Venuez is a bar show hosted by the eponymous bar magazine in Antwerp; and it’s the place where the Benelux bar scene comes together. I was working at the Gin Mare stand there, so I got a chance to have a look around.
In general it was very interesting to see some products that we don’t get in Switzerland. At the same time, there was an overabundance of new gins, most of which tried very hard to bring something new to the table, but ultimately failed to truly innovate or even be of decent quality (with a few very nice exceptions, though).
- Bacardi released a new gin, the Star of Bombay, and they got it extremely right this time. The gin is nothing like the light, citrusy Sapphire; instead, it is intense, lead by the grains of paradise, peppery, almost waxy. On top of the Sapphire’s ten botanicals they add ambretta seeds, bergamot, angelica seed and redbush leaf; and bottle it at 47.5%.
- Vulson White Rhino is an unaged rye spirit from the French Alps. While we’ve seen a couple of white dog spirits so far, this is the first one that really impressed me. A lot of peaches and apricots on the nose, and a good spice and fruity aroma. A completely new spirit that is bound to inspire some great cocktails.
- I met Joe of Fee Brothers, and he is a really cool guy. Very honest about their bitters, and refreshingly happy to explain how they make them. They also launched an Orange Bitter aged in barrels that previously held Ransom gin, and they are beautiful. Very dark, with cinnamon and burned caramel flavours joining the orange.
- Tsijng is a smartphone app that allows customers to order drinks. While I think this is not something I would personally enjoy, they showcased their product by running the entire show on it. So as an exhibitor, you could use the app to order ice, glasses etc. which was very cool.
- La Hechicera is a Colombian rum; it’s quite similar to Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva and the likes, but it’s refreshingly dry, forgoing the increasingly common adding of sugar. Heaps of fruit, oranges, dried apricots, and then some toffee and cacao.
- The Forest Dry Gins themselves were mediocre, and the vermouth absolutely horrible. However, the bottles are coated with a special colour that smells like one of the gin’s botanicals when rubbed. That I thought was a very cute idea that could also be used in menus in bars etc.
- While the Loopuyt Gin itself was a bit confused taste-wise, they had a very cute idea, too: Every bottle comes with a wooden coin inlaid in the lid, which you can use to get entry to a speakeasy bar near Rotterdam. However, the speakeasy is open only on special occasions.
- While not new, I got to try some of Bigallet’s more traditional liqueurs, such as the China-China, which tastes like an extremely well done mix of Cynar and Grand Marnier.
- Cocchi Vermouth Amaro is supposed to be more bitter than their normal vermouth. However, I found that the opposite was true; with fresh oranges greeting you in the nose, and lots of red berries, especially strawberries, on the palate. A very cool product to be sipping on ice, but with a misleading name.
- Pinky Rose Lemonades offered syrups for lemonades in extremely sexy industrial oil tin packaging. They add no preservatives at all; and get a really bright, wonderful flavour. Particularly cool is the Rose syrup, which is spiced with lemongrass, kafir lime, vanilla and pepper.
- The Schweppes Premium Mixers have been on the market for a while, but I never got a chance to taste them. Schweppes has suffered a bit since the G&T became big, being shunned by bartenders for not being fit for a premium gin. A lot of the newer tonic waters, however, have poor carbonation, and this is where the Schweppes products with their throat-ripping bubbles really shine. I particularly liked the cardamom & ginger tonic, though you need a bolt gin to stand up to it in a G&T.
- Coca Cola promoted their new serve of the rum & coke etc. in the Spanish G&T style, with the big balloon glas, pouring the coke over the spoon, lime twists and all. They also bought a massive screen right above the bar at the after party, showing a 15 second clip of their serve on constant repeat, which was freaking annoying. Still, it is interesting to see that Coca Cola is trying to establish itself in the modern bar world.
- I finally got a chance to taste the Luxardo Maraschino cherries, and while they are much better than their artificial counterparts, their flavour was quite muddy and not worth their high price.
- Spring Gin had quite a nicely packaged line-up of different gins; but their new Mediterranean Gin is basically an exceptionally one-dimensional rosemary-distillate.
- Mandarine Napoleon XO, a more expensive version of the famous mandarine liqueur, made with older cognacs and mandarine essential oils. Tastes artificial, perfume-like; and the cognac and mandarine flavours clash.
- Botanic Gin has a very fancy bottles, and includes exotic ingredients such as Buddha’s hand. However, the gin itself is unrefined, alcoholic and harsh in both the nose and the palate, with a mandarin note that feels very unintegrated.
- Fever-Tree Premium Cola was also a big disappointment, being cloyingly sweet on one hand, but tasting watery at the same time. However, I haven’t tried this mixed with, say, rum, where it might give the spirit enough room to shine.
- There was no water at the exhibition. It’s a bartending exhibition where people drink spirits; how can you not have water there?