One of the largest premium craft spirit events on the US calendar is Bar Convent Brooklyn. More commonly known as BCB, the event spent last year in a remote virtual format.
But this year, BCB is about to take Brooklyn by storm, yet again, as the event is back live.
But with the industry still struggling to get back on its feet after COVID, we speak to Jackie Williams, the event director for BCB about what this year means, what to expect from the show and what precautions will be taken.
Tiff: One of the largest premium craft spirit events on the U S calendar is Bar Convent Brooklyn. More commonly known as BCB, the event spent last year in a remote virtual format.
But this year, BCB is about to take Brooklyn by storm, yet again, as the event is back live.
But with the industry still struggling to get back on its feet after COVID, we speak to Jackie Williams, the event director for BCB about what this year means, what to expect from the show and what precautions will be taken. Thanks for joining us, Jackie.
Jackie: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It's great to join
Tiff: How does it feel to be going back live?
Jackie: I am so excited. I can't wait to see friends, reconnect for the first time in so long. And BCB really is all about the connections, whether that's through education and learning, connecting with people new and old, or through tastes like sampling new products and getting inspired. I'm just so excited that we'll be back together in person again, in a few short weeks.
Tiff: Talk to us about what it was like to pivot suddenly and have to organise the event virtually last year.
Jackie: I think 2020 was all about the pivots and the changes and figuring out how to get together as a community in the safest way possible.
And ultimately we were not able to get together safely in person. So BCB Brooklyn, BCB Berlin, BCB São Paulo, as well as Imbibe, which are all events that are run under the RX umbrella. We still wanted to create a virtual platform that was going to bring the industry together. And we were able to do it across the globe.
Global Bar Week, which is what the event was called, allowed so many attendees the opportunity to experience some of the world's best bar shows with their education offerings, as well as the networking and connections with the brands. We were really pleased to be able to offer this complimentary to everyone during Global Bar Week and while it was so amazing and very successful, we are so excited that we're going to be back together in person soon.
Tiff: Do you think that it actually brought people who may not have gone to trade shows in the past, into the fold?
Jackie: I do. I really do. And one of the things that was really awesome is looking at our registration data for BCB Brooklyn, we had so many folks from around the globe and new people that were tuning in to see what's going on in the States, under the BCB Brooklyn umbrella, so it really was truly a global event. And some of these customers I've talked to that, unfortunately still can not come to the states for BCB Brooklyn, this August, will be tuning in to our content that we'll be offering virtually, but promise that there'll be with us in 2022, because they just can't wait to see the event in person.
Tiff: Are there any points, or shall we say learnings from last year that you have brought to this years show.
Jackie: There are so many learnings, of course. It was challenging, there was four different events, so therefore four different stakeholders and four different decision makers.
But one thing that we have all learned is how do we bring that content out in a digital way. We know that schedules are tough or budgets are tough or life gets in the way of things. So one thing that we are doing and are committed to doing is we're going to be live streaming our content from our demo stages, as well as our main stage.
So folks will be able to tune in that are not physically at the show, but we'll also be recording that. So it'll be long living content for everyone to be able to enjoy, far beyond the actual walls and days of BCB Brooklyn.
Tiff: Do you think that's something beyond this year and maybe beyond next year as well that you will continue to do?
Jackie: I hope so. I don't want to a hundred percent commit to it yet. Obviously it's very expensive to do, but we do really strongly believe in getting the content out to as many folks as possible. I would say, not hundred percent confirms, but we'll be looking at it shortly after the event in 21. We just want to make sure that the content that we're putting out is helpful to everyone.
Tiff: The industry is facing two major problems at the moment, getting both staff as well as guests back into venues, will BCB be doing anything to address these?.
Jackie: Yeah, absolutely, like I said, networking is a huge part of BCB Brooklyn.
So there will definitely be networking opportunities for industry professionals to connect, exchange employment and career offers. And then at a larger level, education will continue to delve into topics on how the industry can emerge and welcome a variety of micro topics such as creating programs for bar and on-premise.
