When you’ve been in the cocktail/spirits industry as long as I have, you’ve attended a few hundred industry events and conferences around the globe, packed with bartenders and owners, restaurant and F&B managers, press, distillers, importers and distributors. I’ve judged, spoken at, moderated panels and participated as press in everything from the sadly ended BevCon to ADI’s annual Gin Summit.
Tales of the Cocktail has been a leading bar industry event in the world since it was founded in 2003 in New Orleans, with offshoots in other cities in past years. Bar Convent Berlin is the leading bar industry event in Europe, founded in 2007, with attendee numbers around 15,000 (and which Tales surpassed in its peak years). Bar Convent Brooklyn (BCB) debuted in 2018 in New York City with Bar Convent Sao Paulo launching this June.
As with Tales under its new leadership, BCB is still in its “establishing itself” phase. So attending BCB in Brooklyn during its second year, I was prepared for anything. Would it be the frustrating chaos of the now defunct Manhattan Cocktail Classic in its founding days? With NYC being as large and time consuming to navigate as it is, the intimacy of Tales in Nola or when BevCon was in Charleston is not possible. There, event areas are small enough to run into colleagues everywhere in the streets and feel like the city is one big industry gathering.
But locating BCB in Brooklyn vs. Manhattan makes the event feel more “intimate,” even if there isn’t a central hotel hub like the Monteleone for Tales. With the event held in Greenpoint at the Brooklyn Expo Center and adjacent Greenpoint Terminal building, hip Williamsburg hotels like The Hoxton and the Wythe Hotel are about ½ mile (<1 km) walk away, offering reasonable rates (for NY) and sleek design. While some evening events were still a bit too far from the conference, some were held at Brooklyn bar icons like Clover Club with bartending pioneer Julie Reiner herself bartending, celebrating the release of The Kyoto Distillery’s Classic KI NO BI Cocktails book by Dave Broom, providing a draw for trekking out.
This year’s BCB was 35 percent larger in exhibitors and space than the inaugural year’s event. It felt compact yet sprawling, festive and buzzy with demo stages, book signings, classrooms and roughly 170 exhibitor booths, dozens of new product launches and over 4000 attendees, up from 3,100 attendees the first year. Brands pulled out all the stops, whether featuring top bar talent making cocktails with their spirits or creating booth themes like coffee cafes for a coffee liqueur.
- Roaming the floor, there are a few thousand spirits and mixers to taste and I was pleasantly surprised to find more than a few brands were new to the states or had new releases. At many of these events — and the over 20,000 bars and 10,000 restaurants I’ve visited the world over — it can be tough to find much I haven’t tasted. BCB delivered. The range of brands were both big and small, with a welcome number of new releases from Scandinavia to Japan.
- As with any such major convention, a slew of seminars were offered both days covering subjects from barbacking to pop-ups, cannabis to activism in the bar community. There were some sound issues in two open classrooms next to each other in the Greenpoint Terminal but otherwise, seminars flowed smoothly on a first-come, first-served basis. Thankfully, BCB offered tasting seminars on underserved spirits like shochu, grappa, genever, pisco and baiju instead of just the usual subjects. There were also welcome geeky “deep dives” into subjects like rum with two seminars involving rum expert Matt “CocktailWonk” Pietrek and spirits historian David Wondrich talking about Jamaican rum or centuries of “London dock rums.”
For attendees, one day tickets were a reasonable $80 on-site with an Early Bird Rate at a steal of $48 up until a couple months before the event. They offer an Exhibitors Manual for brands and early registration discounts on that side as well.
I would love to see a succinct list of evening events and options (with RSVP contacts) listed on the website — and as many events as possible walkable or near daytime events. But the one major faux pas in both halls was the shocking lack of spit or dump buckets anywhere but in seminars (and not always then)! Besides encouraging drunkenness, this is just not an option for many of us. I had to ask for cups to carry around and spit into but still had nowhere to dump other than trash.
All in all, BCB is an exciting US newcomer for spirits and bar industry professionals. Like the best of such events, it’s a strong networking hub where I ran into industry colleagues from numerous US cities and from London, Italy, Japan and beyond.