Monday, October 14, 2013

London Cocktail Week 2013

London Cocktail Week is an annual event which has quickly become a fixture in the UK drinks industry's calender.  The event sees almost 200 of London's bars taking part, plus numerous brand showcases and masterclasses taking place throughout the week.  The idea is to inspire, educate and unite cocktail lovers and new consumers across the capital.  It is organised by and sponsored by over 70 different drinks brands from around the world.  As we are based in London, we decided to get our wristbands and check out this year's event ...

We have taken part in London Cocktail Week over the last couple of years and have come to decide to experience it in two different ways.  Firstly to learn more about cocktails and how they are made, and secondly to discover new bars and venues of interest.  The main part of the week sees the participating bars create a new cocktail, which they sell for just £4 to anyone wearing one of the special wristbands.  This creation is to showcase their skills and highlight one of the sponsored brands.

Our strategy has always been to go out in the early part of the week when the bars are generally quieter.  This year was no different and saw us out on Monday and Tuesday evening.  More people seemed to also have this idea this year, as most bars were noticeably busier.  This year we also decided to go out on the Saturday evening and see if the experience was any different when the bars were at their busiest.  For those of you who follow us on Facebook and Twitter, then you may have seen some of our experiences along the way.

The Foxey Lady - Bedford & Strand

On Monday and Tuesday we went out in Covent Garden, Fitrovia and Soho.  The standard was generally good, although a little mixed.  We discovered a couple of places that we would return to and that had produced interesting and well made cocktails for the event.  These included Bedford & Strand, Central & Co and The Print Room @ 21.  We also paid a visit to the TwistLondon Bloody Mary Garden, complete with tomato plants and fake grass, which allowed us to build our own version of a classic Bloody Mary to our own tastes.

Gin and Prosecco Spritz - The Print Room

Other more well known names, such as The London Cocktail Club and The Blind Pig @ The Social Eating House were very cool bars and offered big points on presentation, but left us feeling style had just won over substance. A sneaky visit to The Worship Street Whistling Shop near Old Street on the way home on Friday night left us feeling similarly flat.  Again, a very cool spot but an uninspiring effort for such a renowned venue.

Pisco Sour with glow-sticks - The Blind Pig

Our experience on Saturday night, when we ventured over to the Shoreditch area, proved equally as mixed.  Highlights included a lovely bourbon cocktail at Beard To Tail on Curtain Road and a fiery, spicy tequila based number at the tiny Casita bar in Ravey Street. Both places were packed but precious time was taken to make the drinks and the results were delicious.  Other bars were cool, most notably the roof bar of the Golden Bee and the wonderfully eccentric Ninety Eight on Curtain Road, but the drinks were far less memorable than the locations.

View from the rooftop - Golden Bee

This year we visited more bars during London Cocktail Week than in previous years and certainly the event was also the biggest that it has ever been, and it will undoubtedly continue to grow.  The worry is that some of the lack lustre cocktails that we experienced and observed this year will only increase as the event gets bigger. This is something that the organisers will have to monitor.

A couple of the bars, especially at the start of the week, were genuinely interested in our thoughts on their £4 creations.  However, this was generally the exception as we were met with malaise accompanied by an average product. The feeling portrayed in some places was that by ordering one of the £4 cocktails we were a) cheapskates and b) taking the staff away from making 'proper' cocktails on their menus, which cost at least double the price.  One place on Saturday evening even tried to charge us a £15 entry fee each to go in to try their cocktail.  When asked why, the reply was "because it's Saturday ..."

These points seem to go against the ethos of what the organisers are trying to create. Bars seem to want to the kudos of taking part in the event, but then some seem to try and get away with the minimum effort required by 'going through the motions'.  It should be seen as the best way to impress and engage new customers, rather than an inconvenience at busy times.

Our message to the bars is simple - if you don't want or are not prepared for waves of people turning up to try a £4 cocktail, then don't take part.  Also, you never know who may be walking through your door for the first time or when they may return if they have a good, inventive cocktail and experience that showcases your skills and venue.  Following the last week, we now have a list of bars that we want to go back to and sample their full priced creations.  Equally, we now have a list of those which we will not be too fussed about going to again. We just hope others had better experiences from these bars and that our experiences were down to mixologists having an off night.

*The Whisky For Everyone Cocktail of the Week*

Tequila Old Fashioned - Central & Co


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