Last week, Bar Convent Berlin once gain provided a showcase for the industry’s current trends and future innovations. Neat Pour tried to talk to many of the 14,000 attendees and 1200 brands present as possible. As expected, there was simply too much. However, we did pick up on some key themes: gin, rum, global whiskey, glass straws, and growth in the show itself.
Spoiler Alert: Gin is still huge. At this point, it feels like lazy journalism; every time we run a show wrap, we include a section about how gin is growing. Alas, due to a combination of a startup distiller’s need to make use of their stills while whiskey ages and gin’s immense popularity in Europe, the category is showing no signs of a slowdown. BCB, alone, featured nearly 200 different gin brands.
On the plus side, these distillers seem to have switched their focus back to classic expressions like London Dry and Navy Strength as opposed to low-juniper/heavy-botanical “new gin” expressions so prevalent over the last five years.
- Far from a startup, the Haymans family has been making gin since 1863, but they haven’t stopped innovating. We were pleasantly surprised how delicious their new “Small Gin” tastes. Basically, the spirit aims to provide a super concentrated dose of classic gin flavor so mixed drinks can be specs’ed out with much lower alcohol quantities. Basically, this gin is designed as a component in a low ABV Gin & Tonic. And, it lives up to billing.
- The booming (dare we say loud?) brogue of Phillip Duff could, literally and metaphorically, be heard from in every corner of the venue. Although his Old Duff Genever was not on display, his work as the category’s advocate certainly was. We encountered about a dozen genevers—all quality. Although organizers, classified genever as a subcategory of gin, the spirit was no longer being marketed as an oddity. Diverse applications, well beyond the traditional Martinez, were on display. We liked Seven Knots, a blended genever from Belgium.
- When one thinks of German drinks, hops and schnapps generally come to mind. Yet, the host country’s growing distilling industry was well represented at the expo with 37 different gin ranges. In addition to the high profile Monkey 47, we liked the lemon and juniper heavy Gin Sul out of Hamburg and the Black Forest’s Schladerer distilling dynasty’s Gretchen Dry Gin.
We’ve known that single-use plastic is (rightfully) on the outs for a couple years now. But, at BCB, the future started to come into focus—and it’s glass. The expo featured enough glass straws to give even Keith Richards a heart attack. We saw a dozen different products in the category and had a few favorites.
- The folks at Halm Trading (“halm is German for ‘straw’) offered our favorite. Their sales rep demonstrated durability by using the glass straws as drumsticks and delivering a little solo on a countertop. We dropped one on the concrete floor which also failed to shatter the straw. The manufacturer boasted that the dishwasher safe products are good for about one thousand uses each. Pricing begins around 95 cents a pop with an order of 50 and then decreases inversely proportional to the quantity ordered.
- The Beam-Suntory sponsored pop-up from sustainability pioneer Ryan (Mr. Lyan) Chetiyawardana included glass straw samples from glass giant Schott Zwiesel. High profile partners aside, we liked this product. The 8.5 inch length worked well and the company spotlighted their ability to print a company or logo on the straw; we’ll likely see lots of that in the future. As for durability, the straws, unpackaged, survived several over-aggressive airport security agents and baggage handlers in four countries—a testament unto itself.
We were not surprised to find a ton of whiskey (yes, with an ‘e’) at the show. Yet, we were surprised to discover how much of whiskey is now being produced outside of the States. The math of aging requirements excludes tariffs as an explanation. However, the export taxes coupled with already inflated pricing on American whiskeys is certainly not hurting these newcomers.
- The much ballyhooed Irish whiskey boom is finally beginning to manifest. The Irish booths were hot throughout the show. Jameson tried to maintain their grip on the subsection with a massive booth and a big push for their smaller bath Caskmates expressions. Backed by Beam Suntory, the revived Teeling Distillery drew crowds with a quality product. Admittedly, we were suckered in by the name, but Writers Tears copper pot proved excellent.
- One of our favorites was actually (semi) locally produced in Bavaria. Stonewood Whisky offers a delicious range that effectively fuses classic whiskey styles with the terroir and techniques of the region. Nowhere is this more apparent than their Smokey Monk expression which is ore evocative of a rauchbier from Bamberg than an Islay.
- Classic Scotch whisky was not particularly well represented, Many big brands, such as Glenlivet, were absent altogether. Off-record, a marketing exec explained, “We’re selling these so fast, that’s there’s no need to compete at a show.”
In case you missed the memo, rum is (still) back. At BCB, the spirit even received a separate building of their own, the House of Rum.
- Blending is in. More and more, we’re seeing a return to multinational blends of juices in the category. Of course, Plantation Three Star already established a deservedly large presence with this formula. But, the show features dozens of blended rum offerngs; the technique allows for an excellent product and makes entry at an upper level a little easier as brands on’t need to build a distillery. Gin makers Haymans are embracing a return to London’s role in blending with their Merser & Co. Dos Maderas 5+3 is a tasty blend of Guyanese and Barbadan juices aged in Spain in sherry casks. Mauritius’ newcomer House of Lords is employing the method to some success with their Senate No. 1. Also, creeping into the sector is Hemingway homage Key West startup Papa’s Pilar.
- BCB used 2019 to highlight the island of Mauritius and their growing spirits industry. None other than World Rum Ambassador Ian Burrell predicted that within five to ten years, Mauritian rums will gain fame equal to their Caribbean peers.
BCB Is Growing
The floor plan of this year’s show was familiar with many exhibitors occupying the same spots as last year. However, there was plenty of change evident and lots more to come.
- Next year, BCB will move to a new location. The 2019 show, themed ‘City Life Spirits’, will be held beneath the Funkturm at Berlin ExpoCenter City. Organizers cited construction near the old Berlin Station location as well as increased capacity (18,000) as the impetus.
- After industry leader Burrell criticized the show in 2018, BCB responded by bringing him onboard and implementing many of his suggestions. The speaker lineup was notably more diverse in gender, geography, and race, than in past years.
- Likewise, the slow check-in processes that have historically plagued BCB (and many other shows) are a thing of the past. Entry was smooth and lines were almost non-existent.
- In short, every year, this show continues to get bigger and better. Attendees are drawn not by an industry party or bonding experience, but the chance to soak in vast amounts of knowledge, potential business partners, and products.