London Cocktail Week is 10 years old: so how have our tastes changed over the last decade? 

London Cocktail Week

Cast your mind back to 2010. David Cameron is Prime Minister, Breaking Bad is in full flow, and everyone still thinks gin is just for grandmas. 

But this was a big year for the London bar scene. It was in 2010 that Drink.Up’s Hannah Sharman-Cox and Siobhan Payne gathered some friends from the trade together for a special pop-up event in Selfridges on Oxford Street. They called it London Cocktail Week, and it has grown bigger and more influential ever since.

This year, 125 brands will take part from October 4-13, compared to the 35 involved in that original pop-up. And the event has subsequently moved out of Selfridges, taking over the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch to house its central hub, the Cocktail Village. 

Across the capital this week, 300 bars will offer discounts, special menus and masterclasses to those who come bearing festival passes – cocktail lovers keen to taste the latest spirits and modish mixers.

“The biggest shift we’ve seen is in the consumers themselves,” explains Payne. “Over the last 10 years they have become so much more knowledgeable and interested in what they drink and where they should be drinking it.”

Siobhan Payne (L) and Hannah Sharman-Cox (R), the founders of London Cocktail Week

The festival has reflected several huge trends that have swept the drinks industry over the last decade – the most prominent of which has been the meteoric rise of gin. 

At that very first event in 2010, rum ruled the roost – it was the most popular spirit by far, shaken and stirred in 35 per cent of the special festival cocktails served across the week. By 2015, however, and every year subsequently, gin has been the most used cocktail base, featuring in 23 per cent of cocktails at the festival compared to 12 per cent starring rum. 

And they are not alone: there’s now a much broader spectrum of spirits on offer across the board. Last year, the festival saw a 30 per cent rise in the number of bars serving cocktails with a pisco base, the national drink of Chile and Peru which in 2019 won the highest possible accolade at the International Wine & Spirit Competition. In fact, mixologist James Drummond from Bethnal Green’s Resident of Paradise Row won the coveted Best Cocktail competition with his pisco punch recipe. 

But aside from treating Londoners to a more varied drinks list, Payne believes the festival has also helped to drive innovation among the cocktail makers, too. "The techniques and processes used by the leading bars have developed enormously," she says, "and this has trickled down to the mainstream. 10 years ago you could only get a really fantastic cocktail in a specialist cocktail bar; now we’re seeing local pubs making good mixed drinks."

One of the most heartening trends seen over the years has been the festival-goers' adoption of the event's unofficial mantra – not to drink more, explains Payne, but "the opposite in fact – we want people to drink better."

This approach has allowed new products and serving suggestions to bubble to the surface, such as low- and no-alcohol cocktails – 41 per cent of bars involved now offer non-alcoholic drinks. And it's a trend with widespread appeal: a recent survey confirmed that only seven per cent of those interested in trying non-alcoholic cocktails at the festival are teetotal. A drink's taste, it seems, is more crucial than its alcohol content.

Metinee (May) Kongsrivilai, the UK brand ambassador for Bacardi, agrees. "The biggest change over the last 10 years has been the importance consumers have put on quality over quantity," she explains. "You’ll see that several brands have continued to innovate with new premium products that simply haven’t been available on the shelves previously. It’s the same consumers on the cocktail scene, but they now prefer better quality."

This focus on premium spirits seems to have also reassured consumers that they don’t need an elaborate cocktail to enjoy the best taste. In 2018, the most popular serve was a simple espresso martini. However, aside from the lack of alcohol, a modern cocktail might be that bit healthier, says Jack Charlton, brand ambassador for Rémy Martin. 

"Gone are the days of sub-par, sugar-loaded tacky drinks! Say hello weird and wonderful infusions, to provenance and terroir championing libations." 

Credit: Monty Rakusen/Cultura RF

But where will the next decade take us, I ask Payne. "We’ll continue to see more experimentation from consumers, exploring different spirits or styles of drinks they’ve not tried before, and from bartenders pushing the boundaries when creating new drinks,” she says. "We’re also seeing a move towards cocktail making at home – and over the next 10 years this will become even more mainstream."

Perfect your favourite creation at home, then, and it might vie for the spotlight at London Cocktail Week 2029.