The Seminars of Bar Convent Berlin

The two days of Bar Convent Berlin saw 35 seminars, tastings and demonstrations across 4 theatres by 40 international speakers: BarlifeUK looks back at some of our favourites.

Firstly let me say that this is not a full write-up of every session that took place at the show for three simple reasons. Firstly many of the sessions were conducted in German and as I have stated before my German is like Sarah Jessica Parkers acting talent – non-existent.

Secondly, with 4 theatres across the show there was often several sessions happening at the same time and you have to pick your battles. Finally some of them were just too damn crowded, especially in the Taste Forum.

Like many of you reading this I’ve been to my fair share of educational events in my time on a huge variety of subjects, however what I love about this industry is that you never know it all. With the likes of Dave Wondrich and Anastasia & Jared delving into the annuals of history plus the constant innovation by a host of others there is always more to learn.

Philip Duff gets his Citrus on

With this in mind here is a very quick snapshot of just some of the things we learnt:

  • All types of citrus descend from just 3 original types of fruit – Philip Duff, Citrus – A Science in Itself
  • A place a Tiki Bar will never work? Polynesia – A Jacob Briars heckle during How To Open & Run a Tiki Bar
  • Scotland invented the cocktail and the Daiquiri – Andy Gemmell’s claim during How It Was The British Who Inspired The World to Mix Drinks
  • The reason certain American Whiskeys are sold in square bottles was to make them easier to hide from the cops during prohibition (under a car seat so it didn’t roll out for example) – Philip Duff, Age – The Final Frontier
  • Joan Crawford once said that having a Pina Colada was ‘Better than punching Betty Davis in the face’ – Ian Burrell, The Pina Colada Paternity Test
  • A Japanese dash bottle dispenses approx. 0.2g of bitters in each dash whereas an Angostura Bitters bottle is 0.7g and Regans & Peychauds is 0.9g – Don Lee, Bar Myth Busters

As you can see just from the above examples there was huge variety in the subject matter of the talks but all were full of interesting and new information. As I mentioned in the previous post on BCB we are investigating the claim that it is the best show in Europe. Well to achieve this there needs to be some great seminars – here is a more in-depth look at a few

Philip Duff – Citrus: A Science in Itself

Philip was here to look at one of the most used ingredients in cocktails around the world, Citrus. Why read me banging on about it when Philip has, as always, kindly put the whole talk with slides and an audio commentary online. In other words listen to him bang on about it instead –

Angus Winchester, Jamie Wilson and Anjy Cameron – A View Behind The Counter: How to Open and Run a Tiki Bar

The start of day two in the main theatre saw a packed house (and kudos to the German bartenders for getting out of bed and into sessions that early – puts us Brits to shame) finding out some of the tricks of the trade when it comes to opening a Tiki Bar. Angus was joined by Jamie & Anjy from CheekyTiki who he first met in 2005 when helping to set up Mahiki, London.

Jamie & Anjy gave some really interesting insights into the Tiki scene as well as some of their own opinions, after all they should know, their company now employs 21 staff and has designed and fitted out 6 Tiki bars in the UK this year alone. I must admit I couldn’t agree more with them when they say a Tiki Bar is not a Tiki Bar unless it contains a Tiki statue, it is simply a tropical bar.

How much for a Tiki Statue? Well it depends on the type of wood and design etc but roughly £100 – £150 a foot for your very own designed Tiki. I think the BarLifeUK office may soon have a new member!

They also talked about the importance of some of the incidentals that can get overlooked such as:

  • Clothing – this is no place for white shirts and blazers;
  • Music – so hard to get right, try covers of popular songs in a tiki style or indeed the right type of Elvis Presley era tracks, as Angus pointed out no-one wants to listen to 21 minutes of bird song anymore;
  • Atmosphere – all the décor you want will be let down horribly without the right lighting, it is key to enhance the look so don’t forget about it;

Angus also warned of the pitfalls of opening a Tiki bar and talked of some he had seen fail as the city or area just wasn’t ready for a Tiki Bar and a lack of promotion of the experience they were creating as much as the bar itself cost them dear.

Finally the subject of the Tiki Mugs came up. CheekyTiki now have 65 designs in their range and have built their own pottery so they can custom make anything for you. Tiki Mugs will get stolen out of your venue no matter how vigilant you are so embrace this, put your logo on them to act as a promotional tool or even sell them on the menu. Angus reminded the room of the old Café Pacifico shot glasses which read ‘Please return to Café Pacifico’.

Wayne Collins & Andy Gemmell – “Mixxit in Berlin!”: An Insightful Historic Journey on How it was the British Who Inspired the World to Mix Drinks

One half of Wandy in full flow

As well as winning the award for the longest seminar title in history, Wayne & Andy’s talk had the potential to be the shortest in history with a mass walkout of the German bartenders when they were informed the Brits invented everything and the Germans are historically useless.

