Imbibe Drinks List of the Year 2018 winners revealed

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Drinks: Cocktails, Drinks
Location: UK

Drinks List of the Year
2018 judges:

  • Michael Butt, Soulshakers
  • Stuart Bale, Crucible
  • Terri Brotherston, Edrington-Beam Suntory
  • Bobby Hiddleston, Swift
  • Sam Fish, Mojo
  • Jim Wrigley, B&H Group

You entered, we whittled, the judges judged, and we now have the winners of this year’s Imbibe Drinks List of the Year awards.

This is the third year of the competition, sponsored by Edrington-Beam Suntory, and what a year it’s been. From menus locked in boxes to incredible picture books by famous cartoonists and photographers, there’s been plenty of variety in the UK drinks scene of late.

But enough of the niceties, you’re hear to find out who won. So without further ado…

 

WHISKY LIST OF THE YEAR

Winner: Boisdale of Canary Wharf, London

The number of entries for this category was significantly up on previous years, and choosing the shortlist was particularly challenging. Boisdale of Canary Wharf impressed our judges with the wide-ranging selection and ‘astonishing amount of information’ on its drinks menu. It ran the full price gamut from really affordable through to eye-wateringly expensive, and was perfectly set up to provide amazing whiskies to the well-heeled crowd that frequents the venue.

What the judges said:

‘I would quite happily take this away and read it, but anyone who is not an expert can still use it intelligently too,’ Terri Brotherston

‘It’s astonishing. Absolutely astonishing. I’d buy it. Everything it tells you is interesting,’ Michael Butt

 

RUM LIST OF THE YEAR

Winner: Laki Kane, London

This year’s rum shortlist featured a variety of styles, from distinct pirate themes to serious lists by way of impressive rum cocktail menus. It was Laki Kane that took the trophy, however, with its smart, accessible, beautifully-designed menu, which boasted a vast array of great rum cocktails and a well-edited list of rums. Perhaps best of all, it really reflected the nature of the venue itself.

What the judges said:

‘It’s a really well put together menu and very accessible. The rum cocktails sound great, and while the list of rums in the menu doesn’t cover everything that the bar stocks, it has got a curated selection of rums listed that are available by the bottle,’ Jim Wrigley

‘I could pick my drink just by looking at the illustrations of the cocktails. The descriptions are well structured and well written too,’ Sam Fish

 

GIN LIST OF THE YEAR

Winner: Fifteen, London

In our first year of these awards, the Gin List of the Year category was hugely popular, and it’s been interesting to see the number of entries dip over the last two years – is this a sign of the times?

Fifteen’s clear-cut format and smart curation caught our judges’ attention. Boasting well-structured tasting notes for each of its gins and interesting nuggets of information for those who want to read more, there really wasn’t anything to fault this list for.

What the judges said:

‘It’s not the most extensive list of gins, but it’s a well-curated one. And where a lot of bars struggle to categorise their gins correctly by flavour profile, Fifteen went for the safe yet sensible option of listing theirs alphabetically,’ Jim Wrigley

‘It’s clearly laid out. The short summary description, with the aroma and palate notes underneath, make it easy to pick a gin without having to read too much information, but there’s more detail underneath if you’re interested,’ Sam Fish

 

GROUP DRINKS LIST OF THE YEAR

Winner: JKS Restaurants, London

Group Drinks List of the Year was a new category introduced last year to recognise those businesses that have multiple venues. They might produce one menu for all their venues or different lists to reflect the individual characteristics of each, but they’re distinctly different from stand-alone bars, and we felt we needed something to reflect that.

JKS Restaurants, which boasts Brigadiers, Trishna and Hoppers in its portfolio, impressed the judges with the cohesiveness across all its menus,  despite the very different nature of the sites. None of the menus were particularly big, but what they lacked for in size, they more than made up in content.

