Launched in 2007, Bar Convent Berlin with its mix of congress and trade fair is now one of the world’s most important meeting places for bar owners and bartenders on the one hand and the beverage industry on the other. Even if some exhibitors still mourn the old BCB feeling of the exhibition grounds at Gleisdreieck, the new location has proven itself. Especially since the signs are pointing to growth despite difficult general conditions …
Bar Convent Berlin is a mecca of cocktail culture, Fine Wine is certainly not a focus here. But in addition to an unimaginably large variety of spirits, sparkling wines, sherries and sake also have their fixed place. Admittedly, this has become smaller. Despite a top-class champagne tasting in the main program, for example, only the Vranken-Pommery group presented fine sparklings from France.
In addition, even traditional distillers are increasingly shifting to “to-be-mixed” spirits. The really big highlights like the legendary tasting of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection in 2019 have become rare. At least the strong Japan Pavilion was worth the visit for sake lovers. But there were also great qualities and exciting novelties to taste from other product groups. Due to time constraints, however, I had to skip entire sections of fine spirits (fruit brandies, grappa, rum). Here are my top 8, arranged in pairs in each of four categories:
1. Iwase Shuzo Iwanoi Yamahai Junmai Daiginjo Sake
Iwase Brewery is located on the east coast of Chiba Prefecture, not far from the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area. Iwanoi, a name derived from an important well, is the main brand. Founded as early as 1723, it was awarded the “Best of Sake Award” in Japan in 1947. Its very traditional products are among the top products of the country. Since the Iwanoi Yamahai 2016 received a high score in Robert Parker’s “Wine Advocate”, it is also sought after worldwide. Two peculiarities account for the sake’s distinctiveness and quality. The unusually hard, mineral-rich water and a special lactic acid fermentation method. The result is a sake without fruit aromas; instead, the pure smell of steamed rice dominates. “Aji-daigin” is what the Japanese call this. If you will, this sake transcends the rice of which it is made.
2. Tanaka 1789 x Chartier Sake Blend 002 Nama-Zume Junmai Daiginjo Vintage 2018
Tanaka 1789 x Chartier is a joint project of the sake brewery founded in 1798 with sommelier and “flavor consultant” François Chartier. The brewery itself is located in the northeast of the main island of Honshū in Miyagi Prefecture. It, too, uses a traditional, time-consuming fermentation process called the Kimoto method. What is unusual about this line, however, is the blending. This is rarely done in sake production, but is classic for champagne and great spirits. In the Tanaka 1789 x Chartier blends, about seven different sakes are assembled. The goal: even greater complexity and balance in the final product. The second characteristic is vintage bottling, also still rare in sake production. Blend 002 is definitely another step up from the premiere: multilayered and long, with a complex bouquet between fruit aromas, grain and rice notes.
3. Domaine Tariquet Bas Armagnac Baco 20 ans
Armagnac has done better on the French market than Cognac. In Germany, however, the spirit as a vintage bottling is still notorious as a gift for old men that is then gently buried under dust in a glass display case. The rustic style and, in particular, the sometimes penetrating acetone-glue tone of many bottlings have long alienated friends of fine spirits from the brandy from Gascony. The Domaine Tariquet, also known in this country for its dry white wines, is a house that rigorously focuses on quality and is particularly dynamic. There were some novelties at the Bar Convent. For example, the varietal “Pure Folle Blanche 25 ans” directly from the barrel (“Brut de Fût”), brandies from Ugni Blanc or the almost forgotten Plant de Graisse and finally the 20-year-old Baco. Hurray for the diversity!
4. Laballe Bas Armangac Vintage 1989
The Laballe distillery, founded in 1820 and still family-owned, is also dedicated to varietal Armagnacs, such as the Exode XIV from Ugni Blanc or the Résistance from the Baco grape variety (more precisely: Maurice Baco 22 A), which was bred against the phylloxera crisis at the beginning of the 20th century and is today the only hybrid grape still permitted for AOC production in France. But Laballe had also brought to the Bar Convent some vintages for which Armagnac is famous. 2003 is still youthful and troubled, but the distillate from 1989, an outstanding, low-acid vintage, is already at a first peak. This is how powerful and precise Armagnacs must be today.
