Thinking about next year’s trade calendar? The bar scene in Eastern Europe is growing and there’s a bunch of events fighting for the spotlight. MIXOLOGY author Andrew Wilkin headed to Kiev for the 3rd edition of the Barometer International Bar Show, discovering a show that’s got a lot of bang, but also some buck too.
Strobe lights flicker. An ice cube disappears into the depth of a monolithic screen. “Welcome tooooooooo Barometer!,” bellows the ever-charismatic host Kenji Jesse. The entire crowd – up to 1000 strong – smashes their feet on the floor in unison. Barometer’s Star Stage, in all its four-to-the-floor bluster, makes the stages of BCB Berlin look dainty in comparison. Even Tristan Stephenson – hardly a newbie to big trade junkets – claimed he’d never spoken in front of a crowd as big as this.
Here’s the thing. Barometer, run by Ukraine’s Hoteliero Club who also run a host of events such as the Ukrainian Hospitality Awards and the National Salt Restaurant Awards, is full of quality, but dressed up like the alcohol biz equivalent of an EDM rave. Loud billboards state that all discussions are world premieres – ones you’ve never seen before! Guest numbers, which they claim to be 18,000 this year, are given precedence in promotional material.
Then there’s this year’s theme: the outrageously topical “borders”, of which Barometer states it has none. There was even a wedding proposal – sponsored by the biker-styled Nemiroff Vodka – dramatically included before a seminar. Note: she accepted. Together both an industry and consumer event – although it’s not clear who makes up the majority – they’ve gone to clear attempts to lure in and entertain the masses.
A new bartending centre
Away from this consumer-pandering, Barometer, which lasts for three days, has definitely become a central point for bartenders from regions hitherto under-served. “This year, I saw a huge number of international visitors, from the Baltics, Kazakhstan, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia,” noted Jesse. “It’s clear this region was calling out for a show of this size and caliber.” With three competitions hosted also within the walls – the Monin Cup, the Monkey Shoulder Championship, and Bacardi Legacy Ukraine – it gave the event a definite can’t miss factor within the local scene. Barometer truly buzzes.
A host of great discussions, all loosely tied to “borders”, were also held. Lauren Mote, Global Cocktailian at Diageo, discussed hybrid bartending, crucially centred on the “strawberry”. The final day – full of great content – included the likes of Diego Ferrari on low ABV cocktails and Gunther Rauner’s warts and all exploration of the Buffalo Trace Distillery.
With many discussions only in Russian, there was little in the way of schedule clashes – as is frustratingly customary at other shows – but there was also a lingering notion that something, for Western audiences at least, had been left on the table. Coming to the region, it would be interesting to hear what the biggest names in Russia and Eastern Europe had to say, rather than the ones we all know already. Perhaps next year more English-Russian translations could be in the offing.
Downstairs, many of the brands showcased seemed to be biggies we were well accustomed to – the likes of Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray, and Havana Club, amongst many more. Staritsky Levitsky Vodka, who produce Distil No.9 as well as their own brand Reserve and the ultra-premium Private Cellar, was a great discovery. Nemiroff Vodka, sponsors of the wedding proposal, also had a big presence. Nevertheless, it would be great to see more from the Ukrainian vodka scene, blessed with natural resources and undeniably one of the crucial stops on the Vodka belt.
Bars at the forefront
“The main difference I’ve witnessed between Barometer and other shows such as BCB is that the main floor is bar rather than brand led,” continued Jesse. Whilst the brands were situated in the same downstairs area as the bars, the bars were firmly stationed in the central section. The majority of them also gave talks on the Star stage about their places too.
Deservedly so. The team secured a great selection of bars, this year including the humdinger likes of Baba au Rum (Athens), Paradiso (Barcelona), Little Red Door (Paris), and Flying Dutchmen Cocktails (Amsterdam). However it was increasingly interesting to see the presence of the region’s best watering holes, including Barmaglot (Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan), Simona (Yerevan, Armenia) and Embargo (Minsk, Belarus), who served a particularly notable Bobble Mint cocktail, with bourbon, bobble mint foam, orange curaçao, lemon juice, brown sugar, and Angostura bitters. This is where Barometer arguably hits its highest notes: a strong mix of the world’s most famous bars, with bars from the region who truly deserve more exposure.
City views and chicken Kiev
Another strength undoubtedly is the organization and the gem of a venue: CEV Parkovy, an exhibition centre situated conveniently between Kiev’s city centre and the hip neighbourhood of Podhil. Another strength: the food offering. Stationed on the terrace with ding-dong views over the River Dnieper, the Barometer team assembled a preview of what Kiev’s top-notch dining scene has to offer. Chicken Kievs and lobster soups sat alongside more international offerings from Kiev’s best eateries.
Whilst the organization was top-notch – there was no fiddling around with hundreds of bills, as all transactions were carried on pre-paid cards paid for on entry – space was definitely at a premium, especially on the weekend. I’d advise all guests to try for an early start – if possible – so you can get out and explore the city’s fledging and vibrant bar scene a tad earlier than the Barometer crowds.
Juggling trade and consumer interest is a tough task, one that Barometer International Bar Show just about manages. Well-organized and high in quality, it’s justly become a centre for the bartending industry in a growing region and it’s back next year, from 27-29 September 2019. Though with any luck, they’ll calm down on the strobes this time around.