With only a week to go until the judges reveal their verdict, have a look back at the shortlisted venues for Imbibe’s Drinks List of the Year 2017 in association with Maxxium
Last year we launched our inaugural Drinks List of the Year competition in association with Maxxium, seeking to reward exceptional drinks menus. We asked if you were proud of your drinks offering and it turned out that hundreds of you were, as we were inundated with entries. The final line-up of winners showcased this country’s breadth of bartending talent and helped to explain why the UK is a leading player in the global drinks scene.
This year you’ve done it again… 'It was heartening to see a number of bars enter again this year with improved lists, suggesting that they’d read the judges’ feedback and taken it on board,' said Laura Foster, deputy editor of Imbibe.
'I spent a lot of time going through the whisky menus, and think that most venues had upped their game in this category. Clearer organisation and categorisation, interesting tasting notes and information, and decent pricing were just as important as the selection of spirits on offer.'
'I was very impressed with the overall standard of lists this year,' agreed Imbibe editor Chris Losh. 'Those that didn’t make it through were rarely actually bad – just lacking in imagination or personality. We did have a few otherwise really quite good lists that didn’t make it onto the shortlist because of silly errors – either spelling or incorrect brand names. There’s no excuse for either of these mistakes in what is, in effect, your customer calling card,' he added.
As well as marking down lists with obvious mistakes, the judges were also wary of lists that contained an exhaustive selection of products, without offering any guidance to customers. 'Some bars spent a lot of time providing excellent tasting notes and information, and others persisted with the simple "product list and price" style, which I’m not sure is particularly helpful for the average customer,' commented Foster.
'There were lots of bars in every category presenting a very good selection of spirits, but without focus,' explained judge Michael Butt of Soul Shakers. 'There were far too many lists with nothing but price to guide the customer around the spirit offering. Those that offered even basic three-word descriptors really stood out, becoming much more useful sales tools. Iconography and graphics were used to great effect in a number of menus too, useful enough that even the simplest of line drawings will drive sales,' he added.
Whether or not your establishment has made it onto the shortlist this year, the industry leading training team at Maxxium will be offering free advice, education and training to all venues that entered.
Maxxium work with operators across the UK to raise standards and increase drinks knowledge across the on-trade through the gold-standard training programme they offer. 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 2018.
Meanwhile, read on to find out which venues made the grade this year; we think you’ll agree they’re a pretty impressive bunch! 'The standard of the best lists is exceptional,' concluded Butt. 'I felt that in our X-Factor journey as judges we only really had to consider the margins, as many in each category were a sure-fire hit for inclusion.'
The final round of judging will take place in September and October, with the winners being announced at a glittering awards ceremony later in the year. Follow @imbibeuk on Twitter for the big reveal on the night!
Monica Berg, Michelle Brachet, Jared Brown, Michael Butt, Peter Dorelli, Anistatia Miller,
Joel Harrison, Lyndon Higginson, Neil Ridley
Avant Garde Drinks List of the Year
With lists that feature homemade ingredients, rare and unusual 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, meaning that the judges had to deliberate long and hard to arrive at the final eight. The shortlist shone a light on the bartending talent across the UK, with entries from Edinburgh, Bristol and Sheffield proving that it’s not just bars in the capital that are driving drinks trends and pushing boundaries.
Every Cloud, London
Hyde & Co, Bristol
Merchant House, London
Picture House Social, Sheffield
Sexy Fish, London
The Epicurean, Edinburgh
The Palace of Humbug, London
Classic Drinks List of the Year
At the heart of every great drinks list is an understanding of classic recipes and techniques. The judges considered the range of spirits on offer as well as how the venue uses them to create drinks that celebrate the cocktail heritage. For some this was a curated jaunt through classic recipes dating back to Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide, with notes explaining the history of drinks. For others, classic cocktail styles such as the Martini, Flips and Fizzes formed the basis of the list – either as original recipes or as twists. Congratulations to Raoul’s, which was also shortlisted in last year’s competition.
