It has been a good year to be British so far: our Queen celebrated 60 years on the throne by throwing a party in London and giving us an extra day off, the 2012 Olympics rocked, giving us a chance to show the world how it should be done, and our bars and bartenders showed that London is still the cocktail capital of the world. The first two reasons may have grabbed more headlines, but honestly they pale in significance when compared to our achievements at Tales of the Cocktail this year. You see every single ‘International’ category at the Spirited awards was won by a UK bar or bartender (Angus, we’re still claiming you even if you spend more time away from the UK than in it, you have the accent, you’re ours!)… yep, every single one! Now I’m not one to gloat, but that’s pretty amazing really!
Having been at the awards I can tell you that I felt proud to know all the award winners and consider many of them to be friends, and the feeling of seeing one after another walk onstage to collect their trophies was amazing. So upon arriving back in the UK my first thought was that we should get all those trophies together and make a few drinks to toast this amazing feat. To be honest I’ll be surprised if we scoop so many awards again, with bars from the US, Australia and many countries in Europe nipping at the heels of London when it comes to cocktails.
So bitters&twisted did the only thing that seemed right, we arranged a party to celebrate, and offered a chance for the teams from each bar to have a night off and let someone else stir and shake the drinks for a change. Partnering with The Spirit Cartel and Bank’s Rum, I arranged to have the private JubJub bar at Callooh Callay for a few hours and set about creating a menu of cocktails inspired by New Orleans.
I think it’s only right to have a quick look at the bars and the awards that they won, as to me it paints a picture of what makes London so amazing when it comes to cocktails. When I’ve been asked in the past what’s so great about the bar scene over here, after much thought I’ve come to one conclusion; it’s the diversity of bars that keeps us at the cutting edge. So who won what and why?
Our host bar for the evening was the JubJub at Callooh Callay, Callooh being the deserving winner of World’s Best Cocktail Menu. Over the years their menus have always comprised of new drinks created by their team (rather than a list of classics with a few twists) and have been presented in unique and quirky ways. Their current menu? A cassette case that folds out to reveal their summer hits…
Joining us on the evening were representatives from The Connaught bar, who were awarded World’s Best Cocktail Bar, which is no surprise if you’ve ever experienced this beautiful five star hotel bar and the stunning drinks and service they offer their guests. Alex Kratena was also in attendance as the winner of International Bartender of the Year, as well as representing The Artesian bar, winners of World’s Best Hotel Bar. It’s about time that his fine work creating innovative cocktails using exotic ingredients and served in ways that often boggle the mind, is recognised by the industry. Alex has quietly taken the Artesian from strength to strength and is a humble and understated host, who is quick to smile, and always ensures his guests expectations are exceeded.
From the slightly smaller end of the Hotel Bar side of the industry, we had the team from The Zetter Townhouse join us, having won World’s Best New Bar. Tony Conigliaro implemented a quietly innovative drinks program here, with every drink featuring a process or ingredient developed in his drinks laboratory adding extra dimensions of flavour and aroma. This boutique hotel bar is stunning in design, service and standard of cocktails, and I can’t think of a more appropriate award for them to receive.
With five crystal plates already in the room you could be forgiven for thinking that that’s enough for any city to lay claim to, but we were also playing host to the guys from Salvatore’s at The Playboy Club who won World’s Best Drinks Selection. Salvatore’s fine collection of antique spirits and liqueurs along with their excellent selection of modern super premium spirits means that you’ll struggle to drink anything other than the finest liquids if you’re lucky enough to visit them for a drink.
When you consider that the award for International Brand Ambassador of the year also went to a Brit, Angus Winchester, and that the lifetime achievement award went to Gaz Regan who hails from the North of England, it’s only fair to say that team GB swept the awards at Tales of the Cocktail this year.
It seemed only right to try and get as many of the award winners together as possible under one roof, to raise a glass to the teams that made this success possible. It was a chance for a select group of journalist, bartenders, brand ambassadors and of course the teams from each of the bars, to take a moment acknowledge their achievements, and more importantly it gave me a chance to thank them for making my home city the cocktail capital of the world.