5. Hine Bonneuil 2006 Limited Edition Cognac
Even Cognac, where the framework for innovation is limited, is on the move. Founded in 1763, Maison Hine was an early pioneer of vintage Cognac, emerging from the “Early Landed” bottlings that had been stored by merchants in cellar vaults in Bristol, UK. Since the house acquired a 120-hectare domain (70 hectares under vine) in Bonneuil from Cognac Tesseron around 2000 in the heart of Grande Champagne, Hine has farmed its own vineyards. From the 2005 vintage, the first single cru of the “Domaines Hine” was presented as a vintage cognac in 2014. In Berlin, the house presented the successors Bonneuil 2006, 2008 and 2010. The very limited brandies come from 18 to 19 barrels of 450 bottles – for which they are very reasonably priced. Which vintage is the favorite, everyone must decide for himself (there is a nice three-bottle box with small bottles). These are young, but highly individual, complex brandies that show that the terroir movement has also reached the Charente.
6. Abecassis Cognac Grande Champagne XXO
Francis Abecassis knows a thing or two about agriculture; after all, he made his fortune growing rice in the Rhône Delta. Since 2000, he has devoted himself to cognac after buying Cognac Réviseur in Petite Champagne. In 2002, Cognac Leyrat was added in the Fins Bois. In 2005, the ABK6 brand was created, initially intended for young, simple brandies. The group is committed to the philosophy of single estate cognacs and aims to produce “cognac by winemakers.” Since daughter Élodie took over the management of the now four Cognac domains in 2009 at the age of 23, ABK6 has also been positioned in a decidedly higher-quality way. Their XOs in particular are among the shooting stars today. At the Bar Convent, Abecassis/ABK6 was repositioned with a collection of Cognac Grande Champagne, made possible by the acquisition of Domaine Segeville in 2019. XXO was also presented for the first time. A cognac that combines all the magic and intensity of tertiary aromas created over decades: dried fruit, leather, cedar, cigar box …
7. WhistlePig 15 years aged Estate Oak Rye Whiskey
WhistlePig is the start-up among American rye producers. Founded in 2007 by master distiller Dave Pickerell, the company started with nothing less than the idea of reinventing rye whiskey and producing the best possible quality. In 2015, they came a big step closer to doing just that when they were able to acquire a farm in Shoreham, Vermont, with 200 acres of farmland for growing rye and grain. The distillery itself has moved into a former dairy farm. Production follows the motto “from field to glass”, which also means that (at least for the 15yo) the finish is made from barrels of the farm’s own Vermont oak.
Since Moët Hennessy took over distribution outside the U.S. at the end of 2020 (in return for the purchase of a minority stake), three of the house’s rye whiskeys have also been available in Germany. The 10 Years Old Straight Rye Small Batches, which is outstanding in its category. The Old World Rye 12 Years Old, whose finish in Madeira (63%), Sauternes (30%) and Port casks (7%) in my eyes somewhat covers the spiciness of the classic rye whiskey. And finally, the phenomenal 15 Years Estate Oak Rye, certainly one of the top rye whiskeys on the market. A combination of the force and unruliness of the rye with the wisdom and serenity of age.
8. Glenfarclas The Family Casks 1994 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Founded in 1836 and owned by the Grant family since 1865, the Glenfarclas distillery has been able to maintain its independence to this day. No wonder, because the quality of the entire range of Highland single malt whiskies is exquisite. Hardly any other house owns more sherry casks, and the much-vaunted Oloroso character, together with Speyside elegance, characterizes the portfolio from the 10-year-old to the rare Vintages. At the Bar Convent, official bottlings up to the profound 25-year-old, as well as the boisterous 2010 Christmas Edition, were on tap. But at the end of the tasting, a small transparent bottle with a handwritten label was opened. An old trade sample from the Family Cask series: vintage 1994, cask 1581, filled in October 2018. A small time capsule back to the past, of which there were just 571 bottles. Old sherry, some apothecary cabinet, dark chocolate, nutmeg and cinnamon. Perhaps my highlight of the Bar Convent Berlin 2022.
© Images Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images