For clever fruit and vegetable-packed cocktails with a Latin American twist, head to Garcia’s Cantina y Cocteleria, in the Hamra district of Beirut. Opened 2 years ago in December 2011 by Charlie Frem and Tony Rached, and fronted by 25-year-old Jad Ballout, it’s full of colour and life.
Jad counts bartenders Kazuo Uyeda from Tokyo’s Tender Bar, Erik Lorincz from The American Bar at the Savoy in London, and Dennis Zoppi from Smile Tree in Turin as his greatest inspirations – and you can see why. A fan of a good gadget, Ballout – who represented Lebanon at the World Class Bartender of the Year final, 2013 – can often be spotted with his smoking gun and Perlini shaker at Central Station Boutique Bar, which opened in December 2013 in Mar Mikhael in Beirut by the same owners of Garcia’s. Jad also heads this new cocktail bar and was made partner as he spearheaded the concept behind this bar.
In his time off Jad can be found hanging out at Kfardebian Mzaar ski resort or having a drink in Hamra bars, letting his barrel ageing do the work for him. Classics such as the Manhattan and Negroni are left to mature for three to four months in whisky casks on the bar top.
“I like classic cocktails and the classic style of mixing spirits, vermouth and bitters,” explains Ballout. “My guests can get to know more about the classics and be better educated about them – I found that barrel ageing gives some beautiful hints to the vermouth cocktails, and makes them more refined and relaxed.”
Which just goes to show that he combines the old with the absolutely spankingly fresh and new. Because in terms of ingredients, Jad is passionate about using as many fresh fruits and herbs from Beirut’s bounteous markets as possible. “I create cocktails using fruits that are available during the season because they reflect the time and mood of the season and the city, especially as fresh produce has the best taste in season,” says Jad. “In a Mediterranean country there are plenty of herbs and spices for me to use in my cocktails,” he adds.
But food is perhaps Ballout’s biggest inspiration. His cocktail the Fattoush Cup was based on the mezze dish featuring many Levantine ingredients such as olive oil and the spice sumac. Jad found that Ketel One Vodka, with its citrus notes, was the perfect accompaniment to cut through the other flavours.
Ultimately Ballout wants to create an affinity with his guests: “I bring new trends and techniques to my bar,” he says. “It’s about presenting something new for my customers in order to give them a good experience. I’m creating stories behind the cocktails and do some ritual serves, which they can enjoy.”Fattoush Cup
70ml Ketel One Citron
20ml Lemon juice
20ml Sugar syrup
20ml Cucumber syrup
10ml Extra virgin olive oil
1 bar spoon Sumac
3 Cherry tomatoes
3 Mint leaves
Contains 23 grams of alcohol per serve.
Dry blend all the ingredients with a hand mixer. Shake the mix with the ice. Pour into a traditional pewter cup. Serve with crisp bread on the side.
What do you think of Jad’s approach to barrel ageing? Do you use plenty of fresh fruit in your drinks? Check out the Definitive Drinking Guide
for more great bartenders worldwide.