The global bartending and spirits community’s annual pilgrimage to Berlin is over. Bar Convent Berlin 2019 has closed its doors last Wednesday evening, bidding farewell to its 15’162 visitors! Berlin’s Station hosted an impressive amount of 446 exhibitors representing 1’200 drinks brands.
Many took the opportunity of Bar Convent Berlin 2019 to present their latest products. That was for example the case of Ron Abuelo Two Oaks. Finished in extra-charred (a first in the rum world) virgin American oak barrels after a maturation in white oak barrels, the Panamanian rón tastes incredible. Another new product was o/purist, a tsipouro – a traditional grape distillate from Greece – created by a collective of 10 Greek bartenders, including Thanos Prunarus from Baba au Rum. Profits from its sale go to non-profit charities for Localisation Discerning Drinking and Bartending Community.
An extremely interesting product was the Paragon pepper cordial range developped by Monin and Alex Kratena. While sweet with the body of sugar, the cordials are quite acid with a pH lower than that of lemon juice (1.7-1.8 versus 2.4-2.6). This particularity positions them as an alternative to citrus. Also the process to extract flavours is revolutionary. Monin combines three techniques to get the most of the peppers: infusion, alcoholate (distillation) and, finally, supercritical CO2 extraction. This step consists in putting CO2 at a temperature below 40°C, turning it into a state between gas and liquid. It enables Monin to extract the aromatic material of its ingredients without altering them, thus keeping exceptional quality.
Walking through Berlin’s Station was a lesson in hospitality and exhibition design. The big brands spared no expense to build stands that would attract visitors. Some went full steam ahead with eccentric displays: jungle, airport lounge, candy factory, ski lifts, etc. At the heart of Station’s main hall, visitors were lured to The Bitter Truth’s tiki stand by the Hawaiian songs and cheery personality of King Kukulele, a ukulele artist flown especially for BCB from California. At The Kraken’s funky laboratory, a mad scientist and a scuba diver were administering visitors with mysterious concoctions out of syringes.
Of course, not everybody has the means to afford a stand at BCB. Fully aware of small brands’s struggle to make themselves a place under the spotlight on the spirits scene, glassware company Libbey decided to show its support by sharing its booth space for free with six of them. This initiative from global brand ambassador Kevin Vollebregt seduced over 30 small independant brands across Europe. Each of the lucky six had half a day to promote their spirits with a bar, back bar and, of course, Libbey glassware at their disposal. Among the brands present on Libbey’s stand were the Dutch Spirited Union Distillery and Pontica Vermouth from Austria.
Spirited Union Distillery’s founder, Ruben Maduro, was here to present his second product : Union Lemon & Leaf. Launched last August, it is the world’s first botanical white rum. As such it defines a new rum category. Union Lemon & Leaf is obtained by re-distilling and infusing Agricole rum from Mauritius with lemons from the Amalfi coast, blue eucalyptus leaves and Sri Lankan black tea. It also contains kina bark, Sarawak pepper and sarsaparilla root. All these botanicals give Union Lemon & Leaf a complexity of flavours reminiscent of gin. However, it is smoother on the palate, yet without the syrupy feel other flavoured rums sometimes have. It was a truly tasty discovery!
Another pleasant tasting was the one of Pontica Vermouth. Over the last year I’ve discovered an appreciation for a simple glass of vermouth on the rocks, usually Spanish as I often go to Barcelona. So I was naturally eager to try a vermouth from Austria. Moderately sweetened by grape juice, Pontica Vermouth had an unexpected long bitter finish that was quite pleasurable.
Wandering through BCB’s aisles, I came across a scenic picture of the Weisshorn mountain, a ski lift and old wooden skis. It was the stand of the brand new Weisshorn Glacier Gin and Wildhorn Alpine Vodka, distilled in Wallis, Switzerland. There are the most recent initiatives of Helen Calle-Lin, owner of several cocktail bars in Geneva (Le Verre à Monique and Voodoo Reyes to name only two) and co-owner of The Gibson in London. Wildhorn Alpine is a pleasantly floral vodka made with 10 different botanicals, including elderflower and edelweiss. Weisshorn Glacier uses the same ingredients with the addition of juniper and another secret botanical. While the smell of juniper is quite strong, its taste is surprisingly barely perceptible, leaving place to the other botanicals.
Every day, a dozen seminars ran. They covered topics ranging from new trends to professional advice and included the World Class Studios led by Lauren Mote and Charles Joly to kick off the Diageo World Class 2020 competition. There would be no bar convention complete for me if I didn’t attend at least a few of them.
After visiting Monica Berg and Alex Kratena’s new London bar Tayēr + Elementary in May, I was eager to attend “The future of bar design”, a seminar led by Alex Ruas and Adam MacDonald from Behind Bars, the agency that had designed their incredible bar station.
A former bartender, Adam perfectly understands the frustration bartenders feel when explaining their needs regarding station design to people who don’t know the effects working behind a bar 8-10 hours/day has on the body. With his colleagues he has developed a new approach to bar design. It takes into account ergonomics, innovation and performance as well as aesthetics, production, experience. Of course, it also considers the bar owner, the bartenders and the guest. The agency uses virtual reality to pre-test their designs with their clients. This process which reunites bartenders and architects in the same room enables to make changes in real time. Thus, it reduces what otherwise would be weeks of email exchanges to a few productive meetings.
The last speaker of Bar Convent Berlin 2019 was Steve Schneider from, notably, Employees Only New York and Singapore. When he started his career in bartending, his goals were freedom and an early retirement. He’s achieved the first but the second isn’t really for him he’s realised. Over the last 14 years, he’s indeed grown from bar back to bar owner in different countries (USA, Singapore, Panama and China).
His success was no accident. A passionate mentor, Steve explained exactly how he managed to get where he is today and how he will get to his new goal of being a building owner. There is no secret: you have to work for it. Living on the cheap, saving every penny, calculating every income and expense (the man is the master of spreadsheets), Steve committed to his goals and to the discipline required to get where he wanted to be.
With the end of Steve’s talk came the end of Bar Convent Berlin 2019. The date is set for 2020 with BCB returning from 12 to 14 October next year in a new location, at Messe Berlin. Write it down.