It’s that time of year again – bars are unveiling special menus, bartenders from around the world are descending upon London, and consumers and trade alike are readying their livers for the drinks marathon that is London Cocktail Week (LCW).
Since then it’s taken on a life of its own, inspired cocktail weeks in other cities, and provided a model for DrinkUp’s London Wine Week as well.
But this month the focus is solely on cocktails – and 2019’s festivities promise to be extra special, as LCW is celebrating its 10th birthday with extended dates (4-13 October) packed with parties, takeovers, activations and beyond.
With all this in mind, we figured it’s time we caught up with the LCW team. We gave Hannah and Siobhan a ring to talk glassware trends, the evolving consumer palate and the unmissable events set for LCW 2019.
Imbibe: What was your vision for LCW when you founded it in 2010?
LCW: We always intended for it to be a trade event. We thought it would be a thing where we'd know every single guest, our friends would fly in, much as we all fly to Tales [of the Cocktail].
That goal didn't last very long, as we're predominantly a consumer festival. I think it was the price point or the exclusivity of some bars that was keeping people away. What we're really proud of and what we've done is open up venues to regular people who want to know a bit more.
The aim of the festival is to be that middle point between the trade and the consumer, and to make our trade more accessible, so more people drink better drinks in better bars.
We're keen to get an idea of how you've seen consumer tastes change over the decade of London Cocktail Week. How would you characterise them in the first years?
We would say consumer tastes have developed to become a bit more of what we used to think of as trade. [They've] become a bit more complicated and a bit more refined. In the early years, gin wasn't as big a thing, people were just getting excited about it, whereas now we have consumers interested in fat-washed cocktails and lower-abv cocktails and mezcal in their drinks, and all this more complicated stuff. They want more creativity in their mixology rather than just sweet drinks.
As much as we're about discounted drinks, we're not just a happy hour
We've been really lucky because London Cocktail Week has always attracted guests that are interested in the mixology part of the trade rather than just the booze. As much as we are about discounted drinks, we're not just a happy hour.
We’ve seen over the years that people really do lean in to how we group drinks together. You can see people searching for spirit types, or by glass shape. It's interesting how people make their plans for their own cocktail week.
And what glass shapes are consumers interested in?
[In the first years of LCW], it was the Mad Men effect. People felt that they were being mature drinking these short rocks drinks. Now it's more about Instagram and what drinks will look like in a picture, which tends to be a stemmed glass.
How would you say bartenders tastes have changed?
The gap [between bartenders and consumers] is closing. But bartenders' tastes have developed as you would expect, allowing for more bitter drinks. You follow through how the Aperol Spritz became a Negroni, became a Coffee Negroni, became a Mezcal Negroni, and you see that progression over the past few years.
We've seen a return to simplicity, focusing on getting the classics right
At the same time we've also seen a return to simplicity, focusing on getting the classics right. The hotel bars, Erik Lorincz's bar – they are all around the return to classics rather than these incredibly scientific ways of creating cocktails.
Any ingredients coming up again and again?
We've got quite a lot of beer tops, which is interesting. People are lengthening with something other than a classic mixer. Lavender we've seen more of this year too.
There are also lots of sherries, lots of fig, probably because we're an autumnal event. Fig, pear – those flavours are really coming through this year, mostly served short and up.
And what events are you most looking forward to during LCW 2019?
We have two events that we're producing ourselves. We're reproducing the Cocktail Village, back in the Truman Brewery like last year. That for us is a big celebration point.
Then we have our Covent Garden pop-up for seven days in the middle of Covent Garden, changing daily. So we've got international bartenders popping up, a non-alcoholic day, World Class are bringing their UK winner in. There's a running time table of the great and the good in the industry.
There are events that we're not running that we're looking forward to as well, as we'll actually be attending and enjoying! There are loads of bar takeovers we're really excited to check out. It's such an accolade and such an honour that people come over and choose to be part of this. We certainly don't have the budget to pay them to be here, so it says a lot that they choose to be a part of this festival. For us, that's a real highlight. It backs up the hard work that we put in.