tess posthumus

Talking the challenges of cocktail weeks

26 May, 2022

Having recently returned from the US visiting both Oakland and Arizona Cocktail Weeks I was amazed by the differences in approach. In Oakland there was a much bigger trade focus and it felt more relaxed, whereas in Arizona it was one massive party for consumers.

Before the pandemic I think most of the world’s cocktail weeks were more industry focused, but now I’ve noticed brands shift- ing their budgets to the off-trade, making consumers the primary focus. This makes sense to me because a cocktail week is there to bring exposure to a bar scene and introduce a new audience of consumers to the area’s best venues, rather than being another trade show. 

However, while consumers are the focus, cocktail weeks have generally struggled to reach them and, as co-founder of Amsterdam Cocktail Week, I can vouch for this. I think the main reason we struggle is because most of the cocktail weeks are founded by bartenders or bar owners who want to highlight their local industry. But we aren’t marketing experts – that’s a job in its own right – and therefore they end up preaching to the choir and it naturally gains a trade focus. 

Not many cocktail weeks around the world are run by consumers, for very good reasons. First, they don’t have the trade connections which bartenders do to get things rolling, and also there’s no money to be made. Amsterdam Cocktail Week has been a passion project, something we wanted to do to raise the profile of the city’s bar scene, but after six years we still don’t make money from it – maybe there are long-term benefits to our bars, but not from hosting the festival. 

That’s also why no professional events agencies run them, because there’s no direct money to be made. Unless the model of cocktail weeks change, they’re likely to be run by the trade, and we need to do things differently.

The template for a cocktail week was really set out by Siobhan Payne and Hannah Sharman-Cox. Those guys deserve credit for establishing London Cocktail Week back in 2010 because the concept has been copied all around the world. Even after 13 years they’re still playing around with the format and changing the length of the festival, so it’s interesting to see which direction they’re taking it, because we will no doubt take inspiration from them as one of the few financially successful in the business. 

I think as a trade we need to employ professionals in marketing and events management, areas in which bartenders aren’t experts. This is how you reach more consumers, but with little financial reward there aren’t many bartenders willing to take that plunge. 

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