Behind the bar scene

Behind the bar scene

We asked a group of bartenders, bar managers and beverage experts to share their insights on the latest bar trends, which spirits are in demand, which new accessories are making waves and the key ingredients a bartender needs to succeed in the industry.

In each corner of the world, there’s a different cocktail that’s trending. For example, the gin basil smash has been popular in Lebanon for over a decade, whereas in London, dry martinis are in demand.
Gin maintains a strong following. While it is a white spirit, it is sophisticated in terms of flavor profile; it’s versatile and accessible all over the world. Each producer uses local ingredients that create a different character to this spirit, which generally doesn’t require aging. This in itself makes it easier to produce than other spirits.
Vodka, mezcal, tequila, gin, rum and whisky are the most popular and recognized spirits in the world. However, location matters, so in Oslo, for instance, every bar is expected to have aquavit in stock.

Bar essentials
Shakers, strainers and jiggers are the basics behind the bar. As we are now in the golden age of bartending, new accessories are constantly being introduced to help elevate cocktail menus, such as the flavor blaster, which helps incorporate smoke with an aesthetically pleasing bubble, and carbonation kits that help to artificially incorporate carbon dioxide into otherwise still liquids.
Some of my favorite tools include the Brix meter, which enables us to check on the sugar levels in syrups, and the sous vide, which we use to cook ingredients at low temperatures, thereby preserving the flavor of our fresh products.

Bar co-owner
Dead End Paradise Beirut

The bases of any cocktail, whether classic or new, are vodka, gin, rum, tequila and whisky. These are the essentials for any bar stock. Almost any of these spirits can be used to create cocktails, and it is easy to replace one with another.

Shakers, strainers and more
A cocktail shaker is essential to create a single blend of flavors. A strainer is also a must to remove solid material from the liquid, and the jigger helps to maintain consistency in pouring. A mixing glass and a bar spoon are also required, while a muddler helps mash up fresh ingredients.

Passion fruit
Drinks in demand include passion fruit martini, because of its fresh and exotic flavors, as well as espresso martini for its dessert-like taste. Creativity is fueled by experimentation, and we have a special Lab at Zuma Dubai where we explore, test and create.

Tequila tales
Tequila is definitely experiencing unprecedented demand, but this is more relevant to premium tequilas that are made with the 100 percent agave. People are starting to enjoy tequila as a sipping spirit.
Gin, rum and tequila provide a whole spectrum of cocktails to choose from. With the addition of orange curaçao, sweet vermouth and Campari, the possibilities are endless!

Bar manager
Zuma Dubai

Vodka cocktails
Our signature cocktail is “La Vie en Rose.” It uses vodka as the base with Saint Germain liqueur, homemade lemongrass syrup and fresh strawberries. Vodka based cocktails are popular because it is a recognized spirit. Also, vodka has a neutral taste, unlike gin or tequila.
Each spirit has a specific taste, and by adding ingredients, such as fresh fruits, sweets syrups or liqueurs, you can create a completely different experience. Creativity is as important as passion. Some of the most interesting cocktails I have made were created using edible flowers and ice cream.

In demand
Infused spirits are on the rise, so new recipes are emerging that incorporate infused alcohol with other ingredients. The top cocktail spirit is vodka, followed by tequila, largely due to versatility. Vodka is a clear spirit that’s easy to use for well-balanced drinks. Tequila is low in calories and sugar. Some studies even show that it lowers blood sugar levels, so it’s a good choice for people seeking healthier alternatives.

A well-stocked bar
Vodka, tequila, rum and gin are essential. The range of possibilities is enormous and you can satisfy most palates. Vodka remains the most popular spirit because of its common use in mainstream cocktails, from the classic cosmopolitan to the more complex espresso martini. Some consumers like to drink straight spirits, such as tequila, vodka and whisky, while others prefer a balanced signature cocktail. In a large nightclub, the most popular cocktails are often made with vodka and/or gin.

Bartenders’ secrets
The most important accessory has to be a cocktail shaker. However, every tool in your bar kit plays a role in accelerating your work, while ensuring precision. Jiggers help in accuracy, whereas pourers ensure that you do not spill the alcohol. A Boston shaker is essential when it comes to shaking method cocktails. Natural-wood muddlers come in handy for mojitos, for example. The strainer I use the most often is the Hawthorne-style strainer.