However this worry was soon dispelled as Wandy (it’s just easier than typing both names out) quickly showed that the Germans were in fact instrumental in several classic drinks.

The Mixxit training programme is based around 7 families of cocktails – The Punch, Milk Punch, The Sling, The Cocktail, The Sour, The Cobbler and The Highball – and it was the history of these drinks that Wandy were looking at to prove their point.

As you can imagine the talk took a potted, alcoholic and very funny look back at history of drinking, cocktails and booze in general. Wayne acted as main history professor whilst Andy chipped in and made some great drinks which were handed out to us in the crowd (he was shaking a little carefully however, which may have something to do with a very entertaining incident the day before – ask him all about it next time you see him!).

There was a huge amount of information in the talk which I don’t have space to go to in depth to here but I am hoping that Wandy will let me write about in more detail with pictures etc soon (perhaps not calling them Wandy would be a good start in making that happen!). However here are some key dates and facts:

  • 1590’s – Shakespeare wrote about the sack posset – an early flip surely?
  • 1638 – Punch defined for the first time by a German Adventurer Johan Albrecht de Mandelslo
  • 1775 – The Glasgow Punch (better than a Glasgow Kiss) made with Rum, Citrus juice, Sugar & Nutmeg (this predates the Daiquiri, cue Andy’s Scottish boasting)1712 – Dr Richard Stoughton creates his Elixer the first commercially produced bitters which is commonly mixed with Brandy and Port
  • 1759 – Sling first mentioned in US literature from the German word Schlingen
  • 1785 – Joseph Brama invents the beer pump in London, the swans neck part was referred to as the cockstail after its similar appearance, and rumour has it that at the end of the night the last dregs from each of the pumps in a pub were put into one glass and sold – called a cockstailings!
  • 1798 – First mention of a cocktail is in the British Press
  • 1825 – Gin Palaces serving Gin & It – the precursor to the Martini
  • 1850’s – Jerry Thomas visits the UK before publishing his first book which is riddled with British Cocktails

All this info and a whole lot more was used to prove that all of the 7 families of cocktails have British roots, 4 have US roots and 2 German. I hope to bring you all the info on that soon.

Philip Duff & Audrey Fort – Age: The Final Frontier

Some aged Hanky Panky's on show

Philip was joined on stage by Audrey Fort from G’Vine Gin for this presentation, who has been aging some cocktails in barrels over in Cognac where she is based.

They first tried this experiment for a talk at Tales of the Cocktail in July and the results were so successful that they have gone a step further this time and we got to try the results, but back to that later, first Philip has some information on barrels for us.

Why were barrels so commonly used to transport everything? Simply put, you can’t roll a box. In fact it was a recent as 1950 that the main form of transporting goods across the globe was in barrels before the Americans ruined it all by inventing shipping containers.

However one of the spirits brands we most associate with barrel aging, rum, wasn’t traditionally stored in them at all. If you have been to the Caribbean you would have noticed a distinct lack of trees, a lack of trees led to a lack of barrels and as a result rum was stored in leather bottles.

This gave the rum a very distinct flavour, so much so in fact that when barrels started to be used the locals were so horrified by the change in taste that distillers had to add chopped up leather into them.

Then it was time to taste the cocktails that Audrey had been aging. First up was a White Lady. Whilst very nice we didn’t get a huge difference in the aroma or taste from the freshly made sample we were given alongside as a comparison.

One of the main reasons for this seemed to be that the barrel that Audrey used was the same that had been used to age a Vesper earlier in the year and it appeared that the Vesper had taken most of the flavour from the barrel. The Hanky Panky however was a whole different barrel of fish.

We tasted a freshly made Hanky Panky alongside one that had been aged in used Cognac Barrels and another that had been aged in new unused French Oak barrels. Both had been aged for 13 weeks with Audrey and her team tasting them every 5-6 days to keep an eye on how they changed.

Both aged cocktails had a distinctly different taste and it was fantastic to see the difference the two types of barrels had. In the end I think I still preferred the freshly made cocktail but the others were both very enjoyable to drink and a lot of others preferred the aged versions.

The key point that both Philip and Audrey wanted to get across was the importance of regular tasting of the cocktails as they age. They also suggested using a tasting sheet which you can then use to create a chart showing the influence time had on the various aspects of the drink. As always the full details of Philips talk including the aging charts produced by Audrey can be found online at

There were many other fantastic talks and I have a notebook full of scribbling bursting at the seams however the above should give you a good idea of what was happening. My only advice is that before you come to the show next year invest in a cloning machine, it will be well worth the money!

As for the answer to the original question ‘Is this the best show in Europe?’ well no it isn’t. As far as I am aware it is currently the best show in the world. Other events may have more talks (Tales of the Cocktail), other events may have a more varied group of exhibitors (Imbibe Live!) and other shows may have more events surrounding it (Sydney Bar Show) but none of them have such a complete combination of these three.

Oh and to top it off there are a shed load of bars to visit around Berlin. Simply put we can’t wait for next year.