Bar Convent Brooklyn
BCB hits the borough for Year 2, showcasing the best of everything bar and beverage.
By Stef Schwalb
Heading to Bar Convent Brooklyn (BCB) in Greenpoint was a great way to spend two days learning more about everything bar and beverage – and tasting a range of products (some new, some established) in an enticing array of displays. From the 34th Street New York City Ferry stop, it’s a quick trip across the water and a brief walk to the venue. There amid two locations – the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse and the Brooklyn Expo Center – was the second edition of this international bar and beverage show to take place in the borough.
During the two-day event, more than 140 exhibitors were featured, over 110 new products debuted, and more than 60 panels and tasting demos took place. The range of subjects covered in the panels touched on a number of topics having a significant impact on the industry today, including sexual assault prevention programs; developing meaningful relationships through social media; navigating distributor relations; media matters and much more. Add to that some after-hour parties, and it’s best you sip slowly and stay focused on the mission at hand. Whether that’s companies looking to place products and get distributed, bars and their owners looking for said products, industry experts and professionals eager to network and learn, or media reporting on all the action.
As the stateside iteration of the well-established and highly regarded Bar Convent Berlin, the Brooklyn version offered a fair amount of exhibitors and educational opportunities, considering the show is still in its infancy. With its host of industry supporters and sponsors, it appears growth is posed to expand as Bar Convent Brooklyn continues to find its footing. We caught up with some people at the event to get their thoughts on the experience.
Bar and Beverage Community
As a Presenting Sponsor, the Campari Group had a lot invested in this year’s experience for a number of reasons. “Campari America recently moved our headquarters from San Francisco and opened a beautiful office space in the heart of Manhattan in 2019. It was important to announce our arrival and establish our position in New York. Bar Convent Brooklyn was a high-profile and immersive way to do that with bartenders, influencers, distributors, operators and media who attended the event. Showcasing Campari America’s brands and our team in a premium setting – and in our new hometown – was an invaluable experience,” explained Steve Chasen, vice president, trade marketing, Campari America. “It was also fantastic timing as we celebrated the 100th anniversaries of both the Negroni and Aperol heading into Negroni Week (June 24-30, 2019) and our ‘Summer of Spritz,’ respectively. Campari America’s activation was consistent from an investment and tactical perspective. We activated the same footprint at this year’s event as last year (albeit with a new look, feel and brand focus). We also had a consistent approach to offsite brand events at night surrounding Bar Convent Brooklyn.
“There were two key changes that benefited Campari America in 2019,” he continues. “Firstly, the operation ran really smoothly this year, making for a far more user-friendly experience for both suppliers and attendees at seminars and on the show floor. We also were impressed with the number and quality of attendees relative to last year. We had a steady stream of decision-makers and trade influencers visiting our booth from start until close. Overall, Bar Convent Brooklyn is a great event for us.”
Alicia Hollinger, director of field marketing for Hella Cocktail Co., found the experience good as well, overall. “I do think it still has some growing and evolving to do. It didn’t bring as much traffic or heavy hitters as we hoped,” she admits, “however, for a small brand like ourselves, we were able to be in a space with some big brands that we admire as well as up-and-coming companies. BCB is very different than other tradeshows we do in the food and natural space. It is one that allows us to really grow within our bar and beverage community. The exposure with a rich collection of bartenders, key accounts and decision-makers was a great opportunity to share our Hella story. It was also the perfect platform to introduce our new product, Hella Bitters & Soda. Gaining feedback and momentum from the hospitality world is something that is exciting and reminds us how much we love what we do!”
While bitters and other low-alcohol – and even no alcohol – products continue to surge as a category, spirits in both organic and non-organic forms seem to find equal footing during BCB as well. “As we are a new product to the market, Bar Convent Brooklyn gave us a venue to show our gin to a diverse group and demonstrate that we are a category unto ourselves in the gin world,” said Michael Elder, founder of O.R.E. 118 Raw Vegan Gin (parent company 118 + 1st). “Our product has a unique flavor profile that truly brings out the nature of its organic botanicals. The best way to demonstrate that is to have spirit lovers—both vegan and omnivore – taste for themselves, and our spot at the emerging brands exhibition booth allowed us to do that with buyers in from the New York bar and restaurant scene face-to-face.”
For non-organic Nautical American Gin, Founder Donnie White also found Bar Convent Brooklyn to offer very good exposure. “It was filled with influencers, decision-makers, and industry leaders from around the world that had an understanding of why everyone was participating in it,” said White. “This was our first year, and we found the show very successful to the point where we signed up for the Berlin Show in October.”
