Bar Convent Berlin Goes Global
With attendees from all over Europe, and speakers and brand ambassadors from Australia, New Zealand, and the US, Bar Convent Berlin is continuing to become not just a German bar show, but a global hub for brands and beverage industry workers.
“Over the last years Bar Convent became not only German’s main trade show, but one of Europe’s major ones alongside with London Bar Show and Cocktail & Spirits in Paris. Over two days I crossed with loads of trade professionals from such different countries as Greece, US, Italy, France, UK, Portugal, Spain, Poland, The Netherlands, CH, Austria and Germany of course. The fact of being literally in the middle of Europe, Berlin brings together such a different crowd that we don’t see that often in London or Paris,” says Philippe Mille, Area Manager of Europe for Leblon cachaca.
42 Below vodka’s “Vodka Professor” Jacob Briars also noted that he was able to reach a wide audience. He said that the BCB “is attracting a growing audience from across Europe and internationally, which means being at BCB means high visibility among guests from further afield – UK, USA, hell, even New Zealand,” he said. Furthermore, Briars said there is a deep local reach. “This is the leading show in Central Europe, and it attracts a large number of people not just from Germany, which is a growing market for us, but also from other central European countries – Denmark, Slovakia, etc where we have little presence as yet but hope to be in market soon. So it helps with exposure to a much broader audience than just Germany and is really a pretty cheap way (relatively speaking) to get yourself in front of a regional audience.” Simon Porter of Aussie Spirits put it more succinctly: “We heard it is the best show in Europe,” he said. “We were very impressed by the world wide customers that passed by and took a genuine interest in our products.”
Think Globally, Learn Locally
Many of the people who visited Berlin from the furthest afield were featured conference speakers who spoke on the Main Stage. There, many of the topics for talks on the first day centered around the history of cocktails, bartenders, and equipment, while on the second day other speakers lectured about present technological advances and futuristic drink-making techniques. Monday’s first seminar, lead by Britain-based historians Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown, was an in-depth look at the German bartenders and book authors who helped further the cause of the cocktail in America. With everyone from Frank Meier to Hugo Ensslin to William “The Only William” Schmidt to Harry Johnson being German-born or of German descent, it became clear that the American cocktail owes a great deal to German innovators. With all these cocktails being created in their first “golden age” near the end of the 1800’s, a new set of tools were created by and for bartenders with which to make and serve the drinks.
Historian and American author of “Imbibe” David Wondrich, along with vintage book expert and online retailer Greg Boehm, discussed and demonstrated the development and use of these specialty bar tools. To round out the history lessons, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry spoke on the history and influence of the last category of cocktails created until modern times: tiki drinks. On Tuesday, three seminars looked to the future of mixology. London’s Tony Conigliaro spoke on bottle-ageing cocktails and other progressive cocktail techniques developed at the bar at 69 Colebrooke Row. These included using a roto-vapor to infuse vodka with horseradish, and redistilling a Manhattan to take out its wood notes. Matthew Bax of Der Raum in Australia and Tippling Club in Singapore presented his talk on “Progressive Cocktails from Down Under,” including drinks made with smoke, liquid nitrogen, frozen absinthe, and other amazing presentations.
Instead of speaking about scientifically-enhanced cocktails, Dave Arnold and Eben Klemm of New York spoke about using the scientific method to understand and improve the classic cocktails. Through blind tasting of cocktails they were able to show that cocktails that are typically shaken really do taste better when made that way as opposed to stirring, and vice-versa. They also reached conclusions about the effectiveness of different shaking techniques (there isn’t much difference between them) and different sizes of ice on temperature and dilution of cocktails. Much of this fascinating talk and the conclusions reached can be found in English on CookingIssues.com. While these talks focused on cocktail/bartender history and inspiring drinks of the future, there were many other seminars relevant to the day-to-day bar operations of the bar: understanding spirit categories and increasing profit. Lectures and “taste forums” lead by industry experts provided the opportunity to learn about (and drink a lot of) rum, whisky, sherry, cachaca, tequila, champagne, and gin. Bar operations sessions included a debate on the profitability of offering food in bars and the profit potentials of hotel bars.
A Different Conference, The Right Atmosphere
Bar shows around the world vary a great deal in format. Some cater specifically to nightclubs and bartenders who work in them. These shows typically host booths of glow-in-the-dark test tubes, gelatin shots, energy drinks, and other objects for high-volume drinking, often served by young women wearing the least amount clothes possible.
Others emphasize restaurant operations more than those of cocktail bars, with a focus on equipment and profit-per-unit above quality and flavor. A third type of show focuses on consumers and tastings instead of equipment and education. Typically the more the consumers are allowed to drink, the less the show is a learning experience and more a fraternity party. At BCB, however, the mix was a unique combination of aspects of other types of bar shows. Porter of Aussie Spirits said, “The atmosphere was very cool and relaxed, but businesslike at the same time.”
The show this year offered three venues for education: The Main Stage for the larger educational seminars, the Distillers’ Stage for spirits category discussions, and two Demonstration Bars for brand presentations. With up to four educational sessions being taught at any given time, attendees could easily have skipped all the tastings- had they not been so tempting. The Distillers’ Area, the large upstairs tasting room, had more than 60 bar booths and several large displays, but there was still plenty of space to move around. Furthermore, larger brand areas offered seating on lounge furniture or at bar stools, and there was additional seating and standing room in the large outdoor area for smoking, eating, or taking a break. As Porter pointed out, the atmosphere was relaxed compared with other bar shows that can feel more like crowded rock concerts than places in which to do business.
But a great deal of the credit for the success of this year’s Bar Convent belongs to the attendees. The industry people we spoke to for this story all mentioned the professionalism of the bartenders present. Briars of 42Below vodka says, “The proportion of serious bartenders and bar owners that attend seems really high, so when you are having conversations at Bar Convent Berlin you feel like you are continually talking to people who have the power to decide whether to stock 42Below.” Mille of Leblon cachaca also commented on the mood of the event. “The atmosphere over the two days was great. The after-parties very well organized and it’s always a pleasure to have a drink or two with our industry friends. Unfortunately I couldn’t see much of the seminar and talks during the day, as I was pretty busy at my own stand, but heard they were very interesting.”
Briars said, “I loved BCB and will definitely be back. It helps that it is one of the coolest cities in the world. The venue is fantastic, the show is very well organized with a great guide to make it easy to navigate the show- and also a great bar guide for the city.”
This article was first published in MIXOLOGY Issue 6/2010.
Foto: BCB by TIm Klöcker