The most impressive accomplishment of the cocktail renaissance over the last decade is not the crazy drinks you can have in premium London, Paris or New York bars. It is that the trends those cities are creating have left their mark on places you would not normally associate with great mixology. We’ve seen this at the Havana Club Grand Prix: in 2016, for instance, Lithuania unexpectedly reached the podium. And most of this year’s top ten hails from unfashionable markets.
Armenia is one such market. And Stepan Abrahamyan, its competitor, came very close to winning the Grand Prix: he finished second. Incredible result for a country new to the scene, as Stepan readily admits: “Much as in all ex-Soviet Union countries, cocktail culture only developed recently. And I would not say cocktails are trendy in Armenia right now”. But the great thing is that with the Internet you can raise the level even when the general public interest for all things mixed remains low. “Some bars can count on bartenders who follow international trends and innovations”, he adds.
Stepan tells us that the bar he works at in the Yerevan’s Paris Hotel is at the cutting edge of Armenia’s cocktail scene: “The concept of our bar is that we make cocktails using fresh ingredients, we make homemade syrups, bitters, hydrosols etc. We use modern bartenders’ techniques. Besides, we concentrate on local products and there is big section on our menu called Armenian Charm, for which the cocktails are only made with Armenian ingredients”. Up on the 12th floor of the hotel, with more than 250 different spirits on offer, it sure seems like a place where the Bar News team would enjoy spending an evening!
As many before him, Stepan discovered bartending when, as a student, he felt the need for some extra money. “I found a temporary job at Champions Sport Bar, as a barback. I fell in love with it, and from then I focused solely on this profession. It’s the career I chose, and I do my best to always be more professional”, he told us. He is not content, however, to progress on his own. Stepan is also very much involved with the Armenian Bartenders’ Association. He credits it with a lot of the good things that are happening in the country at the moment: “It’s the most influential factor on the bartending scene, because it educates bartenders, organizes master classes, seminars and competitions”.
And, as you already know, Stepan is quite good at competitions. At the 2018 Grand Prix, he created one of the very best drinks of the semi-finals. Called Memorias, it found its inspiration in “Cuban drinks, art, food, music that have shown me Cuba from its origins until modern days. They created impressive memories”. Hence the name. And to convey this to the judges, Stepan had to come up with a strong story – and tell it convincingly. Thankfully, that’s something he really enjoys doing: “What motivates me the most is making cocktails that have interesting stories. When you make them, you remember the stories and you get to share them with your guest!”
For the final, Stepan decided to stick to Memorias and enhance it. Although initially created with Havana Club 3 Años, he thinks it tasted actually better (“it was more impressive”) with 7 años, the rum all competitors had to use for their final drink. He is probably right: you don’t end up 2nd with an unimpressive cocktail. Now that he is back in Armenia, we expect Stepan to keep doing what he does best: creating great experiences for the guests of the Paris Hotel. One of the things the trip to Havana helped him realize though is how rich Cuban cocktail history is: “I understood why so many bars are inspired by Cuba”. So who knows, we may see him one day behind one such bar…
Memorias, by Stepan Abrahamyan
45 ml Havana Club Añejo 7 Años
15 ml fino sherry
25 ml Mango, Kaffir Lime Leaves Syrup
30 ml Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
2 dashes Kaffir Lime Leaves Hydrosol
Pour all ingredients into ice-filled shaker. Shake and fine strain into handmade clay cup and garnish with cedar, lime peel powder, mango leaf.