So we will have plenty of opportunities for everyone to learn and grow during BCB Brooklyn.
Tiff: I suppose there's also the element though, of how to get new people into the industry, is that something that's being addressed?
Jackie: One of the things that we're actually doing is we're working with Another Round, Another Rally, which is a nonprofit financial resource for the hospitality industry. And we've been working with them alongside our partners at Hennessy to provide scholarships for many folks to be able to attend BCB. So really excited about that, a lot of these folks are newcomers into the industry, up and comers in the industry.
And then another thing that we're doing is we've really put a lot of time and effort and energy into building our ambassador program. And we're providing our official BCB ambassadors, paid opportunities. They're emerging folks in the industry and we really want to be a platform for them to be able to amplify both their careers and their voices. And then again, be able to make connections, whether that's in-person at the event or, through their social channels.
Tiff: Tell us a little bit more about these ambassadors.
Jackie: We have seven ambassadors. They are all throughout the United States. So, a couple of folks that are from New York, a couple of folks that are from the DC or Chicago area, really just want to be representative of the US as a whole or as much of the US as a whole, as we can be.
And actually one of our ambassadors is going to be speaking on our main stage and her name's Capri Robinson. She's so excited. She's never spoken on a main stage at an event of this caliber. So it just goes to show, with the support of the community behind them, someone that's really up and coming can just continue to amplify their voice.
Tiff: Now, what other new initiatives will you be running to help the industry bounce back?
Jackie: We are doing something that we're calling the Infused Saloon. We understand there's many folks that cannot physically travel to the United States, so the Infused saloon is a new area on the show floor that we are launching this year.
And it'll give those international folks an opportunity to still showcase their brands. And I think that's really important and something that we're really excited about.
Tiff: I believe there are a number of new features. Can we start off with education?
Jackie: Yeah, for sure. Education is always a super important part of BCB Brooklyn and something we put a lot of energy into creating and cultivating the best content possible. So throughout the course of the two days, we'll have about 40 sessions that range from taste forums to demonstration stages, to panel discussions with leading industry experts and the topics really range, it's a really large variety, which we're really excited about.
So it includes bar design, inclusive hiring, activism around the bar world, how we can take a look at food waste and hunger in the bar and restaurant industry. And like I mentioned earlier for those who are not going to be able to join us in person, they will be able to watch and listen to these sessions via live stream on our website during the two days of the event.
Tiff: Diversity, equality and inclusion have been three ideas that have been very strong with BCB, how are they being addressed this year?
Jackie: So DEI is something that is super important to RX as well as the BCB brand. So this year we have a whole new education committee that is dedicated to helping us craft the best content at BCB. And in my opinion, I think it's the best content that we've had to date. Our revolving committee is made up of a diverse group of industry professionals, and that really helps us ensure that the topics of discussions and its presenters are relevant to the industry and also representative of those who are within the industry. So we have quite a few education committee members this year that we're super excited to have been working with over the last few months, Alexis Brown, Johnny Caldwell and Taneka from cocktail bandits, Joshua Davis, Lynette Marrero, Julie Reiner, Jackie Summers.
And these folks have been a part of the industry for so long and are super well-respected, industry veterans. And we're so pleased to have them onboard with us for 2021.
Tiff: You mentioned earlier the Infused Saloon. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that's going to work?
Jackie: Yeah. So there's an area on the show floor. It's pretty close to where the emerging brands pavilion is, it's actually going to be right next to where the BCB shop is. The BCB shop is a new initiative that we have this year as well.
The infused saloon is going to be showcasing global brands who are unable to join us in person. So we definitely want everyone to be able to check out the Infused Saloon, so that they can learn more about these international brands and create connections with the bar and bev industry professionals that will be there
Tiff: And talk to us about the shop?
Jackie: I'm personally so excited about this. I come from a marketing background and branding is obviously amazing, but one thing that was super amazing as part of my career prior to BCB is I was able to work across a lot of events, to create branded merchandise. And so this year we're doing it, we have some really cool designs.
