Twenty bars around Geneva participated in the 1st Geneva Cocktail Week from August 29 to September 4 2016, offering creations made especially for the event at special price. Some of them hosted brand presentations and tastings in the afternoon or early evening. A nice opportunity for guests to become more knowledgeable about the products they drink. Finally, bartenders from other cities, like Lausanne or Annecy, took over some bars for guest bartending gigs.
The cocktail week was an initiative launched after a discussion between Quentin Beurgaud, one of the owner of the Little Barrel, and Guillaume, one of his guests. They added Alexandra to the mix and, in the space of 8 short months, they made it happen!
Three bars hosted the first events of the Geneva Cocktail Week.
The festival kicked off at the Little Barrel. From 3 to 5 pm guests were led through a tasting of the Havana Club rum range with explanations about the history of Cuban rum and the heritage of maestro roneros by Robert Mischko, the brand ambassador for Switzerland. They could then enjoy some of his specialty cocktails in the evening.
On the opposite side of town, Le Scandale held a Stoli Mule event with, you guessed it, original Moscow Mule cocktails.
Finally, Arnold & Julen, in the newly gentrified Place Grenus, had a Pimm’s party. Unfortunately I arrived to late for the product presentation. While I’m a true Pimm’s o’clock fan – especially in London – I opted for a Passionata, the cocktail specially concocted for the cocktail week. If I tell you I had three of them, you’ll take it it was good! It contained Ketel One vodka, peach liqueur, apple juice, passion fruit puree, lime, fresh mint and brown sugar.
The day’s events started at the Black Sheep with a masterclass about gin given by Robert Mischko. The presentation was accompanied by a tasting of Beefeater, Plymouth and Monkey 47 gins. Unfortunately, I was stuck in the office and couldn’ t attend.
Next door, Arnold & Julen once again hosted a Pimm’s party because …does one need a reason to enjoy Pimm’s? I don’t think so.
By the lake, in the Jardin Anglais (the English Garden), La Potinière hosted a Wild Turkey evening with a workshop, a tasting and a menu of special cocktails around the spirit.
Finally, while guests enjoyed Rhum Clément range at the Little Barrel’s Ti-Punch party, a local artist, Pierre-Antoine Possa, was letting his imagination run on a canvas. He would be present in the bar three days in row to paint a different work of art each evening, each inspired by another spirit. Tuesday’s source of inspiration was rum, a nod to Little Barrel’s spirit of choice. Pierre-Antoine’s canvas stood next to a collage of rum labels so he could get ideas from their imagery.
Wednesday was a busy spirit day with an Absolut Elyx tasting at Le Scandale, two Zacapa workshops at Bistrot 23, a Peroni night at the Grand Bottle, a special Appleton & Wray Nephew menu at Katrépices and, finally, a Gin VONS tasting at the Black Sheep. Missing from the printed program but also happening, a takeover of Little Barrel by Yoann Lazareth from the Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne and formerly from the famous Forum in Paris.
Stuck at work I arrived at Bistrot 23 when the Zacapa Masterclass was wrapping. Nevermind, I enjoyed the Cocktail Week’s special (a regular feature on the menu but at a reduced price): a Lolly Pop Martini, a refreshing sour drink mixing lemon infused vodka, limoncello, lemon juice, orgeat syrup, rhubarb bitters with a lollipop as a garnish.
