New San Sebastián Conference Taps Into Basque Culture

By Gustaf Vincoeur |

Most people on the international circuit of cocktail events have crossed paths with Dave O’Brien. And, most people who have crossed paths with importer and brand development expert, O’Brien, have heard him gush about the glory of San Sebastián, Spain. In October, O’Brien will connect this traveling circuit with one of his favorite spots through a new mini-conference in Basque country.

The inaugural Basque Country Drinks Conference is slated to run October 4-6. (That timing is no coincidence; the dates are intended to fill the gap between World’s Fifty Best/London Cocktail Week and Bar Convent Berlin).

“I love San Sebastián more than anything. I went there for the first time in 2010, and I’ve been back every year since. I really love the Basque way of life: their tradition, history, culture,” explained O’Brien. “It would be amazing if we can bring the best and the brightest in our industry to get immersed in the rich culture and heritage of San Sebastián.”


After an informal meetup the night of arrival (10.04), BCDC features a packed schedule of tastings and tours.

Perhaps, the hottest product out of Basque Country right now is txakoli wine. Fittingly, the first morning of the conference kicks off with a visit to the Bodegas Talai Berri winery Zarautz. Operated by two sisters for their sustainability-minded father, the establishment is making a name for themselves with high quality, eco-friendly bottlings of the varietal.

Next up is a visit to Bereziartua Craft Basque Cider House in Astigarraga. After the typical tour, attendees will feast on a lunch of traditional Basque dishes like tortilla de bacalao, grilled hake, chorizo sausage, idiazabal cheeses, and Galician steak.

Dinner that night will take the form of a Potea, basically a Basque food crawl. The group will tour O’Brien’s favorite spots for pintxos (Basque tapas) in San Sebastián’s historic Old Town.

The final event of the evening is a trip to Museo del Whisky. Contrary to the name, the venue is not a museum. Rather, the Museo is a celebrated two level bar boasting one fo Europe’s largest whisky and spirits lists.

Before the visitors head to Berlin or home, they will be pay homage to Spain’s other signature beverage: the Gin & Tonic. While the drink is a staple globally, the Spanish elevated the beverage with goblets and garnishes. Guest will have the opportunity for some compare & contrast during the farewell Buen Viaje Brunch.


The gathering is not all about sightseeing though. O’Brien sees the trip as an opportunity for some symbiotic exchange.

“There is not a huge cocktail scene out there. There is a lot of interest and some places are just starting to give cocktails a chance, but it’s not quite on par with their other amazing drinking customs yet,” explained O’Brien.

The organizer hopes that bringing a group of industry elites to the region can help spread some knowledge to the locals, who would likely do great things with it, given their usual expertise.

Conversely, he believes that San Sebastián is the source of some of the greatest beverages in the world—many barely on the radar of the cocktail scene.

“Let’s bring people here. Let them see the amazing products and amazing ingredients and see if they can use them back home,” he implored.

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