So it's a couple of t-shirts a couple of enamel pins, a hat, a beanie, a bottle opener, a really cute hoodie that I actually have on right now, it's a black zip-up hoodie. So you can see it on our website right now. There's a little button that says BCB shop, and you can click there, but I'm just so excited to be able to get these items out and for people to see them and, for it to come to life. So it's really exciting
Tiff: BCB is not a small event. How will people know that they can be safe in crowds?
Jackie: Absolutely. I get it. We're living in a world of COVID and it's all about being as safe as we possibly can. So first and foremost, BCB is a fully vaccinated show. So everyone that comes to the show, if that's our visitors, our exhibitors, our vendors, our speakers, our staff, myself included. Everyone will need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to gain entry into the event.
Obviously, we're going to, we're making some reasonable accommodations for those who cannot receive a vaccination, such as a medical reason or a sincerely held religious belief. And those folks will have to show a negative test in order to enter the show.
And beyond that, we will also be requiring masks to be worn as well inside of the event. Obviously while eating or drinking, you can pull your mask down real quick. So including sampling and then pull it back up.
So those are some of the safety precautions, obviously wider aisles, hand sanitiser galore, very regular cleaning. Just as much as we can do to keep everyone feeling as safe as they possibly can.
Tiff: Will you be enforcing the masks? Will there be security people walking around, telling people to...
Jackie: Yes. So beyond our security walking around and enforcing that, we are also asking our team as they're walking around, if they see someone that has their mass down, just remind them, kindly, to pull it up.
And we also have, I believe it's eight folks from our team that their onsite job is, what we're calling a safety ambassador. You'll see many of those folks around the show as well.
Tiff: I know, particularly in San Francisco that they've brought in a no vaccination, no service kind of rule. Do you think that's something that is going to be increasingly seen across the US?
Jackie: I have noticed since some of the news articles that I've read, that some of the restaurant groups are starting to enforce this.
I also have seen the likes of Broadway or Madison Square Garden, larger venues in New York, where there's large crowds that are requiring vaccination. I have a wedding to attend in December and they let us know … shoot, what was it March? That it's a fully vaccinated event. I think we'll see a rise of it, but no guarantees.
Tiff: Now, as you said before, BCB is all about connections. How easy is that going to be in a masked restricted event?
Jackie: I think it'll be okay. We lived in masks for much of 2020 in the early part of 2021, that I think people understand what they've got to do. I think the unfortunate thing is we won't see as many smiling faces, but I think there'll be plenty of smiling faces under those masks.
Tiff: How enthusiastic has the industry been about coming back to a live event?
Jackie: Very, I think the folks that you don't get to see on a day-to-day basis. Whether that's a friend or a colleague, that's a couple of hours away, this might be the first time you've seen some of these folks since March of 2020.
So I think people are really excited. I'm excited. My team's excited. Everyone I've talked to seems really excited.
Tiff: Now what can people really expect? Will it feel like it did back in 2019?
Jackie: I think this is really going to be as close as we can get to 2019 and the world that we're living in. When we were having that initial conversation about a fully vaccinated event, that was one of the ways I described it. The industry is going through a lot right now, but we feel confident that this is going to be as close to 2019 as we can get in the safest way possible.
Tiff: A lot of bartenders have been out of work over the last 18 months. Do you imagine seeing a lot of people from other US states.
Jackie: I just ran a report on this recently, and I think that the percentage of folks traveling to BCB from other states is pretty on par for what it was in 2019.
Tiff: How many exhibitors are you seeing this year compared to past years.
Jackie: We currently have just over 120 exhibitors that are participating. This includes the folks that are in our emerging brands pavilion which are the people that this is their first, maybe their second year. But then we do have folks that we're welcoming back for the third year in a row. So just very excited that we have a nice diverse and well-rounded out exhibitor basis for this year.
Tiff: Are there any new or exciting exhibitors that people should keep an eye out for?
Jackie: Oh gosh, there's so much new stuff. It's just, everyone's been working so darn hard over the last year and a half, and really excited about that.
