Is Simone Caporale the busiest bartender in the world?
One of the world’s most acclaimed bartenders, Simone Caporale, has opened a bar in Barcelona, created training videos, started brands, and is helping preserve the Amazon rainforest.
With impressive accolades to his name, a new global bartender programme, and an award-winning bar in Barcelona, there are few things that Italian Simone Caporale hasn’t done in the industry.
The charismatic bartender got his start in hospitality after a stint as a glass washer at a disco in Lake Como, Italy, before working his way up to the bar. In 2009 he moved to London to work at Roast restaurant in London’s Borough Market before taking over Marian Beke’s position as a bartender at the city’s Artesian bar at The Langham hotel to work alongside head bartender Alex Kratena. It was there that Caporale achieved global success, earning the title of ‘World’s Best Bartender’ during Tales of the Cocktail’s 2014 Spirited Awards.
Together, he and Kratena broke the mould of a classic hotel bar, and became known for their experimental cocktail menus. Following their joint departure from the five-star hotel after nearly five years at its helm, the duo worked together on several projects. Alongside industry veteran Monica Berg, the pair created Muyu Liqueurs with Dutch firm De Kuyper in 2019.
In 2016, the trio created the not-for-profit P(our) Symposium, a collective for bartenders, with annual events held in cities such as Paris and London. The last P(our) Symposium was held in 2019, after which Caporale, Berg and Kratena decided to halt the event as they focused on opening their own bars.
Caporale was working on the opening of Sips in Barcelona, while Berg and Kratena opened Tayēr + Elementary in London. “We often speak about bringing it back,” he says. “But we need to figure out a different format to make these things happen because it was really expensive to do it.”
Caporale continued to dabble in product development, creating non-alcoholic ‘spirit’ Zeo, and partnering with fellow Italian bartender Luca Missaglia to launch Amaro Santoni, an aperitivo inspired by the flavours of Florence.
His partnership with Missaglia saw the two develop a new bartending programme, The Art of Shaking (TAOS). The programme was developed during the pandemic, and launched this year. “It took us one year of planning, and approximately four months of filming,” Caporale says.
Caporale explains that after years of attending trade shows, masterclasses and seminars across the world, the format remains the same. “You’re at a table speaking to an audience of people that sit in the front row and see very well,” he explains, while those at the back are unable to see. “That’s not the way to share information,” he adds.
He and Missaglia have created videos available to paying subscribers that can be rewatched. “It’s all the technique that we have developed, all the systematic creativity that we used to design menus, cocktails, and concepts,” he says.
During the pandemic, Caporale said there was an abundance of online content being created. “Many people were banging out overnight courses; they were rushed because they were put together quickly with limited resources, like an iPhone,” he explains. “We took the time to document content that you cannot find for free on YouTube. Six people are involved in filming and production.”
TAOS claims to be the first bartender-led subscription training programme that is completely independent, and not sponsored by any brands. The Premium option is priced at £19.99 per month (US$24.40), with 21 videos available to subscribers, while the ‘all inclusive’ option is at £29.99 per month.
Caporale is keen to stress the independence of the platform, with no brands mentioned in the videos. “When something comes for free, people don’t appreciate it,” he says. However, he hasn’t ruled out working with brands in the future through the programme, adding: “There are some brands that would like to take part in it, so eventually we will produce some branded content, but this will be available for free.”
The programme debuted with three courses, covering cocktail development, cocktail-menu creation and ‘ultimate’ bar techniques, with more to be added. Content varies from how to shake a cocktail and how to stir a drink to the techniques of juicing and grating. The third course is about “creating culture from zero”. More content will be released at the end of this year.
Meanwhile, last summer Caporale teamed up with Marc Álvarez to open Sips, a venue that is on the shortlist for Best New International Cocktail Bar at the 2022 Spirited Awards. But staffing issues in the industry continue to affect hospitality operators around the world. Caporale says it is a major challenge to recruit workers.
“In Spain there’s always been an issue to find motivated people, regardless. Many people relocate and decide to take another career. You see some very famous establishments that over the past 10 years have gone through 50 people.”
Since opening Sips, Caporale says he often reminds the staff about the importance of human interaction. “Hospitality is very important because it’s about how you make people feel,” says Caporale. “No matter if you are an employee or the owner, we must always remember that human values are the most important ingredient of this business.”
Caporale is also planning to expand Sips, by opening a space at the end of the bar’s corridor, called La Essencia (The Essence). “We are opening a completely different concept,” he says. “Sips is a bar without a bar counter, and over there will be only a bar counter, and no tables. We’re thinking about a menu that you can’t read but you can still understand.”
He notes the example of an object and how it can be interpreted differently by each person. The site will have capacity for 12 to 14 people, where you can “expect the unexpected”, he explains. The new space is due to open by the end of the summer.
Caporale says among his biggest achievements has been working on two projects inspired by the Amazon rainforest: Muyu, and Canaïma gin.
The Muyu line of liqueurs was inspired by a trip Kratena, Caporale and Berg took to the area in 2016. He says: “We were obviously amazed about the biodiversity, the fact that you are on a different planet. But at the same time, we were shocked about social problems there, and decided to do more.”
Caporale also helped to launch Canaïma, a gin produced by the distillery behind Diplomático rum, with most of its botanicals sustainably sourced from the Amazon basin.
A portion of global sales are donated to two Amazon-conservation foundations. The trip was a life-changing experience for Caporale, and has influenced his future ventures. He says: “Once you come home you start to see more clearly what’s relevant; very often we get lost in things that are not necessary.”