Glenfiddich IPA cask

Glenfiddich IPA cask

All photos by Nicole del Rosario.

It is a little-known secret in the European bar and beverage industry that our bartenders celebrate Christmas twice: once like everyone else in December, and once early in October at Bar Convent Berlin.

Bar Convent Berlin is an annual two-day trade fair that brings the industry’s key players— from bartenders to suppliers to distributors— together in what is considered to be Europe’s leading bar and beverage event. Playfully referred to by many as “Bartender’s Christmas,” the event sees the grounds of the historic Station Berlin transform into a festive agora lined with stalls showcasing everything one’s liquor-loving heart may desire. Various drink forums are also hosted all throughout, making the event a tradeshow not only of products but also of ideas.

A little over 11,000 visitors walked this year’s show on October 11 and 12, with official statistics confirming a very cosmopolitan crowd hailing from 28 countries. The exhibition has grown exponentially from its inception in 2007, going from a handful of only 8 exhibitors ten years ago to a whopping 317 today.

Christian Krogstad of House Spirits Distillery with his Westward Whiskey

Christian Krogstad of House Spirits Distillery with his Westward Whiskey

With over 900 brands present and pouring, choosing where and how to begin carries a weight comparable to an existential dilemma. I wandered through the event’s five halls in a disoriented haze for a good ten minutes, trying to come up with a strategy to best experience the show. At a fair with this much to offer, the most judicious approach is to split up one’s resources between exploring new drams from familiar lines and discovering entirely new tipples.

I started my Bar Convent adventure with a trip to the DISCUS booth, where two favorites, Catoctin Creek and Cleveland Whiskey, poured very warm welcomes.

Without a doubt, Catoctin Creek churns out one of the best 100% ryes in the market. I was fortunate enough to try the coveted Rabble Rouser, their four-year-old straight rye which sold out very soon after release. The dram lived up to the hype: deep, rich layers of fruit and a strong punch of pepper to stir things up.

Cleveland Whiskey has piqued the interest of many with the unique “disruptive technology” they employ to mature their whiskey expediently. Their Underground line uses this same science to explore what other varieties of wood, apart from the usual oak, can do for whiskey. My favorite in the line has to be the Bourbon Whiskey Finished with Hickory Wood, a marriage of Hickory smoke and spice with sticky toffee.

Mattia Pastori at B.Lo Nardini

Mattia Pastori at B.Lo Nardini

A lovely new discovery for me at the DISCUS booth was House Spirits Distillery’s Westward Whiskey – a handcrafted malt inspired by Irish whiskey, Westward boasts one of the most intricate displays of balance as it unfolds from a sweet, supple nose to a spicy finish.

Nestled in the left bank of the same hall were bottles from Comte de Lauvia, an artisanal Armagnac distillery. I was particularly drawn to their Hors d’Age, which boasts a gorgeous body that is oily enough to coat the mouth but smooth enough to roll down without much resistance. It is reminiscent of a valley in very early autumn, with the taste of flowers and citrus slowly drying up into a very deep, warm spice.

The Glenfiddich Experimental Series booth stopped me in my tracks as it courted my disbelief. I saw three letters I would never have imagined on a whisky bottle, and much less a bottle from Glenfiddich: IPA. The scotch giant teamed up with Speyside Craft Brewery for a process that is nothing short of a “cask-ception.” After years of maturing Glenfiddich, the brewery takes the casks and fills these with their ale. The IPA that ensues from this takes on the sweet and fruity flavors that the whisky is well known for. After the Glenfiddich-finished IPA has matured, the cask is once again made a home to some Glenfiddich spirit, which in turn takes on the hop and yeast notes of the IPA. The result is a rich, vibrant dram that is equal parts zesty and comforting.

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It is also worth noting the remarkable increase in beer presence at Bar Convent. A delightful mix of established brands and up-and-coming breweries were in attendance, ranging from Germany’s famed Bitburger to Japan’s first microbrewery, Echigo. Strolling through the foothills of the section, it was very nice to see the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild bringing some of their top brewers, Aviator Brewing, Big Boss Brewing, and Pig Pounder Brewery, to the show.

B.Lo Nardini is best known for their grappa, which is so iconic that it is practically a part of Bassanese culture and tradition. While itself delicious, representative Mattia Pastori, who represented Italy at World Class, made sure to demonstrate that Nardini has so much more to offer. The brand also produces excellent liqueurs, aperitifs, and bitters. Particular standouts were their Il Rabarbaro, a very intense rhubarb liqueur, and their Il Bitter, an elegant bitter liqueur with citrus overtones that could very well give Campari a run for its money in an Americano.

Pastori was also kind enough to let me sample Italicus, Giuseppe Gallo’s noble attempt to revive interest in an Italian aperitivo called Rosolio. The spirit’s most distinctive component is the bergamot orange, a critically endangered citrus fruit that they source from a UNESCO-protected area in Calabria. Everything about Italicus is alluring, from its highly symbolic and meticulously designed bottle to the taste of fresh citrus and blossoming flowers that it leaves lingering in the mouth. This is one bottle that I cannot wait to get my hands on for myself.

Comte de Lauvia's Hors d'Age and Réserve

Comte de Lauvia’s Hors d’Age and Réserve

Seeing Kirsch Whisky on a list of exhibitors is always a reason to get very excited. The group has arguably one of the most unique whisky portfolios in Germany, which translates to them consistently offering new and interesting things on each of my visits. The standout for this round was the 2016 German Whisky Fair Edition of the Bunnahabhain Moine Heavily Peated 2007 from Signatory Vintage. The dram is guaranteed to make any peathead ecstatic as it delivers a thick, sultry mouth full that smells and tastes of sea and smoke.

When you run into Jared Brown and he says, "Find us, I have something you need to taste,” you know for sure that you are in for a treat. Jared basically poured a two-course meal: he served a main with their Smoked Venison Gin and a dessert with their Lemon Drizzle Gin. In a stroke of pure genius, Sipsmith has been able to bottle the experience of a Sunday evening family barbecue in their Smoked Venison Gin. The scents and flavors of smoked wood, warm citrus, and the beautiful charred crust of perfectly roasted venison are all masterfully distilled into a bright, clean spirit. Their Lemon Drizzle Gin, whose taste bears an uncanny resemblance to a freshly baked lemon drizzle cake, automatically takes one to a happy place where the air is sweeter and nothing in the world could possibly go wrong.

Jared Brown of Sipsmith with his Smoked Venison Gin

Jared Brown of Sipsmith with his Smoked Venison Gin

Bar Convent 2016’s immense success points not only toward definite growth for the trade fair in 2017 but, more importantly, also toward definite innovation in the bar and beverage industry in the coming year. The exhibition is not only growing in size, it’s also developing in terms of quality. The creativity and diversity of what are on offer is evolving as rapidly as the numbers are. Perhaps we should be thankful that, unlike normal Christmas, Bartender’s Christmas extends far past the twelfth night as the festivities carry straight on to the next year.

Berlin Bar Convent 2017 will be held on October 10 and 11 2017 at Station Berlin. Visit here for more details.