So we're really excited to welcome Abasolo Corn Whiskey, which is the first Mexican whiskey made up of a hundred percent corn. And then we have Salcombe's new London light, which is a distilled, no ABV spirits. So there is a large diverse array of exhibitors present for the 2021.
Tiff: Are you getting more non-alcoholic spirits this year than you have in the past?
Jackie: Yes. We've definitely seen this grow, actually had a conversation with someone earlier today that wants to join the event. And they’re again, a non-alcoholic. So I think it goes to show with the trends in the industry. We're also seeing similar onsite at BCB.
Tiff: Now if somebody hasn't been to BCB before, how should they navigate it?
Jackie: First and foremost, I would say they should register for the event which is super easy to do via our website barconventbrooklyn.com. It's a unique atmosphere that features visitors alongside with brand presentations.
It gives folks the possibility to extend their trading by getting to know new business contacts and a full range of new product brands in the market. It's a really exciting time to be networking with their peers and industry influencers, gives folks the ability to ask questions and share best practices.
So what I would say is, get there early, stay late. One of the things that I find, so important is planning. So we do have a mobile app and our website that are both super user-friendly. You can see the exhibitor list, you can see the schedule of everything that's going on and maps, and just find your way around.
But I would also say, one of the other things that I love about a show is, or an event, is you can just walk around and explore. And as long as you have some time just to take it all in, you'll find those little gems that will help feed your creativity.
Tiff: What would you say would be the highlights of this year show?
Jackie: How many am I allowed to pick? Personally I'm really excited for the content of the event. I think that the sessions are amazing. And so I'm really looking forward to that. But one of the areas I love is the emerging brands pavilion. And these are, like I said, they're the up and comers, they're the folks that we're going to see taken over the industry by storm in a couple of years. So I think that's awesome, but I know there's several other really exciting activations that we've got going on at the show. So that'll be really exciting, for instance, the Italian trade association is bringing 12 different Italian brands to the event. They've been with us previously, but they have an amazing activation that's going on at the event that I'm really excited to see in person. I've heard little bits and pieces, but I can't wait to see it come to life in two weeks.
Tiff: And what about as far as education? What are the highlights?
Jackie: So one of the ones that I'm really excited about is a session called Solidarity, Not Charity and it's strategies and techniques to build a community that works for workers. This session is going to take a look at going beyond the surface level of community engagement and really create a game plan for an impactful future.
I think that one is super awesome and I'm really excited to see that one. There's another session that is talking about the design of menus. And it's really interesting, in 2019 and going into 2020, what was working and then, you know that word again about pivoting. Everyone had to change their menus, and we saw those little QR codes everywhere as the world had to deal with COVID. And now it'll be really interesting to see what the rest of 21 looks like in 22, it looks like and the ideas, the iterations, suggestions and best practices for folks.
Tiff: What do you see as the future? Both for trade events like yours, but also the industry as a whole.
Jackie: For trade events. I think nothing can replace face-to-face. So I think that folks will continue to want to be together in person and as much as they can. I think that the industry globally has shown such incredible support and solidarity for each other over the last year. And I only hope to see it continuing to grow from there.
And then of the now topics and issues, trend creation, ideas sparked, bar and bev professionals, shaping and paving the way of the future. Shows like BCB provide the ingredients and the opportunities to make that happen and provide a catalyst for the future.
Tiff: Thank you for joining us, Jackie. I'm so pleased you could be with us. And of course, if people want more information, they can go to your website.
Jackie: Yes. That is barconventbrooklyn.com. All the info is right there. And if you have any questions, my contact info is on the website. Feel free to reach out and I will get back to you very shortly.
Tiff: And I assume also on social?.
Jackie: Yes, of course, across all channels.
Tiff: And that would be at
Tiff: All right, Jackie well look, thank you so much again for your time.
Jackie: Thank you so much for having me. This was great
Tiff: and we wish we could join you, but travel restrictions.
Jackie: I got it. We'll see you in 2022 though.
Tiff: Hopefully. Yes.
Jackie: Amazing. Thank you so much.