Boozing in Berlin at BCB 2017
All photos by Amanda Schuster and Adam Levy. We’re back from Germany and finally able to process the delicious whirlwind that is Bar Convent Berlin. For those unfamiliar, it’s one of Europe’s biggest bar shows, taking place in a jam packed, but miraculously organized two-day period (next year it is rumored to be three days) in a convention center built out of a former East Berlin train station, with evening events around the city. Not only does it showcase all things boozy - wine, beer, spirits and cocktails - there’s also an opportunity for related non-alcoholic beverage brands to showcase.
As with any annual event, there’s always room for innovation to keep crowds returning, and this year was no exception. Because fewer tickets were made available in order to control crowds for emergency safety purposes (previous years saw impassible hallways and many clogged aisles), it was sold out for the first time, although much to the surprise of many regulars who were used to having the option to purchase tickets at the door. Although luckily, those left out could still attend the nearby BCB Embassy for a taste of the show.
What else was new this year? Read on for a recap, as well as a visit with some old friends.
Cuba and Coffee
As coffee in all its forms continues to percolate across boundaries both traditional and boozy, this was the perfect year to debut Coffee Convent, which showcased all things roasting, machines and beans alongside a separate Coffee Stage for seminars. One of the highlights was from Berlin’s own Röstätte, who not only served their excellent Arabica brews either hot or cold (much appreciated at certain parts of the day, danke schon) they also debuted their own Cold Brew coffee liqueur, a refined take on this trend made with a rum base. Nearby in Hall 7, Lavazza was buzzing with a coordinated team of baristas and mixologists serving a variety of virgin coffee concoctions as well as rather intricately prepared cocktails.
It’s human nature to be attracted to things we can’t have. However, as Cuba continues to grow as a top international travel destination, those of us living on the outside still can’t help but fall in love. Combining both the romance of mid 19th century Havana with the coffee craze was the cabana celebrating the debut of Café Bébo coffee liqueur, which is made with 100% Arabica coffee beans grown in Cuba. This sprightly spirit has only 100 grams of sugar per liter, a
measure of sweetness just barely admissible as a liqueur, but makes it pleasing to modern palates who prefer less sweet tastes. It was marvelous in a riff on the Espresso Martini prepared by the “Brewing Bartender,” Timon Kaufman. Nearby in the same hall, Havana Club’s tiki rum cabana was a delight to visit, especially as an American who is still denied the pleasure of real Cuban rum cocktails stateside. I opted for the weird, but somehow delicious and balanced More Bounce - Havana Club 7 Años, peanut-infused brandy, banana liqueur and sherry.
The World is Getting Rummier
Speaking of rum, cane was all the rage at BCB this year. Island rums such as Angostura (Trinidad and Tobago), Appleton Estate (Jamaica), Clairin (Haiti), Diplomático (Venezuela), Doorly’s (Barbados), Damoiseau (Guadalupe), the Martinique rhums (J.M. and Neisson) and FAIR (Belize) were expectedly popular. More unexpected finds were entries from Spain (Dos Maderas), Thailand (Chalong Bay) and Ron Elba (Hamburg, Germany). And who knew spiced rum would become a thing again? Some favorite tastes included Sweetdram’s debut of their Smoked Spiced Rum made with Guyanese rum sourced by East London Liquor Company (who also presented their excellent gins, rum and whisky nearby), botanicals and a textural puff from lapsong souchong tea. And I’m glad I got over my trepidation of Spytail Black Ginger Rum from France to give it a taste - all it needs is a splash of fizzy water and a plonk of citrus peel for a less sugary comfort on a dark and stormy night.
