Drinks List of the Year 2016: The Contenders

Imbibe Editorial

Imbibe Editorial

01 September 2016

The entries are in, the lists have been assessed and debated – and the judges have made their decisions. Introducing the shortlisted venues for Imbibe’s Drinks List of the Year 2016


Back in May we launched our inaugural Drinks List of the Year competition in association with MIXXIT, seeking to reward exceptional drinks menus. We asked if you were proud of your drinks offering and it turns out that hundreds of you are, as we were inundated with entries from across the UK.

From tiki bars with cracking rum lists to smart hotel bars with exceptional cognac selections – and everything in between – the judges had a tough job narrowing these entries down to just eight shortlisted venues in each category for the first round of judging.

Raising the bar(s)
‘Overall, the quality of entries was very high, and a lot of thought and effort was clearly put into the vast majority of them,’ said judge Laura Foster, deputy editor of Imbibe. ‘A lot of bar giants fell in the first round purely because of the strength of the rest of the field,’ she added.

The range and variety of the entries was also impressive. ‘We saw everything in the design, from printed newspapers through to ballot sheets,’ continued Foster. ‘Some interesting trends emerged, perhaps the most notable of which was the adoption of the flavour wheel to map out a bar’s cocktails – an ingenious idea that can only help a customer to choose a drink they’d enjoy when a bar team is in the weeds and doesn’t quite have the time to talk a guest through the nuances of a menu.’

‘This offered proof, if it were needed, of the high standard and widespread innovation when it comes to the UK’s drinks lists,’ commented judge Clinton Cawood, Imbibe’s online editor. ‘This made for some tough judging sessions, of course, and it was only with real reluctance that the full list of entrants was whittled down to these shortlists.’

Whether or not your establishment has made it onto the shortlist this year, the MIXXIT team will be offering free advice, education and training to all venues that entered. MIXXIT is the gold-standard training programme from Maxxium UK. The programme boasts a team of top trainers who work with operators to raise standards and increase drinks knowledge across the on-trade. So if you didn’t make the shortlist, you’ll have access to advice and training that will help you raise your game, ready to enter the competition in 2017.

Fierce competition
Read on to find out which venues made the grade this year, then look out for our announcement of the winner in each category and the overall Drinks List of the Year 2016 winner in the November/December issue of Imbibe and right here on imbibe.com. Winners will be announced at a glittering awards ceremony in London on 17 October – follow @imbibeuk on Twitter for the big reveal on the night!


THE SHORTLISTS

Avant Garde Drinks List of the Year
With lists that feature homemade ingredients, rare, unusual or vintage spirits, bespoke design and cutting-edge cocktail techniques, this shortlist demonstrates just what a creative lot Imbibe readers are – and explains why the UK’s bars are leading the world when it comes to avant garde drinks. This was a hotly contested category, with a raft of the UK’s top bars in the running for a place on the shortlist, meaning that the judges had to deliberate long and hard to arrive at the final eight. The shortlist shines a light on the bartending talent that’s currently helping to shape drinks trends and push the boundaries of drinks creation in the UK.

The Shortlist
Blind Pig, London
Dandelyan, London
Sager + Wilde, London
The Cocktail Trading Co, London
The Gibson, London
The Lucky Liquor Co, Edinburgh
White Lyan, London
Worship Street Whistling Shop, London

Classic Drinks List of the Year
At the heart of every great drinks list is an understanding of classic cocktail recipes and techniques – as well as a stellar back bar of course. For this category the judges considered the range and quality of spirits on offer as well as how the venue was using them to create drinks that celebrate the heritage and craft of the cocktail. For some bars this was a curated jaunt through classic recipes dating back to Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide, with well-researched notes explaining the history and provenance of drinks. For others, classic cocktail styles such as the Martini, Sours, Flips and Fizzes formed the basis of the cocktail selection – whether as original recipes or as twists on the classics.

