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How is the Top 50 Cocktail Bars list created?

February 7, 2022 by Joel Davidge

Cocktail connoisseurs will be heading to Wales, with Cardiff’s Lab 22 winning first place on the Top 50 Cocktail Bars list for 2022.

In a list where the top 10 is usually dominated by cities such as London, Edinburgh, and Manchester, the Lab 22 team rocketed over thirty positions up the list.

Returning after a hiatus for it’s fourth edition, the list is a landmark event within the cocktail and drinks community. The list was revealed at a live ceremony at One Night Records in London, hosted by drinks writer and presenter Aidy Smith.

We sat down to chat with Charli Tomney, Social Media & Communities Manager, to chat all things cocktails, how the list is created, and what goes into creating a drinks event for drinks professionals.

Firstly, thank you so much for speaking with us. What makes a Top 50 Cocktail Bar in your opinion?

You’re welcome! I would say anywhere that has a real passion for good vibes and amazing drinks.

The Top 50 list is all about having a range of bars for people to visit so there is something for everyone, whether you like a local tiki bar that serves all the classics, or if you’re into a smaller more quaint venue with spirit specialities.

Mixology is a real art and you can see the dedication throughout all the bars on our list.

Charli Tomney at the Top 50 Cocktail Bars List awards

How does the process of judging the bars work?

So the list is curated by collecting votes from our panel of industry experts (which I hand pick myself).

Each member of the academy gets 4 votes, one being for a bar within their region and the other 3 being anywhere else in the UK. We try to get an even split of judges from across the UK to avoid any regional bias.

The voters will vote in order of preference, their first vote get 4 points, second gets 3 and so on. These are then calculated alongside the amount of votes the bar gets to give the total score and ultimately, the list.

We also have a number of self-entry categories which are first paper judged via an online form and then judged in person (or in this year’s case, online) by myself. I then have the horrible task of choosing a winner out of all our lovely finalists.

What was it like bringing the Top 50 Cocktail Bars list after a hiatus?

Charli Tomney at the Top 50 Cocktail Bars List awards

We couldn’t wait to bring back the list and make it even bigger and better than ever. We were of course nervous about how it would be received but we had such a great response.

The industry needs events like this more than ever to recognise the excellence within the community, especially with a UK focused list.

How do you think the industry has changed since the last time the list was released?

The industry has been amazing at adapting and persevering through a really terrible time. I think cocktail bars in particular have come back better than ever as the closures have meant a lot of bars can take the time to step back and revaluate what they do and make some really incredible changes.

A lot of people I’ve spoken to within the industry took the lockdowns as a chance to firstly get some well needed R&R but to also improve on what they are already doing.

Customers have developed more knowledge of drinks and are looking for a more premium experience and the bars are listening and absolutely knocking it out of the  park.

The presentation ceremony at One Night Records was a special experience. Tell us a little about how you pulled off this event?

(We particularly loved the QR codes decorating the Espresso Martinis!)

Guests at the Top 50 Cocktail Bars List awards

The event wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing organisational skills of our event manager Georgia Isaacs.

She joined the team in October 2021 and dived headfirst into making this a sensational event.

Our sponsors all had some fantastic activations which made the night really fun like Kraken’s Ice Scream and flavoured smoke, 1800 Tequila had some delicious drinks on offer, we had Tito’s vodka shaking up drinks and the Italian hard seltzer went down a treat as well as the Tia Maria espresso martinis!

All our guests brought the vibes so we had an amazing night.

It’s great to see Lab 22 taking the win – the first time a Welsh bar has been in the top 10.

In two years, they’ve jumped 32 places on the list – what do you ascribe to their success?

It’s such a great feat for a bar outside on London to sweep in and take the top spot! Lab 22 have worked hard to push boundaries within mixology creating award-winning menus.

Striving for excellence has gained them many accolades over the last few years and having a tight knit team with a huge passion for what they do has certainly got them where they are.

With Déjà Vu from Hereford taking the One to Watch award this year, do you think we’ll see a wave of smaller cities and towns producing amazing cocktail bars?

I think being a UK focused list means there are so many opportunities for bars in smaller towns and cities to be able to make it onto the Top 50.

I have certainly seen a rise in high-end venues popping up in lesser known areas and they are smashing it, like Couch in Stirchley! I hope the next list will be even more vibrant.

And finally, we couldn’t resist asking you: what’s your favourite cocktail to sip whilst working on the Top 50 Cocktail Bars list?

If I’m tired, an espresso martini, otherwise a nice strong margarita!

Find out more about the Top 50 Cocktail Bars list on their website, and don’t forget to sign up to our industry newsletter The Drop for the best of the drinks industry delivered to your inbox!

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