When creating your own cocktail, there are many things to consider, such as the chemistry of the mix, after combining different ingredients. Then we had a closer look at the different components and the non-beverage ingredients.
For the next level, we want to invite you to Labyrinth in Amsterdam, the bar of mixologist Sam Kingue Ebelle. We talked about how to find your identity as a bar owner and how that translates into the process of creating cocktails and building a harmonic, but exciting, experience for guests.
Sam entered the business from a rather unusual side. As a consultant to bar businesses all around the world, with some of Amsterdam’s top bars being his former clients, he had a strong understanding of designing bar concepts and creating individual drinks menus. Putting a menu together might seem easy. Putting down the most known drinks, attaching a price – done? That would be a possibility, but most likely this concept will not hit the nerve of potential customers. It has been done before…and probably it has been done pretty well. Instead of copying another concept, take your time to think about what your bar stands for, what is your background both personal and from a mixologist’s point of view. Sam understands the importance of a well-thought concept that has to be harmonic on several levels, from drinks, food, and entertainment to interior design, ambiance music, and lighting concept.
As a consultant to the hospitality sector, he has not only seen but has designed plenty of diverse bar and menu concepts. For his bar, he took an entire year to mentally draw up his dream bar.
When asked what kind of bar he wanted to build, he explains:
“There are many good bars in Amsterdam. I wanted to create a harmonic trilogy of the elements: Mixology, Food, and Poetry. Before Corona, we would have Open Mic Nights, for up-and-coming word artists. The idea of connecting people, with the help of spoken word, exceptional drinks, and food that tastes like “home”.”
When he says “home”, he means the taste of a meal that was prepared with a sense of love, simple hand-made dishes, made of highest quality produce…but which often comes with a twist. Another thing he wanted to accomplish is to create a safe space for people to enjoy good food and be themselves. Bringing a rather academic element of Poetry into an urban surrounding, at the same time lifting the image of the bar to not only be a place to get drunk, but rather a place to meet other people over the love of food, drinks, emotion-stirring words as well as the connecting feeling of “home”.
“I wanted to bring in my heritage as a mixologist from Cameroon. My Central African background gave me access to an abundance of herbs and spices, some of the triggering beautiful memories. When integrating these into my dishes I like to take something, my customers might know, for example, plantains, a staple in many African countries. ”
But then he adds a little twist, making the dish exciting and new…and with that protects it from being claimed from one region or ethnicity. Sam stresses that he wants to connect people and create unity, and combining taste and texture profiles from different regions, as well as creating a new and unique experience for his customers is an inspiring and adventurous journey. “For example, I brought some spices of Grain of Paradise. It belongs to the family of Ginger and Cardamom but has a mild peppery taste.”
“I am an observer. I always challenge. If I am told that a certain ingredient is used in a specific way, I always ask myself, what else can be done with it. This takes me on a road of experiments, trial, and error until the final recipe is found. I experiment a lot with ginger for example. Most of us know ginger as sliced, as a sushi side dish, or inside a warming tea. But if you ask me, there are so many things you can do with this root. It is extremely exciting to taste and learn until you’re happy with the final result. I often travel home to Cameroon, I just brought back some spices that are common there, but quite unknown here. ”
Like all creative processes, creating your personal cocktail recipe is a linear or plannable process. Take the time and effort to get to know all dimensions of fruit, vegetable, herb, or spice. Think about altering the current state of it. Is it firm and sliceable? Then you could experiment with making a liquid out of it, for example by juicing or making a tincture. Sam’s Cocktail “The Dreamcatcher” for example, will leave you gasping in excitement. Served in a champagne glass, you will taste a turmeric-infused William George rum, Strega Liqueur, ginger cordial, lemon juice, Peychaud bitters, and dehydrated egg white, garnished with violet pansy flowers, and physalis. The airy texture of the egg foam will encompass all the other ingredients and create an interesting mouthfeel. With this drink, he manages that every sip develops and takes you on a new taste journey. First, you notice the sweet and fruity compounds, and when the spices are about to hit in, the foam has coated your mouth lightly and creates a harmonic balance.