One of the fantastic things about spirits is how international they are. Some of the same drinks that are served down at your local bar in America are being served across bars around the world. The Bar Convent Berlin (aka Berlin Bar Show) showcases the international aspect of spirits with a decidedly German spin.
At this year’s show the centerpiece spirit was tequila (probably not the first thing you think of when you think of drinking in Berlin). Tequila has become quite popular in Germany, with a wide number of brands finding an audience, including the extremely popular Sierra Milenarin Tequila. Mezcal is also making its mark in Germany with Los Danzantes Mezcal, Mezcal Macanegar, Mezcal Alipus, and Mezcal San Cosme all working to develop a following.
Perhaps the biggest spirit category represented at the show was Gin. Some of the stand-out gins at the show included: Sipsmith Gin, a small batch gin which is the love child of Jared Brown and Sam Galsworthy; Gin Mare, a Mediterranean gin distilled with olives, thyme, and rosemary; and, Blue Gin from Reisetbauer, a superb Austrian gin with limited release in the United States.
Alongside the gins were a number of exceptional tonics. Tonic in Europe is vastly superior to what’s offered in the US (which has a ridiculous limit on quinine levels in tonic). Schwepps in Europe (including their Indian Tonic) is a completely different product than what’s sold in the US, and it’s legions better. Schwepps had a limited edition ginger and cardamon tonic that they were sampling at the show that just sang with gin. German-based Thomas Henry also had some notable tonics like an Elderflower Tonic that is absolutely crave worthy (and unfortunately not available in the US).
The Berlin Bar Show also showcased some of Germany’s native brands. Of particular note was Jägermeister, who worked hard to shed its frat boy image with a sophisticated cocktail lab that included a wide range of custom made bitters and craft cocktails. Jagermeister showed off its mixable side with several classic inspired cocktails, including a variation on the Negroni and a flip that softened and transformed Jagermeister into something much more mixable. Jagermeister didn’t abandon its shot archetype and presented a number of “shot tails” including a shot that combined Jagermeister and Mozart chocolate liqueur.
The Bitter Truth, another German company, showed off its complete line of bitters and cordials including their new peach bitters. Bright and flavorful, Bitter Truth Peach Bitters is an excellent addition to their extensive bitters line. The company also sampled its newly reformulated chocolate bitters, which are a vast improvement over the original formula, intensely flavored and bitter.
Many of the major brands had a presence at the show, including Diageo who was showing off Johnnie Walker and its mixability in cocktails in their World Class cocktail lounge. Germany has a few different releases of Johnnie Walker that aren’t in the States yet, including Johnnie Walker Gold Label and Platinum Label, an 18 year blended malt whisky.
Bacardi had two distinctly different approaches to the show. Upstairs on the show floor they had a carnival-esque drinking station where imbibers had to try to catch cubes of ice in a glass and make drinks by turning knobs and pulling levers.
Downstairs they had a small speakeasy, nestled away from the show crowd, and featuring drinks made by notable bartenders including some of the staff from the Savoy cocktail lounge in London as well as winners from their Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition.
Jim Beam played up its American identity with a mini-bar on the show floor including a foosball table, and a bar complete with a Red Stag chill shot machine. In the US, Jim Beam released their honey and bourbon offering under the Red Stag label as “Honey Tea.” As with the other Red Stag products the flavors are artificial and sub par. In Europe the honey offering is Jim Beam Honey which is a vast improvement over the Red Stag product, using only honey as a flavoring. It would be nice to see Jim Beam bring this honey product to the US where it would do much better thanRed Stag Honey Tea.
Pernod Ricard had three separate booths: Absolut, Beefeater 24, and Havana Club. The most notable of these was Absolut, whose booth was centered around Absolut Unique, a series of brightly colored vodka bottles, each different from another. Pernod also showed off their new ultra premium vodka, Absolut Elyx, which goes through a copper canalization process to make it even cleaner and smoother than the traditional Absolut. Absolut’s presence at the BCB was part of a continued reboot of the brand with a much more current and modern image.
One of the great things about the Bar Convent Berlin is the opportunity to meet many of the industries luminaries and hear them speak about the topics they are passionate about. This year’s show featured such notables as Gaz Regan, Jim Meehan, Ian Burrell, Phillip Duff, Angus Winchester, and Julio Bermejo. In addition to speaking, Jim Meehan was on the show floor representing Banks 5 Island Rum, a company that he is part owner in. Meehan’s cocktail book, The PDT Cocktail Book, was recently translated into German and has been a huge hit in the Berlin bar community.
A number of new and emerging spirits were shown at the BCB, many available in the US. Bossa Cachaca, currently available in Miami, is one of the most approachable cachacas we’ve tasted. Bossa is soft, lightly sweet, and clean with a perfect level of grassiness. Bossa is perhaps the best distilled cachaca we’ve tried. Merlet, well known for their delicious fruit liqueurs, has the new Merlet Brothers Blend Cognac made from 90% Fin Bois / 20% Petite Champaign. Merlet Brothers Blend is great both for sipping and mixing, and shows yet again that the “Grand Cru” isn’t the only region of Cognac producing fantastic spirits.
Ysabel Regina is an interesting spirit that combines VSOP Cognac (from Petite and Grand Champagne) along with 10 year old Spanish Reserva Solera, and then finishes in Pedro Jimenez barrels for 14 months. The result is very approachable, sweet, and almost liqueur like. The product has just been released in Europe and isn’t yet in the US, but is handled by the same company that imports Gin Mare Mediterranean Gin. Gamot is also not available in the US yet but we hope to see it in the future. Gamot is like gin but uses bergamot as its only botanical. The result is a nice mix of floral and citrus notes while still maintaining a nice dry character. It’s an interesting spirit and could be key in creating some cool variations on classic cocktails.
Although it comes from Oaxaca, Mexico, San Cosme Mezcal is not sold in the US yet, instead getting its debut in Europe. It’s a shame because San Cosme could be an absolute smash hit in the US, as it’s light, clean, balanced, and by far the most approachable mezcal we’ve sampled.
Towards the end of the BCB was the awards ceremony for a major cocktail competition that brought together mixologists from all the German speaking territories, along with Philip Thompson, a Seattle bartender from the Coterie Room. The Cherry Heering Sling Award challenged mixologists to reinterpret the classic drink popularized at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The winning cocktails featured everything from a Cherry Heering foam, swapping in rum as the base spirit, and a fusion of the Sling and the Blue Blazer, a classic flamed drink.
The Bar Convent Berlin is a rare and successful fusion of spirits trade show, conference, and bartender gathering. It’s one of the best bar shows I’ve attended and really serves as a model for other bar shows and cocktail weeks to follow. Berlin Bar Show will take place again on October 8 & 9, 2013.