August 20 marked the start of the third annual Barra Mexico, co-founded by Ara Carvallo and Paula Garcia. Located in Mexico City, the vibrant and cosmopolitan capital of Mexico, it was perfectly timed to coincide with the finals of Diageo World Class happening in Mexico City, as well. With a city full of bartenders, bar owners, and spirit industry professionals, it was impossible to not celebrate the culture and diversity of Latin America’s bar scene.
The more than 3,000 attendees had full access to 117 stands and over 400 brands participating in a central tasting room and sales booth area, as well as two seminar rooms. With 16 speakers daily, your pass to Barra Mexico was worth the value and at an extremely reasonable price when compared to other international festivals. Attendees and speakers gathered from more than 20 countries to inspire and further understand what Mexico and Latin Americas roll will be in the spirits world.
In the main tasting room, a wide selection of Mexican products and specialty bar stores sampled liquors, bitters, salts, ashes and bar items produced across Latin America. Mexico’s first retail bitters, Herbolaria, were available for attendees to sample and purchase with unique blends like hoja santa or mole bitters with a very traditional Oaxacan style finish. The avocado leaf bitters were outstanding and a personal favorite.
Mezcal fans couldn’t hope to find a better selection for mezcal tastings, ranging from mainstream heavyweights like Montelobos and Del Maguey, well-loved local brand like Los Siete Misterios, to more obscure wild agave-based liquors such as sotol from Chihuahua, Mexico. The craft distilling scene in Mexico has expanded well past mezcal and tequila with vermouths such as Xila and small batch artisanal gin Armónico. Pox, a three-corn varietal based spirit from the Chiapas region, although unrefined, was definitely worth a try. A host of other Latin spirits including cachaças, piscos, and rums also took the tasting room stage alongside the more well-known spirit houses.
A highlight for Barra Mexico was the two days of seminars from industry professionals from all over the world. Jack McGarry spoke on his successes as co-founder of Black Tail and the Dead Rabbit. McGarry explained the importance of building and maintaining a great team with training, education, and creating a dedicated, happy workplace. The seminar was packed, well received, and a great opportunity for bar owners looking to take the next step with growing their business.
Hidetsygu Ueno, internationally renowned Japanese bartender and bar owner, spoke on Japanese-style bartending. The subject was very motivational for Latin America because of the different traditional influences Japanese bartenders have been exposed to. They see bartending as ritual, and how they have transformed bartending into a craft rather just another job resonated. Additionally, Japan is internationally known for its ice carving skills, so having access to Hidetsygu’s knowledge was quite unique.
However, the highlights of the seminars were the Latin American guest speakers showing a different side of bartending normally left uncovered at most other North American or European liquor trade shows. Carlos Riveros, a Peruvian bartender specializing in tiki who has made his fourteen year career training Latin American bartenders, explained the general history of tiki and discussed how to use it in modern bars. Several classic tiki samples clarified his vision for seminar participants. Another Peruvian speaker, Roberto Meléndez, took us above and beyond the pisco sour with a wide range of modern pisco cocktails that show off the spirit’s versatility, pairing them with traditional Peruvian ceviches.
Ricardo Navas, Mexican bartender and brand ambassador for both Grey Goose and Bombay, explained how to use globally recognized techniques with local ingredients. Too often bartenders in Latin America get caught up in trying to recreate recipes they have seen from Europe or North America, and this seminar was a refreshing spin on how to use accessible tropical options in creative and modern ways. His charisma expressed his passion on the subject, clearly motivating the crowd.
Growing each year, Barra Mexico continues to exceed expectations, bringing a unique perspective to the international bar scene. “It is THE event for Latin American cocktail and spirit lovers. You are introduced to international trends and new products, as well as the chance to connect with brands and international speakers,” said bartender and bar owner of Pocket in Costa Rica, Javier Villalobos. He continued to say that “it’s especially important as a bridge between the Latin American consumer or bar owner and the international world of the liquor industry.”