Other first timers, such as Brooklyn-based Hiatus Tequila, also saw the show –conveniently located in their hometown – as a great way to achieve their sales goals. “We just launched five months ago, so this is our first trade show. We self-distribute, so we are really knocking on doors. There are two sales guys in NYC and myself, literally working on thousands of accounts,” explained Founder Kristopher Desoto. “BCB is great because you potentially have thousands of accounts walking past you where you have an opportunity to engage them. That’s why we decided to participate. It’s only the second year, so it’s still new and people are interested. Plus, there are people who still don’t know about it.”
Back for More
Representatives from Mozart Spirits, who attended last year but did not exhibit, were also impressed by the turnout this year. “We were excited to have Mozart Spirits partake in Bar Convent Brooklyn for the first time. With the draw of our mixologist Josue Romero (The Garnish Guy) and our coffee partners Deadsled Coffee, we received great exposure in the mixology world,” said Jenny Manger, marketing director of Niche Import Co. “It was also a great experience to be neighboring some of our favorite brands—like Thomas Henry Soda and Barenjager Honey + Bourbon – where we were able to interact with each other by collaborating at the show and mixing up cocktails together. It was a great crossover experience at BCB, where we had Mozart Choctails at the Thomas Henry booth and got to experiment with some Mozart White Chocolate Honey Bourbon Vanilla shakes at the Barenjager booth. We’re very excited for 2020!”
Among repeat exhibitors, BCB went well the first year so supporting a second edition was a simple decision for them. “We liked it the first time. It was busy. Our company is based in Seattle and Brazil. We find coming to New York everybody comes too, so we can meet people from all over the country because the show as a good track record. People do travel for it. That’s helpful,” said Dragos Axinte, CEO, Novo Fogo Organic Cachaça. “Also, this is the center of the world. We get to see people who otherwise we would have to set up meetings with – potential investors, distribution people, people from chain stores. It’s a good show.”
For Amaro Montenegro, who sponsored the Closing Party of BCB at the House of Yes again this year, their participation is based on a combination of things. “It’s to maintain a connection with the trade and to be able to express ourselves with regards to types of cocktails that we are recommending with the product. We look at this as an educational piece and to try and give the brand some sort of personality outside of in the actual venues as well,” said Francesco Scaglione, International Commercial Director of Gruppo Montenegro. “This is how we like to stay close to the trade. It’s well attended by local trade, but not only. You have a big contingency from Europe, and most of the really top-level bartenders from around the world want to be seen in events like this so they do fly down.”
For Bushmills Irish Whiskey, a partnership with Jillian Vose of Dead Rabbit, played a big part in ensuring success at this year’s show. “Jillian took our Bushmills Original and crafted it into the perfect balance for an Irish coffee. This shows the power of Bushmills—the fact that it can be enjoyed as a whiskey over ice or in an Irish coffee. The big thing we discovered in the United States is that a lot of the times Irish coffee isn’t made correctly, so if it’s going to be one of our many national drinks, it should be served properly,” said U.S. Brand Ambassador Jack D. Ferris. “The big difference between BCB compared to any other whiskey event is that easily 70 to 80 percent of the people here are trade-focused, and they are at the top of their game. They are the bartenders, the bar owners, the training managers. This event allows us to speak to a lot more trade, and to the people serving our drink. They may have a bottle on their shelves, but now they suddenly realize there are other great ways to serve it. BCB is a very good mix compared to other events. It’s essentially a big business get-together.”
Meanwhile, some locally based media who have attended both the Berlin and Brooklyn shows already, offered good perspective on the differences between them as Bar Convent Brooklyn looks forward to 2020. “As someone who has attended Bar Convent Berlin for a few years, which is one of the biggest and most concentrated bar shows in Europe, I’m thrilled a mini version of it has landed in my backyard in Brooklyn!,” said Amanda Schuster, editor in chief of The Alcohol Professor. “I think this year was a vast improvement over the last—better organized overall, better layout, more diversity in both educational content and product offerings. It’s become a great community hang as well as a way to meet new people from all over the globe. I’m heartened to see we can host something like this in NYC, which is a difficult city to hold a big show in because of size and expense. I think Reed Expo, the BCB organizers, pull it off.”
Her suggestions for improvement included giving the author’s table a more prominent spot toward the front of the show so people know it’s there. She also thought there definitely needs to be more food options throughout the event, which is definitely (in this writer’s opinion) crucial for this type of tradeshow.
A born and bred New Yorker, Stef Schwalb’s love of everything culinary knows no bounds. She has written about food and beverages for several years, covering everything from how to make goat cheese to pairing oysters and Chablis. Schwalb is the senior content manager at Gregory White PR where she writes about enticing food and wine experiences at restaurants, bars & lounges, wineries and wine regions across the globe.