Imbibe Live’s Spirits, Wine and Beer & Cider ambassadors are right at the top of their profession. Alex Kratena, Laure Patry and Mark Dorber tell us what’s exciting them about their branch of the on-trade – and, of course, the show itself
In November last year, Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale sent shockwaves through the industry when they announced they were leaving the Artesian, the world-beating bar they’d run for eight years.
So where does someone at the top of their game go from there? Well, apart from working on opening his own bar, Kratena has become the Spirits Ambassador for Imbibe Live. With all his globetrotting, his insight and his fun personality, he was an obvious choice for the job.
‘I am super-excited to be living in this age. There’s so much interesting stuff happening across the entire industry,’ he enthuses. ‘I love the fact that nowadays, in any city you go to, there are always exciting bars to visit. But of course there is also lots to improve on all fronts. For instance, we seriously need to improve on waste management and material re-purposing. And we need better pay and work conditions.’
Since leaving the Artesian, Kratena has been enjoying being footloose for a bit.
‘My new team and I are taking advantage of the freedom to be able to take on any project we like,’ he says. Among his many adventures, he ran a bar at an Oscars after-party (he can’t say who for) and worked on a pop-up in Korea.
But perhaps the biggest thing he’s done is also serving as his inspiration for his seminar at Imbibe Live. ‘We visited the Amazon jungle for a week where we investigated ingredients of the region and learned about long-forgotten techniques with chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, the pioneer of Amazonian cuisine,’ he explains. ‘The stay culminated in an event – upon our return to Lima we had 48 hours to design a cocktail and food menu for a one-off night. It was serious pressure considering my team had never encountered 90% of the ingredients!’
Take the lead
It’s this tendency to work outside of the norm that has kept Kratena at the forefront of the global bar community for such a long time.
‘I don’t like the word trends,’ he says. ‘A trend is something we already know. I think there’s a generation of people who developed their own personal style and they keep on working on it further, not really caring about what people say in the media. Those who follow trends will never lead; they’ll always only follow.’
While we wait for news of his new bar – the last thing we heard it probably won’t be ready until next year – we can be safe in the knowledge that Kratena will be blazing a trail of his own, shining a light on unexplored corners of the on-trade, and indeed the globe.
Must-see three at Imbibe Live
Luke Whearty and Aki Nishikura from Operation Dagger, Singapore
‘I love everything about their bar. It’s creativity on steroids with cool aesthetics.’
Monica Berg on Aquavit
‘It’s a fascinating subject and one of the most under-appreciated spirits out there.’
Mr Lyan on sustainability
‘I can’t wait for Ryan Chetiyawardana’s talk to hear new thoughts on sustainability and ingredients.’
As executive group head sommelier of Jason Atherton’s Social Company, Laure Patry has extensive experience of putting together restaurant wine lists, from Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social to the more casual Social Wine & Tapas. Working on Atherton’s launches around the world, including Hong Kong, New York and Sydney, she’s also got her finger on the pulse of the latest wine trends – all of which makes her a perfect choice to be this year’s Imbibe Live Wine Ambassador.
‘I travel quite a bit to open restaurants, but I feel like London is one of the best cities to work in,’ she says. ‘It’s a dynamic city and there’s always new places opening, new concepts. It’s very competitive and you have to be on top of your game. You have to have ideas, think about what you’re
doing differently to everyone else.’
In the know
According to Patry, the UK’s restaurant scene has evolved positively over the past five years, with customers becoming more curious about wine as they learn more about food. ‘I think people are a lot more interested in the role of sommeliers and understand more about what we do, so they feel more comfortable asking us questions. They like to be introduced to new wines and areas, different varieties.’
This is reflected in the diversity of wines now available on restaurant lists. ‘Younger consumers are more willing to experiment and try things like biodynamic wines or orange wine and skin contact wine. We’re seeing more wines from Croatia, Slovenia and Georgia in the UK as well,’ says Patry.
The UK’s sommelier community has also become more diverse. ‘I even have British sommeliers now. It’s amazing, no?’ she quips, though she thinks the UK still needs to take sommelier training more seriously. ‘The Master Sommelier course has helped a lot, but it’s not cheap. I think it would be nice for the UK to have a sommelier school, like we do in France. You can do an apprenticeship in a restaurant, so you do one week in school and the rest of the month at work.’