Cocktail Embassy, London
Hidden Rooms, Cambridge
Quaglino’s Bar, London
The Booking Office, London
The OXO Tower, London
The Resting Room, London
Group Drinks List of the Year
The judges decided to create a new category this year, for bar and restaurant groups. This includes both companies that operate just a handful of sites and those that run six or more sites. The best of these multiple operators tailor their lists to each individual venue in the group, but share a hallmark – be that the spirits selection, the theme or the styles of cocktails. Often the industry’s best drinks consultants are involved in creating these lists, so this category pays particular tribute to the pros who can just keep on producing top-class drinks lists year after year.
London Cocktail Club, London
Meat Liquor, UK
The New World Trading Co, UK
The Pig, UK
The Snug, Cambridge
Hotel Bar Drinks List of the Year
The judges decided to give hotel bars their own category, due to the sheer quality of the entries from top hotels and to level the playing field in other categories. The majority here appeared in shortlists for 2016, showing this category’s consistency. There was notable variety, with some offering an avant garde list, others opting for a classic route; some specialising in imposing selections of cognac, whisky or vintage spirits. One thing’s for certain: it won’t be easy to choose the final winner in this impressive category…
Bassoon Bar, Corinthia Hotel, London
Scarfe’s Bar, The Rosewood Hotel, London
The American Bar, The Savoy, London
The Blue Bar, The Berkeley, London
The Coburg Bar,The Connaught Hotel, London
The Edgbaston, Birmingham
The Lobby Bar, One Aldwych, London
The Punch Room,Edition Hotel, London
Themed Drinks List of the Year
This was another category that had the judges debating who should make it through to the shortlist – simply due to the diversity of venues that entered. From local neighbourhoods to Victoriana and Welsh folk tales, 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 these seven shortlisted bars was seriously impressive, and is further proof of the imagination and creativity of the on-trade.
65 & King, London
Dickies Bar, London
Doctor Ink’s Curiosities, Exeter
Furnival’s Well, Liverpool
Gong Bar, London
The Dead Canary, Cardiff
Gin List of the Year
Given the ongoing popularity of gin, we were surprised to receive a smaller number of entries in the gin category this year. Maybe gin bars thought the competition would be too fierce in this group? Or is gin losing its grip on cocktail lists? Answers on a postcard please… In the meantime, congratulations to Birmingham gin palace 40 St Paul’s and London’s Mr Fogg’s, which have both made the shortlist for the second year in a row. Like last year, the successful lists ranged in style from those that focused solely on the gin-and-tonic serve to those with truly encyclopedic ranges of gins from all over the world – and everything in between.
40 St Paul’s, Birmingham
Charlotte’s Bistro, London
Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour, London
One Square, Edinburgh
The Egremont, Brighton
The Jolly Botanist, Edinburgh
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 were pleased to discover an interesting selection of rums, both the big names you’d expect and smaller boutique brands; while cocktails ranged from classic Mojitos, Daiquiris and Mai Tais to creative twists and bespoke rum-laced drinks. Several bars here were also shortlisted last year, so we’re betting tensions will run high when the winner is announced…
Aloha Bar, Liverpool
Auld Reekie Tiki Bar, Edinburgh
The Smugglers Cove, Liverpool
Trailer Happiness, London
Two Floors, London
Whisky List of the Year
Like Rum List of the Year, this is another category that saw a high number of repeat entries on the shortlist. The lists that stood out were those that went beyond offering a roll call of great whiskies 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.
Ballygrant Inn & Restaurant, Islay
Boisdale of Canary Wharf, London
Bull in a China Shop, London
Sexy Fish, London
Smokin’ Aces Cocktail Bar and Whisky Lounge, Bournemouth
The Hyde Bar, London
The Sun Tavern, London
If you're shortlisted and want to get in touch then please click here.