Then, a friend and I joined her sister at Little Barrel to taste Yoann’s cocktails. As the evening was sponsored by an absinthe brand, 4 out of the 6 drinks on the menu contained the green fairy. We each ordered a different drink so we could sample most of the menu. I had the Diamond Daïquiri (Havana Club 3 yrs, lime, cardamom, pear liquor, mist of Absinthe Larusée). It was light and refreshing but I couldn’t taste the cardamom much. My friend had La Grange (rum, Bénédictine, Absinthe Larusée Verte, sweet vermouth, grilled sesame and nutmeg). I’m usually one for strong drinks but this one really packed a punch! Needless to say my friend took her sweet time drinking it! While the aniseed taste of absinthe was too intense for me, my friend liked it just fine. Her sister ordered an Innocent Asian, the alcohol free version of the Asian Jasmin Collins also on the menu. Ingredients were lime juice, pandan syrup, jasmine tea and orange flower water. For the alcoholic version, add rum! It was served in a Collins glass with Swiss cornflowers on top. Fresh, pretty and delicious. While my friend was still sipping her first drink and her sister had gone home, I was happy to try another of Yoann’s concoctions. As I told him I wasn’t much of a fan of absinthe, he made me a variation of the Robert Burns, switching the scotch with some rum and adding a little bit of salt for a marine taste. It was really delectable! What I liked even more was listening to Yoann tell the history of the original cocktail and explaining his take on the recipe.
Meanwhile, Pierre-Antoine was back with his brushes to paint a new artwork inspired by absinthe this time. It was really nice to watch live how a spirit (not only the fact of drinking it but also its history) can inspire an artist. I was looking forward to seeing the final painting inspired by mezcal!
By Thursday the Geneva Cocktail Week was in full bloom: bars had noticed an increase in the number of guests compared to a regular week and some visitors had made the trip from Vevey (1h30 hours from Geneva) or even Zurich (3 hours from Geneva!) to attend! Several masterclasses were organized throughout the day and evening. I took the afternoon off from work to partake in some of them.
From 2 to 4pm I was at the Grand Bottle for a workshop about spirit infusions presented by Robert Mischko, brand ambassador for Absolut Vodka and Absolut Elyx. After some interesting information about vodka, Absolut and Elyx, Robert proceeded to explain and demonstrate the different techniques that can be used to infuse a spirit with various flavours. He prepared cocktails using infused spirits so we could taste the home flavoured alcohol. He also improvised a very tasty cocktail made from a vodka that was infused during the masterclass with compounds selected by the attendees. A very informative workshop for everybody!
At the same time, right across the street the Atelier Cocktail Club was hosting a “Hendrick’s Deconstruction Tasting” with Global Brand Ambassador Duncan McRae for guests to learn more about gin and about Hendrick’s in particular.
The evening was dedicated to mezcal and tequila with masterclasses and special cocktail menus at both Bistrot 23 and Little Barrel. Bistrot 23 introduced guests to Grand Mezcal – La Escondida and Tequila Villalpando. Short anecdote about La Escondida: its founder, Dario Sanabria, comes from Mexico but has been living in Geneva for many years. He actually started his mezcal brand while already residing here!
Little Barrel hosted a masterclass about mezcal Amores. While telling us about the production process of the agave distillate, Amores brand ambassador, Alex Mermillod, led us through a tasting of six different mezcales – some from other brands but they were unlabelled – for us to discover the range of flavours and the different degrees of smokiness this emerging spirit on the Swiss market proposes. The presentation was very interesting and informative and, as I love smokey drinks, I enjoyed the tasting very much.
I returned to Little Barrel after dinner for the guest bartending gig of Alexandre Girard and Baptiste Roullier from La Queue du Coq, a bar located in Annecy praised by several of my colleagues. They had concocted a 5 cocktail menu, all of them with Mezcal Amores Espadín. I first had a Racines fumées (Smoked Roots), a mix of mezcal, lime juice, honey and ginger syrup, topped with beetroot foam. Alex indicated me the best way to drink it, i.e without a straw and preferably with no ice (they had to serve it with ice though this time as they didn’t have their usual large and thick wine glasses with them). I followed his advice and it really changed my tasting experience. As my nose got closer to the drink while drinking straight from the glass, my perception of the beetroot smell increased which in turn enhanced its taste on my palate. The earthy smell of the beetroot and the smokiness of the mezcal truly complimented each other.