So when I mentioned the idea of hosting a gathering to James Triffo from The Spirit Cartel, he immediately said that Bank’s Rum would like to sponsor it. In fact they had already been discussing how many awards were coming home to London and wanted to do something special for the winners as they work closely with so many of them, so within an hour of mentioning the idea, invitations were being designed, bottles of rum ordered, menus created and the space was booked.
I offered to work the bar and design the menu so that the bartenders from Callooh Callay would be free to join us as guests (in their own bar), although thankfully Frenchy decided to work the bar with me to ensure that the drinks went out fast enough to keep everyone well lubricated! It wasn’t until later that I realised that I had set myself the task of creating four new cocktails good enough to serve to essentially the best bartenders in the world… no pressure!
A menu of four cocktails, each inspired by New Orleans was created; featuring Bank’s Rum and Pierre Ferrand Cognac (between the two brands they have won Best New Product at Tales for the past two years so it seemed the right thing to do!). Other than my slightly inept bartending skills the drinks seemed to go down well over all, so the recipes will be popping up on our Facebook page over the next few days. Speeches were written, shirts ironed, glasses chilled and all that remained was to get everyone in the same room for one night only!
The great thing about this event was that it really felt like a group of friends coming together and chatting and laughing while enjoying a few cocktails. This is the essence of our industry after all, and for me it was a privilege to be able to play host and let these people who usually serve me drinks, relax and spend time together. The feeling on the night was one of celebration, appreciation and friendship, without the need to over work it, we just gathered, drank and hung out together.
There was of course one formal part of the evening, where James and I called each of the bars up to receive a congratulatory bottle of rum as a token of appreciation for their efforts to keep London at the cutting edge of the drinks industry. Bank’s had kindly donated seven bottles of their exclusive Bank’s Endeavour Rum, one for each of the winners and an extra bottle for two people who we felt deserved some recognition as well.
Andy Ives and Simon Webster of BarLifeUK narrowly missed out on winning the Best Cocktail Writing (non published) award, after a second year of making the short list at Tales. Despite not having won this year, I felt that they deserved some recognition, after all when you run the most respected drinks industry website, based in the city that can currently claim to be the cocktail capital of the world, you must be doing something right! I think they were surprised to be included in our presentations, but this is exactly what the evening was about, taking a moment to give a well-deserved pat on the back to the industry figures who help to keep London at the top of the cocktail world, and there’s no doubt in my mind that BarLifeUK play a big part of promoting what’s happening in the UK.
Having oiled the gathering with plenty of rum based cocktails, it was a pleasant surprise when Alex Kratena stepped up to say a few words, thanking James and myself for putting on the party and then offering to open one of the two bottles he’d received from Bank’s. Within seconds, 25 glasses were on the bar and Alex had poured a dram of this exquisite rum into each, for us to raise a toast to London and the bars we’re so proud of. As you might expect when you have a room full of bartenders, we polished off a £400 bottle of rum in the space of two minutes, taking just long enough to appreciate this lovely spirit without breaking up the party for too long. It was nice to take a moment to reflect on the great haul captured by London and enjoy the generous gift that Bank’s had kindly given to the award winners.
Of course even after the last few drinks were shaken and stirred and the bar was closed down there were more than a few drinks ahead as we poured into neighbouring venues, and continued to enjoy an evening of good friends and good drinks. Judging by the texts and emails that I received the following afternoon, there were a few sore heads the following day, but that’s all part of the celebrating!
I’ll sign off now with a final ‘well done’ to all those who won at Tales, not just our London winners, but the bars and bartenders, writers and mentors around the world who make our industry great. The example you set makes many in the industry strive to be better at what they do. Also the runners up and those who were nominated; you deserve a pat on the back for being great enough to make the list. Even if you didn’t get your crystal plate this year, I’m sure your time will come. As much as I’d like to think that next year we’ll have an excuse to throw a similar bash, I suspect that there will be other cities taking their share of the awards in 2013. With exciting projects announced in NY and Paris already and the Australian bar scene exploding with talent, London won’t keep their crown for ever, but this year I can be proud to be a part of the cocktail scene that leads the way!