Blog: The top takeaways from London Cocktail Week

Greg Saunders, creative director of agency White Label, reviews the big trends and experiential efforts of the major alcohol brands at this year's London Cocktail Week.

  • London Cocktail Week 2016 (All images - credit Luke Dyson)

    London Cocktail Week 2016 (All images - credit Luke Dyson)

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The great and the good of the drinks industry, brands big and small, consumer and trade, all descended on Spitalfields for London Cocktail Week (LCW) on Monday – an annual celebration of drinks brands and culture. With supporting events and promotions at myriad bars and restaurants across the capital, over the past seven years Hannah and the posse at DrinkUp London have built an extraordinary event unlike any other. This presents enormous opportunities for brands, but also significant challenges....

How do you stand out – both physically and from a brand story perspective? How do you craft a single narrative that appeals to such a broad audience? How do you maintain engagement with such a trawling, inquisitive crowd with so much to see and drink…and so little time?

Obviously I could bang on about our own client Auchentoshan living up to their Distilled Different ethos, with a presence unexpected from a Single Malt Scotch – arresting neon, contemporary city-scape imagery, delicious ale-based serves and a social media booth for revellers to share their LCW experiences… but there was plenty of other things that caught our eye.

The continuing rise of premium mixers led to an interesting play-off. Established mixer brands, Schweppes and Britvic, were prominent as they continue to fight against the likes of premium plus players Fever Tree [whose ‘Ultimate G&T Bar’ towered above the hub like a VIP colossus] and Fentimans - who delivered a pitch-perfect masterclass in partnership with Bombay Sapphire at Wright Brothers. It will be interesting to see how the battle ensues as more premium mixers come to market.

Resonant stories, distinct brands and quality liquid will prevail. Collaboration is key at LCW, with brands showing the same experimentalism as bartenders to create must-see content and experiences.

Food pairings remain de rigeur, with many opting for ‘street’ rather than ‘gourmet’ partners, which is befitting of the Shoreditch massive. There’s El Cartel serving up tacos, Jim Beam with Bodeans and Southern Comfort with fried chicken. Others worthy of note include Dewar’s whisky, who had some lovely fun serving up the classic bar snack: scotch eggs. A lovely doff of the [cloth] cap to whisky boffin-ery too. Nice.

As ever, there was the incredible breadth of innovation around every aspect. In the Village this year you can sample freak shakes, granita shots, alcoholic ice cream, IPA and coffee cocktails, with boundaries blurring between beer and cocktails, bartender and barista. You can buy pre-batched negronis, drink Reyka cocktails on draught and collect gin out of Ableforth’s copper bath taps.

From egg cups to coconut husks, Balti dishes to copper kettles, beautifully crafted drinks were served from a variety of vessels – so much so it made us wonder ‘whatever next’?

Perhaps our antipodean bartending fraternity will take inspiration from Aussie F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo, who removed his shoe after winning last week’s Malaysian GP and drank champagne from it. Health and safety would have a field day! So, as LCW disappears for another year – I’m already excited about LCW ’17. I’ve always been taught that the ‘best business is done at the bar’ and it is always heartening to see so many people working tirelessly into the night.

Greg Saunders is creative director of agency White Label.

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