plus a few things that I found interesting:

Menu @ Little Red Door This is a menu from the Paris establishment with no words – just images – based on ‘emotions’. For the first six months, they didn't even think about ingredients when creating new menus. The team are now currently studying architecture in order to deliver the next one.

Vertical hydroponic These are systems for growing plants and watering them vertically, ideal for urban environments. Is this the future?

Angus Winchester’s dos and don’ts for bar owners. This was the best talk I’ve ever heard at a bar show. In 45 minutes he combined the business of bars with his own life experience – and it was captivating.