Big spirits brands ‘devalue’ bar awards

26th January, 2017 by Annie Hayes

Bar awards are turning into “a business for big brands”, making the concept “less valuable”, Simon Ford, chairman of The Spirited Awards, has said at a P(our) panel discussion.

The discussion took place on 23 January at The Town Hall Hotel in East London,

At a P(our) panel discussion on the awards industry earlier this week, Ford reasoned that when bars are awarded a place on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, “all of a sudden, they [become] the 50 most influential bars in a lot of people’s minds, and that means brands go swarming on them and start giving them lots of money just to have their products”.

“It’s actually starting to become a business for the big brands”, he explained, adding that there needs to be separation between the two otherwise awards risk losing their value in the years to come.

“Aren’t we the reason that that is happening?”, asked panelist and general manager of Proof & Company, Zdenek Kastanek, who added that if bartenders “would not be a ‘whore’ which can sell to anyone”, such a situation could be prevented.

He continued: “Try to tell [a] chef that he can only cook with this kobe beef and this carrot, and he’ll tell you, ‘f*ck off, get out of my restaurant, I’m not interested in your products, I can cook with whatever the hell I want to cook with’.

“You don’t see that in bars – or at least not as much – so maybe we are the ones who are at fault? Rather than telling [brands], ‘you know what, I love your product and I genuinely want to pour it, don’t give me money’, it’s the other way around.”

Recognising that the decision is not always with the bartenders, he added, “it’s not always your fault – sometimes the business is set up that way, and your boss is telling you that’s what you need to do”.

The discussion was moderated by Jim Meehan, author of The PDT Cocktail Book and a member of the P(our) collective, who directed the discussion to fellow P(our) colleague Ryan Chetiyawardana, owner of award-winning London bars White Lyan and Dandelyan.

“Working with brands is certainly something that we do [and] it’s part of our business,” Chetiyawardana said, “but were not doing that to go, ‘we’re working with you to then get a vote off you’ – and I’d say on the whole, I don’t think it is that sinister across the board”.

The relationship between brands and bars “truly is symbiotic”, he explained, adding, “there is no one side without the other. When I was [at Bramble Bar] in Edinburgh it was something I was really thankful for – we were off the beaten track and the only people who were bringing people up were the brand ambassadors… It was crucial for us.”

Fellow panelist Jake Burger, founder of Portobello Road Gin and The Ginstitute, said: “I don’t think there’s really anyone else apart from brand ambassadors who has visited enough of the bars nominated to actually express an opinion.”

Geographically speaking, bars are so wide-ranging it would be “almost impossible” to have someone completely impartial, he explained, “unless it was someone’s full time job”.

The P(our) collective was founded by Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale in April 2016, and held its first symposium in Paris in June, which was attended by professionals from the drinks industry and beyond.

The next P(our) symposium will take place in Paris in June 2017, and will explore ‘gender’ within the spirits industry.

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