Gegam Kazarian & 1887 - one of Heering's 200 years
Words by Ashley Pini
Born in Yerevan city, Armenia, Gegam believes his interest in bartending began at the tender age of 5: “When I was young I would pick cherries with my cousins in my grandparents’ garden. I would put them inside the bottle with a little bit of sugar, stir them with a cherry tree branch and leave the mix for a while in the sun. Afterwards we would drink the juice; I call them my first cocktails.”
Gegam spent this childhood "smelling and mixing different products, trying to invent new flavours and smells," cementing his belief that it was his upbringing that lead him to where he is now: "My grandfather used to make wine and distil it. I remember always staying by his side and helping him in everything I could."
Other family rituals also played their part in the formation of his career, including his mother's "precise way of setting the table. I think this showed me that minding each detail is essential, that´s why I don't use only crystal glasses but different metals; silver, gold, copper, wood, ceramics, organic and natural materials as well, and I take care of every detail when serving a drink," he added.
Since a child, Gegam said he was taught "to treat my guests with great hospitality. Armenians are very hospitable people and so hospitality is essential for me."
Following an imaginative upbringing, Gegam began working in a Mexican restaurant to pay his university fees. He worked his way up through the ranks, spending time working as a steward, waiter and assistant, as well as in the kitchen and bakery departments to broaden his knowledge: "I also worked as a sommelier, and all this acquired knowledge has helped me to become the man I am now," he added.
Today Gegam enjoys "watching how my guests enjoy the experiences and the different sensations that cocktails produce. I love to serve people, and it gives me great pleasure," he said.
He continued "I love tasting different types of food. I enjoy experiencing different tastes and fragrances, searching and acquiring new ingredients for my cocktails."
"I get motivated by my projects and my journeys; connecting with different ethnic cultures, lifestyles, experiences, origins through the sense of taste. I want people to experience different sensations."
Finding the motivation for his career comes easy to Gegam, "My absolute motivation comes from creating sensations to wake up the senses," he explained. "It doesn't matter what I have been doing before, or what I am doing now, I take advantage of all of my previous knowledge; martial arts, philosophy, chemistry, medicine, or even my travelling experiences," he continued.
"I connect them with the ingredients and I pass them over into my cocktails. Through the taste of just a sip of one of my cocktails I aim to transmit my energy, my experiences and my knowledge."
Despite crediting many mentors that have shaped his journey, Gegam explained, "I never imitate at any of them. I carve my own, personal path."
"Although I'm fond of classic cocktails and I use them as a base for my creations, I like to go my own way. I have my personal, unique concept which incorporates design, aromas, music and lots of other small details, as well as beauty, meditation, my life and my faith," he added.
Of Cheery Heering, Gegam said "I loved cherry from childhood, so when I tried Cherry Herring I really liked its flavour, and I started using it in my cocktails".
A love of bartending is clear within Gegam, who if given the chance to change just one thing about the industry would "reinforce the connection between culture and cocktails. If bartenders had more knowledge and thought more about national products, spices, ingredients or herbs than alcohol, it would make me really happy."
"People have to pass on the knowledge about their country's ancient liquors, ingredients and products to the next generations to conserve the knowledge about them. I want to see more natural and ethnic ingredients in modern cocktails and less artificial ones. I want people to perceive the cocktail industry not only as alcoholic drinks but from its gastronomical, natural and nutritional point view," he added.
A lover of his chosen career, Gegam concluded "I think that bartenders are like priests. We listen to lots of different stories and see lots of things happening in our establishments, but we never talk about them. Just like the famous three monkeys "I don't see. I don't hear. I don't speak".
Gegam chose 1887 as the year of his cocktail as it was the year "four Armenian friends: Martin, Tigran, Avet and Arshak, salesmen, inaugurated Raffles Hotel in Singapore, one of the best-known hotels in the world."
"My cocktail is inspired by the story of my childhood cherries, connected with the origins of the Armenian people, and the creation of Raffles Hotel in 1887," he finished.
Glass: Armenian traditional clay jug
Garnish: Dehydrated pineapple slice with pomegranate beans and Armenian dry cherry lavash (a traditional Armenian sweet made from fruit crushed and dried in the sun)
Method: Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain into clay jug.
60 ml Ararat Armenian brandy infused with dehydrated pineapple
22.5 ml Cherry Heering
15 ml Palo cortado sherry
20 ml Lemon juice
10 ml Natural artisan grenadine without added sugars
2 dash Thyme bitters