Cocktails Spirits Paris 2016 has just wrapped up its 9th season with a programme that proves the team behind this event doesn’t rest on their laurels (or possibly ever rest at all!) They continually up their game in terms of forums, presentations and products and this year they even nestled it within an 8 day Summer Cocktail Week. So, if you just couldn’t get enough at the salon itself, there were cocktail specials, guest bartending stints and master classes for even more liquid amusement.
In short, Cocktails Spirits 2016 was another success and here are just a few of the reasons that it just keeps getting better…
The Bar Rouge, a consistent element of the salon, had another impressive, international line up of industry names sharing insider information. This year’s audience learned everything from what it’s like to run an invite-only speakeasy in St Petersburg from the El Copitas crew to how French bartender Nico de Soto finds inspiration when opening locations, having successfully done so with both NYC-based Mace and more recently his Paris-based Danico.
But, this year, the learning went beyond just the Bar Rouge with the inauguration of the P(our) symposium. Launched by Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale (previously of London bar Artesian, a consistent winner of the World’s Best Bar title) and including legendary personalities like Ryan Chetiyawardana, Jim Meehan, Monica Berg, Joerg Meyer and Xavier Padovani, this collective of drinks professionals has some impressive clout – and knowledge.
P(our)’s raison d’etre is “exploring new ideas, sharing information, and exchanging inspiration” to elevate the drinks industry overall, and it was pretty exciting to have their first annual symposium, Modern Bartender, happening at CS ‘16. This is the thinking-drinker’s symposium with themes that go beyond just mixing, to even more physical and philosophical sides of the industry with topics like Zero Waste, Power of Intention or Serving Ourselves and Each Other.
Once again, CS ’16 quenched attendees’ thirst in both a mental and literal sense with 40 or so stands offering straight spirits tastings and cocktails. Regulars such as Pernod were present with their large and lively Bar des Amis, serving up Suze and the like. At the other end of the spectrum, the Bar des Innovations showcased 100 new products to the European market, each of which had been selected by a jury of experts to receive the “Spirits Innovation Award.” This is the place where even the pros who have occasion to taste often can discover something new, unusual or surprising.
In the current cocktail climate, it’s easy for bartenders to get carried away in the creation and consumption of drinks and sometimes even take themselves too seriously. But a few of the P(our) symposium speakers left the crowd with a some takeaways designed to encourage some (light hearted, but still serious) soul searching. Bar veteran, Nick Strangeway, took to the stage, comparing industry conditions and practices from the 90’s to those today and using it as a springboard to persuade the latest generation of bartenders to stop obsessing over the minutiae and experience life all around them. In other words, open up and look outwards, instead of inwards, for inspiration.
Jim Meehan of PDT fame took the stage, reminding the audience to take a look at the lifestyle typically associated with the drinks industry and of the importance of keeping focus on staying healthy and balanced. (This is a current and common theme lately in the bar world, and one that certainly bears repeating by a well-respected and listened to voice.)
We’ve already established that this salon pulls in an international crowd of brand ambassadors, bartenders and amateur enthusiasts. But, there’s something additional about the location that give it extra oomph. Sure, it’s in one of the world’s most famous and alluring cities. But, it’s not just the pull of Paris at play here. French brands and products have long held a starring role in so many cocktails, and it’s nice to see some of these players on their home turf. Domestic options ranged from the aperitifs of vermouth to the digestives of Cognac and everything in between. But beyond the more traditional options, new ventures were put in the spotlight like the Copper Bay gin. This recent collaboration between local bar Copper Bay and La distillerie de Paris showcases recent efforts to further explore, define and develop French products. In addition, Schweppes sponsored a presentation series, La Scene Française, which highlighted franco-friendly topics, allowing the audience to further understand local tastes and trends as well as move beyond the popular focus on Paris with presentations like the “Cocktail Culture in the South of France.”
Even Summer Cocktail Week spilled beyond the borders of the capital with drink specials, for the first time, in both Lyon and Marseille as well.
Because of its concentrated time frame of two days and a manageable location in la Maison Rouge, Cocktails Spirits is both easy to navigate and a great both networking and socialising opportunity. It would take weeks, if not months, of leg and liver work to see this number of Paris bartenders and international industry types outside of a salon.
Basically, whether I was waiting curiously outside a freestanding mystery room in the middle of the salon to see what was happening inside (SPOILER ALERT: virtual reality and whiskey cocktails served up by the Monkey Shoulder team), listening to any one of the periodic presentations or just exploring the wide range of products for tasting, I was having fun.
After a long day of both drinking and learning about drinking, I stopped by to say hello to Beefeater Master Distiller, Desmond Payne, on my way out. When I remarked that it’s always nice to see him at Cocktails Spirits, he told me he never misses the opportunity to come to this one because it’s one of his favourite salons. And, I’d say that’s an opinion held by plenty of Cocktails Spirits regulars, myself included.
Photo credit: @cocktailspirits