It’s an initiative that everyone in the trade would welcome. But when it comes to technical innovation, Patry believes wine service has already taken a major step forward thanks to the introduction of Coravin (see p.58). ‘Wines by the glass is a trend and with Coravin people can have a little bit of this, a little bit of that and learn something,’ she explains.
Patry thinks this will continue, and highlights a few other trends for the future. ‘People are becoming more health conscious. I’ve had a lot of people ask for low-alcohol wine and for no-sulphur wines,’ she says. She also thinks customers will continue to move away from formal dining. ‘Social Wine & Tapas isn’t super-fine-dining and I think a lot of people want casual, informal places.’
Whatever happens, we’re sure Patry will be staying one step ahead of the game…
Must-see three at Imbibe Live
Eduard Tscheppe and Stephanie Tscheppe-Eselböck from Gut Oggau
‘These guys are small biodynamic producers. They make amazing wine, they’re very knowledgeable and they have real passion.’
Jérôme Jacoillot from Krug Champagne
‘Krug is very exclusive. They don’t really show anyone the blending process, so to know their secrets and find out how they do it will be amazing.’
Palate training with Ronan Sayburn MS
‘Any sommelier who wants to improve their knowledge and understanding of wine should go to the session that Ronan is doing.’
‘I don’t know why everyone doesn’t have a small 50-litre Sabco,’ says Mark Dorber, of the gleaming mini brew kit that is his latest hands-on foray into the beer world.
It might seem surprising that Dorber, landlord of The Anchor at Walberswick and The Swan at Stratford St Mary, has only just got round to owning his own kit.
After all, he has been pivotal in beer receiving the recognition it deserves in Britain: first through his tenure at The White Horse on Parson’s Green, then in his role as co-founder of The Beer Academy. Not to mention a multitude of other elements like his enthusiasm for US beer and his skill in matching beer and food.
But Dorber is always busy, and the high standards he sets himself and his teams are just two of the biggest reasons.
He’s been Imbibe Live’s Beer & Cider Ambassador for a few years now, enjoying the chance to share his formidable contacts and wealth of knowledge. And he’s delighted to chair the show’s beer competition, now entering its second year.
So with all that going on, what’s exciting Dorber at the moment? ‘I’m thrilled to see the new wave of US IPAs,’ he says. This, don’t forget, is from the man who organised the game-changing Burton Ales seminar back in the early 1990s, which lit the touchpaper for the revival of IPA.
‘I’d like to see more English-style IPAs,’ he adds. ‘There’s a big variation between [those originally brewed] in London, Scotland and Burton.’
He’s fascinated, too, with the trend towards sour beers. In the UK, Elgood’s in particular make ‘sensational’ sour beers he says, before adding: ‘I’d urge everyone to get over to Wisbech to try them.’
Sour beers feature prominently on his 150-strong bottled beer list at The Swan. ‘We’ve got lots of Cantillon, which we’re ageing further, to add complexity, like champagne,’ he says proudly.
‘It is great to see the traditional breweries innovating, and from a position of strength. Just this week I received news that Chimay has a new oak-aged version. And there’s a red-wine-aged lambic [St Lamvinus] out, too. It is the innovation that drives curiosity and sensory development. It is
the lifeblood,’ he says.
In the (brew)house
And reinvention isn’t limited to breweries. ‘A lot of the new brewhouses are rejecting the old format,’ Dorber says, having just returned from the Cambridge Brew House, where he enjoyed the Scandi/US design as well as the beer paddles and third-of-a-pint serves. ‘This is excellent news,’ he says. ‘It’s encouraging drinkers to be adventurous, which is essential.’
And it’s that sense of adventure he’s hoping for from this year’s beer competition, the Wheat Beer Challenge. ‘I’d like to see evidence of imagination and flair,’ he says. ‘I’m always interested in a new take on a classic style.’
At his own brewery, they’ve had an interesting six months, says Dorber, who admits his fascination for historic ale styles continues unabated, along with that for the ageing of beers. Already Dorber is dabbling with casks – the bourbon fill and then the whisky fill.
So what’s the main thing he’s learnt since the Sabco was installed? ‘It’s easy to brew, but it’s not easy to brew well,’ he replies. The quest for perfection continues.
John Keeling on ageing beers
‘To listen to his wisdom and inspiration as a brewer and an archivist.’
Warren Geraghty on food matching
‘To understand his take on beer and food matching; to see his ideas and combinations.’
Tom Oliver on cider and perry
‘One of the groundbreaking forces in the world of cider and perry.’
Illustration: Danny Capozzi