I followed this first cocktail with an Amor Amor (Mezcal Amores Espadín, Aperol, lime juice and orgeat syrup). That was a bit of a drinking dare for me as I really really don’t like Aperol. Way too bitter to my taste. However Alexandra, one of the co-founders of Geneva Cocktail Week, convinced me to give Amor Amor a try by letting me taste a sip of hers. It was simply delicious. The mezcal countered the bitterness of the Aperol and all that was left of it was its orange flavour. The glass had a sweet paprika/salt/sugar rim that worked really well with the mezcal as well. All in all an excellent drink to cap off the evening!
After a happy, fun filled Thirsty Thursday, Friday’s program looked very promising as well.
The day started with a Classic Cocktails workshop with Robert Mischko at the Atelier Cocktail Club from 2 to 4pm. I was unfortunately unable to attend but I met a participant later in the evening and he had a blast. They were only 3 participants, a seemingly low number that gave them the opportunity to spend more time behind the bar with Robert. Kind of like a private class with him! They were taught how to prepare classic cocktails, such as the Martinez, the Gimlet, the Negroni, the Manhattan, etc.
Much like cigarette smokers will tell you how much they enjoy a glass of wine with their smoke, it seems that cigar aficionados like nothing better than a nice rum to accompany their cigar. I wouldn’t know personally as I don’t smoke and don’t encourage anyone doing so. However for the cigar amateurs, Quentin had devised a special event at the Montiro restaurant/bar/cigar club with cigar and cocktails pairings starting at 2pm and 8pm.
There were two masterclasses in the evening: one about Buen Sucesso Mezcal at the Blue# at 7pm and one about Tanqueray gin at the N’vY Bar. I joined the latter with about 10 other participants. Vincent Dumesnil, brand ambassador for Diageo’s Reserve Portfolio welcomed us at the bar with a Tanqueray 10 & Tonic. Once everyone was there, he led us through a presentation about gin and Tanqueray’s history, the brand’s close association with Gordon’s Gin, its different products (with a tasting of course!) and its special editions (Malacca, Old Tom and Bloomsbury, with a tasting of Bloomsbury for those who wished). I especially liked the information about Tanqueray 10. Did you know the name of the product comes from the still used to distill it called Tiny 10? or that the shape of the bottle is also a nod to the still with its 10 facets as well as a nod to the citruses that are an essential part of the spirit’s composition? The bottle’s bottom evokes a citrus press while the rough bottleneck resembles a grater used to zest the fruits.
Vincent had planned a fun workshop for after his presentation. He gathered us around the bar for a demonstration of several gin recipes we could easily reproduce back home (Martini, Pink Lady, Basil Smash, Gin Fizz, Martinez, etc.) and enlisted some participants to make the cocktails with him. It was a very amusing way to finish the masterclass and everyone had a great time.
Several bars participating in the Geneva Cocktail Week had special events for the night. The Barbershop had a Monkey Shoulder trolley with spiked up iced teas and cocktail; the Black Sheep had a special menu with Schweppes Premium Mixers and Bulldog Gin; finally it was Le Scandale’s turn to host a Pimm’s night. Alas, after going to a street festival in Carouge, I realized I was basically sleep walking and returned home without enjoying any of these activities. I didn’t even stop at Le Chat Noir which was only a 2 min walk from where I was. That goes to say how tired I was.