What the judges said:

‘Even though all the restaurants are completely different, you can tell from their drinks menus that they all belong to the one company – there is a cohesiveness that flows throughout the group’s lists. I’d love to know who its beverage director is,’ Stu Bale

‘As my wife Mia [Johansson] would say, there’s a red thread running through them all, tying them together,’ Bobby Hiddleston

 

THEMED LIST OF THE YEAR

Winner: Lab 22, Cardiff

This year’s Themed menu shortlist was particularly wide-ranging, including menus that celebrated women through history, explored industrialisation and large-scale food systems, and drew on Mexican culture. Lab 22’s chemistry-inspired list was one that made the judges smile every time they looked at it, with its unusual cocktail descriptors, fun drinks categories, unique cocktail key based on the periodic table, and map of neighbouring bars that guests might want to visit next. This is a menu that drips with personality.

What the judges said:

‘A great, cost-effective way to make a menu look smart is to buy smart covers that you can then add your own printed inserts into, just as they’ve done here,’ Michael Butt

‘It’s a crazy list. It makes me smile every time I look at it I see something different that I like. And the map on the back showing how to get to all the neighbouring bars is wicked. It’s probably saved so much till roll,’ Stuart Bale

 

HOTEL LIST OF THE YEAR

Winner: Ella Canta, Intercontinental London Park Lane

The UK’s hotel bars have been leading the charge when it comes to creating impressive drinks lists for some time, and this year’s shortlist was yet another demonstration of their dominance. Despite some fabulously whizz-bang menus, it was Ella Canta that took the top spot thanks to its simple, clear design and delicious-sounding agave drinks that make a sometimes misunderstood category more accessible. The judges were practically salivating reading the cocktail menu.

What the judges said:

‘The drinks all sound delicious,’ Bobby Hiddleston

‘Although the menu consists only of agave spirit-based cocktails, the team has been clever with the ingredients that it’s used with them, like avocado or watermelon, to draw the customers in,’ Sam Fish

‘It really made me want to go there and drink pretty much everything on the menu,’ Stu Bale

 

AVANT GARDE LIST OF THE YEAR

Winner: Cottonopolis, Manchester

This year’s Avant-Garde shortlist saw representation from across the country, which goes to show that the UK on-trade boasts creativity in spades. Most of this year’s menus stretched the word ‘list’ to the edges of its definition, but Cottonopolis’ menu was unanimously chosen for its eye-catching design, strong concept and concise menu of cocktails. Based around Japanese idioms, each cocktail had a bespoke drawing. It’s the sort of menu that you’d be happy displaying on your coffee table at home.

What the judges said:

‘I loved the texture of the pages and the fact that it was bright and eye-catching – the design was beautiful. The descriptions were concise and it was consistent too,’ Terri Brotherston

‘It’s interesting – there are a lot of different elements to it, but it’s also easy to follow. It’s absolutely avant garde,’ Bobby Hiddleston

 

CLASSIC LIST OF THE YEAR

Winner: Punch Room, The London Edition

Classic lists are those that acknowledge the grand history of cocktail-making, but that doesn’t mean they can’t adopt a contemporary approach within this. In a tough field, Punch Room shone through with its ability to do just that, with a menu that feels simultaneously classic and contemporary. This latest menu from the bar in The London Edition unmistakably follows in the footsteps of its previous iterations, yet also takes a new approach.

What the judges said:

‘It’s really well done. It’s done in a modern way, but it’s still very classic,’ Jim Wrigley

‘It’s not necessarily a classically classic menu, but the drinks themselves are pretty classic. It sneaked it for me due to the depth of the drinks on the menu,’ Sam Fish

 

OVERALL LIST OF THE YEAR

Winner: Cottonopolis, Manchester

The standard of entries was particularly high in this year’s awards and the judges went back and forth between the candidates, before unanimously settling on Cottonopolis’ striking menu with its bright yellow cover, tactile paper and modern drinks. Featuring only 13 cocktails, based on interesting Japanese idioms that manage to intrigue rather than alienate, and with four-word descriptors of each cocktail that capture both the style and the personality of the drink without ever being over-literal, it’s the super-stylish menu to end all menus in 2018.

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Laura Foster

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