The Shortlist
Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, London
Cartizze Bar, London
Milk & Honey, London
Mojo, Manchester
NOLA, London
Raoul’s, Oxford
The Connaught Bar, London
The Portobello Star, London

Themed Drinks List of the Year
This was another category that had the judges fiercely debating who should make it through to the shortlist – simply due to the diversity of venues that entered. From literature and first aid to Victorian and World War II, the range of themes was impressive enough, but what really made venues stand out was how they interpreted their chosen theme and carried it through to every single element of their drinks list; from their carefully curated spirits choices to cleverly named cocktails, original recipes and creative drinks list design. The amount of thought and attention to detail that had gone into the lists of the eight shortlisted bars was seriously impressive.

The Shortlist
American Bar at The Savoy, London
Cahoots, London
First Aid Box, London
Gong at Shangri-La Hotel, London
Merchant House, London
Mr Fogg’s Residence, London
SushiSamba, London
Victory Mansion, London

Cognac List of the Year
You might presume that this category would be the sole preserve of the classic hotel bars – and it’s true that some of the big names such as The Connaught and The Lanesborough were a shoo-in for the shortlist, thanks to their imposing selection of products from the leading cognac houses, as well as some interesting smaller producers, not to mention rare and old bottlings. However, it was also encouraging to see different types of venue – including an American barbecue joint, seafood specialist and Indian restaurant – all paying attention to their offer with a range of different cognacs and classic cognac cocktails. The final shortlist reflects this diversity.

The Shortlist
Bassoon at Corinthia Hotel, London
Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill, London
Big Easy, London
Coburg Bar at The Connaught, London
Gymkhana, London
Il Bar at Bulgari Hotel, London
The Library Bar at The Lanesborough, London

Gin List of the Year
Given the popularity of the gin category, we weren’t too shocked by the large number of entries for Gin List of the Year. The ever-increasing popularity of Spanish-style ‘gintonicas’ in balloon glasses, with different tonics and garnishes, resulted in several great lists that focused exclusively on the gin-and-tonic serve. However, there were a greater number of venues that offered classic and bespoke cocktails playing with the botanical flavours in gin to create really interesting drinks. Add in some venues with truly encyclopedic lists of international gins, and this category was one with plenty of drinks list inspiration.

The Shortlist
40 St Paul’s, Birmingham
Mr Cooper’s House & Garden, Manchester
Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour, London
Pintura, Leeds
Pollen Street Social, London
The Arch Bar at The InterContinental Park Lane, London
The Gin Bar at Holborn Dining Room, London
The London Gin Club, London

Rum List of the Year
Who doesn’t love a bit of tiki? While several of the tiki lists entered for this competition could easily have vied for top honours in the Themed List of the Year category, most of them also boasted a stellar line-up of rums, making them a perfect fit for this category, too. The judges found rums from all around the world, both the reliable big names you’d expect, and smaller boutique brands. We were also impressed with innovative ideas like The Book of Rum at The Smugglers Cove, which encourages customers to experiment and try something new. Cocktails on these lists ranged from classic Mojitos, Daiquiris and Mai Tais, to creative twists and bespoke rum-laced creations.

The Shortlist
Mahiki, London
PortSide Parlour, London
The Liars Club, Manchester
The Kenilworth Cocktail Lounge, Warwickshire
The Rum Kitchen, London
The Rummer Hotel, Bristol
The Smugglers Cove, Liverpool
Trailer Happiness, London

Whisky List of the Year
Like Gin List of the Year, this was another category that boasted some truly encyclopedic selections of bottles for the judges to choose from. The lists that stood out were those that went further than offering a roll call of great drams by actively engaging with their customers and explaining about the different styles of whisk(e)y in an accessible and interesting way, with tasting tips and background information. An honourable mention must also go to bars that have great whisky selections, but haven’t actually produced a written list of their range or listed the labels on their website, notably Black Rock and Soho Whisky Club.

The Shortlist

Ballygrant Inn & Restaurant, Islay
Boisdale of Canary Wharf, London
Cheers Cafe Bar & Tavern, Fraserburgh
MASH, London
Scarfes Bar, London
Sexy Fish, London
The Sun Tavern, London
The Vault Soho, London

 

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