By Geoffrey Kleinman
With Tales of the Cocktail, Manhattan Cocktail Classic, SF, PDX, LAX, BOS, and AZ cocktail weeks, you'd think that Americans would hold the crown for the best bar show in the world. In truth, while many of these US-based events are fantastic, it's actually the Berlin Bar Show (or Bar Convent Berlin) that manages to come out on top.
Now in its fifth year, the BCB manages a perfect balance of trade show, conference, and bartender gathering. The core of Bar Convent Berlin is the spirited trade show with two full floors of spirit vendors and companies sampling their wares and making cocktails for conference attendees. One of the things that makes the BCB so enjoyable is that many of the spirit companies set up mini bars for attendees to sit and linger. This gives the show a much more relaxed feel to it and people actually stop, sit, and enjoy their cocktails.
Also, unlike most of the American bar shows, most of the cocktails at the Berlin Bar Show aren't batched. This means that the cocktails at the show are actually worth sitting and enjoying! Pernod Ricard brought out some of their big guns for Havana Club with unique cocktails that used techniques you wouldn't expect at a bar show (including smoking cocktails). The show also featured some heavy hitters including Julio Bermejo (from Tommy's SF), Mario Kappes (The Boilerman Bar, Hamburg), and Jim Meehan (PDTNY) making hand shaken daiquiris with Banks Rum.
The BCB also doesn't over-program talks. With four venues for talks and demonstrations (all of different sizes), the BCB had little filler in its programming, and many of the key sessions didn't compete against each other. Talks included Ian Burrell talking about how to lose a cocktail competition and all about rum; Philip Duff and Angus Winchester on naming cocktails (which they did this year at Tales); Jim Meehan on launching a new spirit brand; and, Julio Bermejo talking about tequila. While some of the talks and demonstrations were in German, the majority of them were in English.
These luminaries also were extremely accessible at the show, with their time less divided by competing events. Gaz Regan sat at the Jagermeister booth and signed books and talked to fans for a few hours, while Jim Meehan chatted to his German fans and signed copies of the PDT book, recently translated into German.
Instead of making a grand splash or outspending each other on massive parties, brands focused on more intimate interactions with bartenders and attendees. With all the events in one place, the show had the feel of a pop-up bartender community. With two big courtyards with food, people gathered and hung out between sessions.
BCB was also an opportunity for brands to show off the winners of their cocktail competitions. Bacardi had some of the winners from the Bacardi Legacy competition making drinks in their small pop-up speakeasy, and Cherry Heering flew out Seattle bartender Philip Thompson from The Coterie to make his award-winning Singapore Sling Variation, Sling & Fizzle.
While there were some parties during the evening, the real focus of the BCB's evening activities were a collection of featured bars. Many attendees spent their evening hopping between Berlin bars. The show hours were also spot on, with doors opening at noon each day and closing at 8pm - a perfect period of time to leisurely see everything on the floor and still have time to sit and have a few cocktails at the show.
Bar Convent Berlin may not be on the radar screen of many American bartenders and industry professionals, but it should be. BCB has cracked the code on what makes a great bar show and represents one of the world's best bar shows.
Cheers from DrinkUpNY!
Report written by Geoffrey Kleinman, a nationally published drinks writer who has appeared in Playboy, Tasting Panel Magazine, and runs DrinkSpirits.com.