Gin Was Still In
While rum was popular, the dominating spirit by a longshot at BCB is gin. How to stand out in a sea of botanicals? Our pals at Sipsmith did a smashing job at the replica of their distillery bar, allowing weary BCBers a chance to take a load off with a good Sloe Gin Negroni, Martini or other cocktails (with a Master Distiller Jared Brown sticker for your troubles if you asked nicely). Just as the town of
London is sprawling so too were the possibilities to taste London Dry Gin styles. Luckily Jake Burger and 2015 NYISC medalist Portobello Road Gin supplied another comfortable place to rest one’s weary dogs across the convention hall, as did Martin Miller’s and Monkey 47 (okay, it’s a British style from Germany made with far Eastern botanicals, but who’s counting. Well, besides up to the number 47?) and Law Gin (a London Dry made in Ibiza). But gin was represented from practically everywhere you can build a still, with all sorts of exotic aromatics, bases and ingredients, including American craft gins like Death’s Door and Catoctin Creek (who also poured their brandy and whiskey). A
respite on Day Two was a highly entertaining talk about the history of the Gin and Tonic, presented by Camper English, author of Tonic Water AKA G&T WTF and sponsored by Rutte Gin from DeKuyper Distillery - all about its medicinal origins (“All the payoff is on the syphilis” was a promise if we stuck with it).
Time for a digestivo
With all this gin in the morning, an herbal respite was necessary by afternoon. Amaro Lucano were among quite a few amari on the circuit presenting cocktails made from some of the top Italian maestros in the business, I was able to take a timeout with Ago Perrone of London’s award-winning bar in The Connaught. Believe it or not, a chili-infused, stirred libation with a side of chocolate stones was just the ticket. Our friends at Varnelli introduced me to one of my new favorite treats - their amaro Sibilia mixed with sparkling lemonade. A visit to the Nardini distillery booth rewarded me with an afternoon snack of gazpacho with grappa (trust me - tasting is believing).
Other Cool Stuff
Perhaps you'd like a Möet Hennessy cocktail served from a conveyer belt?
Or a taste of some new mezcal from Espíritu Lauro?
Or a modern interpretation of Polish Breadwine - Polugar? (Our favorite is the horseradish).
Is it too early for a nightcap?
One of the most fabulous things about BCB is having the option to end the day on a sophisticated note if one is still feeling fancy - it’s the opportune time to relax with a good whiskey or Cognac. But so many choices!
Perhaps some Glenfiddich? Or Glengoyne? They happened to be one of the few distilleries to present a lineup of age statements alongside their NAS Cask Strength. It’s always fun to taste (and see since the labels are so cool) what That Boutique-y Whisky Company is up to with their indie bottlings, especially from mothballed distilleries. England’s Cotswolds Distillery, previously known for their gin, presented a taste of their brand new single malt whisky, which goes through a kind of reverse maturation - first in red wine cask and then in ex-bourbon (and it’s creamy and delicious). Islay Boys, who specialize in sourced blends, poured their new Barrel Legs single malt release, adding to what is emerging as the new Islay craft whisky landscape.
One of the surprising stories at BCB this year was the rise of American whiskey as a European bar trend. A massive Brown-Forman whiskey and cocktails tasting bar featuring Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve with the sign DISCOVER AMERICAN WHISKEY greeted attendees on arrival. There was also a big presence from Michter’s, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam (The Beam Suntory whiskies each presented in separate tasting bars alongside the likes of Auchentoshan and Yamazaki). Wild Turkey held court separately next to the huge Campari aperitivo bar.
Colonies of other American whiskey made the trek to Berlin too. It was a pleasure to visit with Dave Smith of St. George Spirits and get his take on what it’s like to present American spirits that are an ode to old world styles to a discerning European bar community. For instance, he explained, “Our American Single Malt starts out as something like an eau de vie of barley malts, which allows us a really unique bridge to connect our spirits with Europeans who understand the history of distilling culture differently than Americans.”
Of course I can’t do EVERYTHING myself. That’s why Adam Levy attends BCB too. Here’s a gallery of some of his highlights.
A taste of 2015 NYISC winner Augier, who are striving to change the way Cognac is presented in on-premise accounts.
Diageo World Class
Diageo commissioned a separate staging area to showcase bartenders and brands in their World Class cocktail competition.
More Boozy Fun
All around Berlin, cocktail bars hosted BCBers and invited pop-ups from bars across Europe. By Wednesday evening, life started to get back to normal at Salut! Classic Bar. Just as we go return to life in NYC. We didn't even have a chance to partake in the new Beer Hall at BCB this year, but luckily (?) there is an extra day next year. Until then, see you in Brooklyn in June!