Today is Blue Monday, officially the most depressing day of the year. Which seems like the perfect time to take stock and look to the positive. Yes, really. Take 2020 for instance. While some (okay, most) have dubbed it the worst year ever, there were some good things to come out of it. Here are a few of our highlights*.
*This post is unapologetically London biased. Don’t blame us. Due to, ahem, ‘unprecedented’ circumstances, we weren’t allow to venture further afield.
In spring of last year, when most of us were still getting our heads around the impact of Covid-19 and how it would affect the hospitality industry, the team at Hope & Sesame stepped in with some invaluable advice that all bar owners and bartenders could benefit from. Being based in China and having felt the ramifications of Covid long before the rest of the world, it’s no surprise that their handy and heartfelt tips on surviving the virus went, viral. Check them out here.
Black businesses matter
2020 was the year that black voices, black businesses and black lives really seemed to matter. Or at least they began to be heard. And Deano Moncrieffe is doing his darnedest to make sure that this new found ‘wokeness’ isn’t just a passing phase. That’s why he set up Equal Measures, a new platform aimed at increasing diversity and inclusivity in the UK hospitality industry. As well as setting up focus groups with industry experts and calling out drinks companies to be transparent about their policies of diversity, Deano has set up the Equal Measures Education and Mentorship Project in partnership with Hannah Lanfear, founding director of The Mixing Class. The aim? For those who might not ordinarily consider work in the hospitality to gain insight and add relevant training and qualifications to their CV. Applications open later this month. Find out more at TheEqualMeasures Facebook page. For mentorship or sponsorship opportunities contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
How on earth would we have made it through the year without the internet? From the essential (checking in with family and friends), to work stuff (bartenders sharing their expertise via cocktail making classes, brands engaging with consumers as well as trade), online connections were vital. Zoom, Instagram and Facebook Live transcended from platforms for casual banter to essential resource. 2020 was the year of the new, have-a-go media stars. We particularly liked The Booze Brain brought to the drinks community by Maxim Schulte and his partner Jo Last, covering everything from healthy living tips to social media and photography.
Shaking things up at home
In between ordering their cocktails online, cocktail lovers were adding extra skills to their repertoire, including mixing drinks up at home. They really went for it too – so much so that there was a shortage of Cointreau here in the UK (Medicinal Margaritas perhaps?) Whatever the reason, at home mixology proved as popular a lockdown ritual as baking banana bread. Good news for brands and specialist outlets such as Gerry’s, Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange and 31Dover. Top marks to Patrón for going the extra mile by showcasing consumer-friendly recipes from its Patrón Perfectionists global cocktail challenge winners on its Amazon store.
Ready-to-go cocktails hit the big time
2020 was a bugger for most things but not cocktails to go. At first, it was a way for bars to use up stock that would have otherwise gone to waste. However, boosted by our insatiable thirst for top quality cocktails made by the experts, the sale of bottles, pouches and cans from our favourite bars have grown exponentially. Check this: Google searches for alcohol delivery searches in the UK shot up by a massive 250% from March to April 2020 and lockdown or not, it shows no signs of abating. Check out a few of our favourites here.
In a normal year we would have checked out a slew of new cocktail menus but as we all know, 2020 was anything but normal… Instead we got to try out three. Luckily for us, they were absolutely aces.
Drink Kong – We’ll always remember the menu launch at Drink Kong. For one thing, it was in Rome in early March, which just happened to coincide with Italy going into lockdown. We did make it back to London but had to self-isolate the minute we returned. No matter. It was worth it. Patrick Pistolesi, Livio Moreno and their incredible team put their hearts, souls and know-how into the menu, showcasing it off in a no expenses spared launch.
New Humans is their futuristic vision of colour and shape interpreted into drinks. It focuses on five key flavour profiles (umami, acidic, sweet, bitter and salty) and five key emotions and translates them into things of pure delight. They’re clever, bold and most importantly, thoroughly delicious. We can’t wait until we’re allowed to travel again so we can head back to work our way through the entire list.
Connaught Bar – Hard though it may be to conceive, there’s more to the Connaught Bar than the magic of its fabulous Martini trolley. Their Formae menu is a case in point. Each of the 15 drinks has a story behind it, and each of those stories is based on shapes – from the shape of ideas and hospitality, to the key shapes found in the bar itself. It also nods to that most magical of ingredients – the dynamics shaped by the Connaught Bar guest.
Not only are the drinks things of sheer beauty to look at, they’ve been expertly conceived to deliver the ultimate taste experience, whatever stage of the cocktail journey you happen to be on. There’s form, there’s theatre, there’s balance, all packaged in exquisite glassware.
Artesian – What better tonic for a time of uncertainty than a cocktail menu bursting with good-times drinks? Marco Corallo, Anna Sebastian and the Artesian team brought much needed cheer to their guests with a joyous and elevated list of Disco Drinks.
