Hamish Smith chats to London Cocktail Week’s Hannah Sharman-Cox and Siobhan Payne about this year’s festival.

It’s that time of year again – London Cocktail Week 2023 is from Oct 12th-22nd. What’s new?

It comes round quickly doesn’t it? The biggest “new news” for us is a slight repositioning of the festival to ensure it really does serve the hospitality industry and truly exists to support and champion the bars we work with.

We try to evolve the festival every year, but this really does feel like quite a transformational one. We’ve made an outward commitment to reinvest funds back into the industry. Part of that is that this year, for the first time, bars will be able to directly sell wristbands to their guests, keeping 100% of the revenue.

Anyone working in a bar is entitled to a free wristband to go and check out what their peers are doing. You just need to sign up on the Trade section of londoncocktailweek.com.

And no cocktail villages this year – what’s the thinking?

This comes back to our core commitment – to truly champion and support the bars we are working with, and while the cocktail villages we’ve run since 2015 hold a dear place in our hearts, creating a standalone space that takes the attention away from our bar partners doesn’t sit right with us. We hope consumers will spend the week discovering the bars we’ve partnered with, booking on to the brilliant experiences on offer, and really exploring the cocktail capital of the world.

So what is the Bartender Knowledge Exchange programme and how can bartenders get involved?

We have talked to so many bartenders from around the UK and the world who plan to come to London just for Cocktail Week, and it really got us thinking about what the festival has to offer these eager individuals. Why do they want to visit our event and our city? Obviously, London is home to a lot of leading venues, and a lot of incredibly talented individuals that the world looks up to. Takeovers are fantastic, and a great way to build community, but actually, they probably don’t offer much opportunity for bartenders to meaningfully learn from each other.

This is where Bartender Knowledge Exchange was born. We’re working with a carefully-picked selection of brilliant bars, who will provide peer-to-peer learning opportunities for young bartenders, as well as opportunities to meet potential mentors. There are back of house pre-shift tours, the opportunity to sit in on development sessions, and The Seat At The Bar – a bookable experience for bartenders to watch the host bar in action.

Are you seeing more engagement with the rest of the UK?

We’ve always been proud of the fact that loads of bartenders from around the UK use London Cocktail Week as an excuse to come and catch up with friends. There will be takeovers – and as more and more bars around the country are getting recognised, we hope the number of these will really ramp up this year.

Are there any other highlights the trade should know about?

Another initiative is The Connoisseur’s Collection, a programme of luxury, one-of-a-kind consumer experiences. Some are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to try rare spirits, some are chances to make reservations in places usually not available – and some are simply the best of the best when it comes to cocktails. Our celebration of world-leading cocktail culture wouldn’t be complete without including some of the city’s most revered bars, so this gives us the chance to include venues that might not have been able to be part of it in previous years. With regard to specific highlights, we couldn’t pick out just one or two, but one night we’ll be doing a guest shift at Nobu Bar. It’s no doubt going to be an absolute disaster behind the bar considering neither of us can do much more than pour a tequila shot – so probably one not to be missed.