For the last day open to the general public, the organizers of the Geneva Cocktail Week had two masterclasses in store: one about Polugar Vodkas at L’Apothicaire Cocktail Club and the other about Buen Suceso Mezcal at Le Verre à Monique both at 6pm. (All in all there have been four masterclasses about mezcal during the week. Take the hint: this is the new “it” spirit!) I’ll admit to attending neither of Saturday’s masterclasses. Shame on me, I know, but Saturday afternoons are my “sacred” chill out time at home. In fact I’ll admit to not attending any event of the Geneva Cocktail Week on Saturday. In my defense there were two places on my radar but, once my friends and I got there around midnight, they were either closed or closing down. I’m of two minds there. On one hand I admit I should have checked these two venues’ timetables beforehand. Upon doing it now I see that they’re both closed on Saturdays, although for one that is fairly recent and the other states it’s open on Saturdays in case of events. On the other hand, shouldn’t these places have opened exceptionally for the cocktail week? They have the license to do so and I’m pretty sure they would have had guests (other than my friends and I) coming in. Food for thought for next year, don’t you think?
To end Geneva’s first cocktail week in style and to thank all the bartenders and bar managers for their hard work during the week, a special closing party was held on Sunday evening at the N’vY Bar. I was lucky to get invited and brought a friend along with me. We sipped on cocktail creations based on Absolut Elyx by Robert Mischko – Pernod Ricard Swiss, part of Pernod Ricard that owns Absolut Elyx, was one of the two party sponsors – and tasted original Gin & Tonics made with the new Premium Mixers from Schweppes, the second sponsor.
A friendly competition was organized to determine the best cocktail of the week. Two at a time, the bartenders walked behind the bar to prepare their Cocktail week signature drink. It was a joyful occasion with a lot of banter and cheering. Before the results were given, flair bartenders demonstrated their moves. Some routines were pretty impressive!
After much tasting and deliberating, the jury, comprising Sophie Larrouture, Diageo World Class winner 2016 for Switzerland, designated their 5 favourite cocktails. The Blue#’s Mojito Japonais (Japanese Mojito), spiced up with wasabi infused bitters, came in 5th position ; it was preceded in 4th position by the Bottle Brothers’ Le Pornography, a gin based cocktail with homemade lime and tonka vanilla syrup. The bar’s “big brother”, the Grand Bottle, came in third place with its Nepal Sour. The cocktail surprised the jury with its vodka infused with timut pepper essential oil and its homemade red berries sherbet. Second on the podium was the Little Barrel’s Maï Napple, a twist on the Maï Taï with homemade spicy ginger syrup and topped up with ginger beer. The night’s big winner was the Swiss Geisha (called the Swiss Mao in the programme here below) by the N’vY Bar. Presented in a Japanese tea pot filled with crushed ice and garnished with candied and chocolate dipped rose petals, it was a fine floral mix of Nginuous gin, umeshu, amaro, rooiboos syrup, cherry blossom tea, lemon juice and orange zest. My friend and I ordered it at the end of the competition. I enjoyed it very much and hope I’ll find it on the bar’s menu on my next visit!
Once the competition was done and the usual thank yous were given, it was a wrap for the Geneva Cocktail Week’s first edition. People were welcomed to stay and party but, as we had to work the next morning, my friend and I headed home after finishing our Swiss Geishas.
At the closing party, Alexandra recounted what one of the attendees told her: “You made a promise 8 months ago to organize a cocktail week in Geneva and you held it. Geneva Cocktail Week did happen.” Not a small feat to achieve in such a short time when you nearly start from scratch!
Thanks to their connections and solid program, Alexandra, Guillaume and Quentin secured the legal authorizations from the City of Geneva, the support from Geneva Tourism, the sponsorship of the biggest spirits distributors, the presence of well known and emerging quality brands, the participation of great speakers, brand ambassadors and guest bartenders and, last but not least, the public showed up in numbers. Between learning about techniques, getting better acquainted with the big spirits brands and discovering lesser-known products, much attention had been given to educate cocktail amateurs. As a participant it was sometimes tough deciding which masterclass or event to attend but I was very happy with my choices. Sure some things could have been done differently but, in my opinion, this first edition of the Geneva Cocktail Week was a success. So well done Alexandra, Guillaume and Quentin for the amazing program you concocted, the fantastic time I and many others had and for developing cocktail culture in Geneva! I’ll be looking forward to the next edition!