Here are drinks designed to make you smile on the outside and inside. Their reimagined Cosmopolitan features rye whisky and is served on the rocks, while the Grasshopper is promoted to dizzy new heights with a single malt whisky base, proudly presented in a coupe. And to keep things even more interesting, different drinks with new twists are added to the repertoire on a weekly basis. Definitely worth checking out when lockdown is over.
Cocktail competition winners hold on to their titles for two years
We’ve always joked (ish) about how hard it must be for global cocktail competition winners to pass on their titles when their reigns come to an end. After a year of attention from media and their home market and the brand, the endless travel and generally being top dog, it can’t be easy to relinquish that crown. 2020 took care of that. Ronnaporn Kanivichaporn (above, Bacardi Legacy), Bannie Kang (Diageo Reserve World Class), and Giulia Cuccurullo (Patrón Perfectionists), have notched up another major coup – they’re the first major cocktail competition winners to hang on to their titles for two years. What happens next? Watch this space…
Bar shows and awards ceremonies went digital
Who would have thought that the biggest, most highly frequented bar shows such as Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Bar Convent Berlin in Germany, along with sister Bar Convent Brooklyn, could pivot so brilliantly in a matter of months? The beauty of it was that attendees could tune in for carefully thought out seminars, masterclasses, tutored tastings – even break out meet-ups, whenever and from wherever they liked.
It worked a charm for the much anticipated 50 Best Bars and Spirited Awards as well. There was no FOMO from those who couldn’t get their hands on a ticket to the former or afford the time (or money) to go to New Orleans for the latter, everyone was in the same boat: watching the ceremonies from home. And did we ever need something to celebrate. Virtually or otherwise. No doubt they’ll be continuing in this way going forward.
One show that did go ahead IRL was the fabulous DRiNK Awards ceremony in Shanghai. Usually a global affair, it brought over 650 industry professionals in China together and also staged a very successful DRiNK Street and DRiNK Fest for local consumers. Huge props to Theo Watt and the team for the vision and tenacity to pull off such a massive event in fine style.
Drinks brands made good
Mark Marmont was one of the first distillers to switch production of his stills from making booze to producing much needed hand sanitisers. And the demand for the company’s ‘58 Gin-itisers’ went bonkers. Everyone from the National Health Service to front line police services wanted a piece of the action and it wasn’t long before pretty much every other drinks brand followed suit.
Speaking of making good, Anna Sebastian, Bar Manager at the Artesian was one of main heroes. Why? Because she made the best possible use of her time on furlough to help out homeless charity Under One Sky. First she called on her network to donate unwanted clothes and toiletries so she could distribute the goods amongst those living on the street, including a some who had previously been in the hospitality industry, then together with fellow volunteer Sam Ayling, she used her cocktail-making skills to best possible effect. The duo teamed up with No. 3 London Dry Gin and Seedlip to create two cocktails to go – one alcoholic, the other non-alcoholic – with all proceeds going to the charity.
Joining her in our line-up of superstars is Kate Nicholls – boy did she earn her title of Chief Executive of UK Hospitality last year. Hers was the fierce and passionate voice heard on every media channel and in government, ensuring that they took the plight of the industry seriously. It paid off too, not only did her message get singled out by the Chancellor in his statement, she is now officially Kate Nicholls OBE having been acknowledged in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list earlier this month.
Drinks brands were also quick to don their hero capes – Bacardí, Diageo and Pernod Ricard amongst them, each providing vital support for out of work bartenders in all manner of inventive ways. Edrington Beam-Suntory and Speciality Drinks did their utmost to help hard hit hospitality workers by supplying special wellbeing packs made up of cupboard essentials such as tea and coffee, tinned goods, pasta and bread, while Sheffield-based former bartender Tom Lord set up Hospitality Gin with proceeds going to The Drinks Trust.
Seven Tails brandy worked with some of the top ‘tenders in the UK including Anna Sebastian (yes, her again!), Joe Schofield, Max Venning and Jo Last to create six limited-edition bottled cocktails with proceeds going to REFUGE, a charity set up to help those suffering from domestic violence.
The Last Dance
In between lockdowns and tiers (or should that be tears?), Dan Dove and the Global Bartending Agency brought us The Last Dance. This wasn’t any old event, it was the event of the year as far as Londoners were concerned. And rightly so. Hosted by Declan McGurk, former Bar Manager of the American Bar at the Savoy hotel, it saw him come together with fellow former colleagues including Erik Lorincz, Maxim Schulte, Pippa Guy and Joe Schofield as well as resident (and our favourite) piano player, Jon Nicholl for a much needed bash. Socially distanced of course.
Tout le monde in the industry and plenty more besides joined the event which was spread over four two-hour sessions with proceeds going to The Drinks Trust. Big shout out to William Grant UK, Glenfiddich, Hendrick’s Gin and London Cocktail Week The London Essence Company and Sea Containers London for making the whole thing happen.
Just a few of the things that brought us joy last year and give us hope for good times ahead.