SKY2.0 Dubai

What’s trending?
In recent years, gin cocktails have become trendy. These range from gin and tonic to gin passion. Its popularity is due to the fact that it’s very easy to drink and does not have a heavy aroma.
Bartenders need to be able to tell a story through the drinks they create. The most important factor in a cocktail is aromatic balance.
In my opinion, low-ABV (alcohol by volume) spirits will increase in popularity as consumers are beginning to pay more attention to their health. I am using low-ABV gin in many of the cocktails I create, and I think it is fundamental that bartenders cater to a growing demand for non-alcoholic cocktails as well.

Accessories for the bar
Shaking comes as standard! Every bar needs a great shaker and a jigger. There are other instruments we use too, such as strainers, glassware, ice picks and tongs.

Bar manager

Cocktail preferences differ from one location to the next depending on the clientele. Anything that contains passion fruit is in demand in Dubai, whether it’s food or a spirit-based cocktail.
Creativity comes from within, and most of the time it happens in the moment. For example, if a client has a specific like or dislike, the bartender must accept the challenge and tailor the drink accordingly. These days, creativity also means using modern techniques and combining newfound flavors in a cocktail.
If you had told me a few years ago that peanut butter jelly would be one of our best-selling cocktails and one of my personal favorites on the Midnight Brekkie menu, I would have laughed!

Taste of tequila
In my opinion, the most significant trend is rising demand for tequila. Gin witnessed growth in popularity a few years ago, with people becoming interested in it as a spirit rather than just a cocktail ingredient. There have been numerous new brand launches all over the world.
Now it is the tequila era. People no longer associate tequila with simple shots or margaritas. They are beginning to appreciate its complexity.

Base spirits
A home bar should be stocked with tequila, gin, vodka, rum, whisky, a few vermouths and some bitters, if you enjoy making negronis, as well as a bottle of red, white, rose and sparkling wine. These are the basics for any cocktail, and they’re simple to experiment with. However, for a commercial bar, the list would be much longer and would comprise spirits that range from standard to premium.

Personality comes first
Although a bartenders needs a variety of accessories, such as shakers, jiggers, bar spoons, mixing glasses, strainers, scoopers, tongs and wiping cloths, to do the job, their personality is what matters above all else.

Jun’s Dubai

Negroni: the drink of choice
Drink choices are market specific. For example, in Dubai, our guests gravitate toward Negroni-style and sour cocktails. All of the classic cocktails can be made with different spirits and infusions to create something truly unique. A Negroni can be made with vermouth that has been infused with beetroot, like the Scorpius cocktail that we have at Galaxy Bar.
There are many different ways of incorporating flavors into the cocktails while respecting the classics that they are based on. Coffee filtration can be used for a more pure and smooth flavor.

The turn of tequila
In Dubai, tequila is in huge demand. It is an elegant spirit, easy to mix in all kinds of cocktails and is also appreciated on its own. The Dubai crowd is becoming more familiar with agave-based spirits, especially tequila and mezcal. There is greater awareness of the diversity of tequila, from tequila blanco to reposado, anejo and even extra anejo, each with its unique profile and tasting notes. Furthermore, premium brands are now entering the market with the aim of educating consumers and improving the image of tequila.

Variety matters
There are many things to consider when stocking a bar. You need a range of spirits to ensure you have enough variety to meet each customer’s palate and ensure all-round satisfaction. Another thing to consider is the vibe of the evening and the mood of our guests. Certain spirits are associated with specific experiences.
For an aperitif, I suggest bitter liqueurs, such as Campari served as an Americano. For something refreshing, you can go for white spirits, like gin or tequila to make a gimlet or Paloma. When it comes to after-dinner drinks, I recommend aged spirits: rum or whisky.

Cool tools
Beyond the shaker, the bar spoon and the mixing glass, there are actually numerous high-end bartending accessories and utensils. At Galaxy Bar, we have access to some sophisticated tools, such as the sous-vide machine to cook, mix and preserve a blend of ingredients, and the ice stamp, which is a subtle way to insert our brand on the upper side of carved ice. The dehydrator is also another useful machine to enhance the flavor of our garnishes.
The key is attitude and approach; a bright smile, plenty of creativity, passion for the industry and a desire to create the best experience for guests are crucial.

Galaxy Bar Dubai

Five things to remember
The drink industry evolves just like any other. As technology advances, the cocktail scene changes in response to new trends and demands. I would say that vodka remains the most popular spirit in the world, and for good reason. It’s one of the easiest spirits to use and is what we use in classic cocktails, such as cosmopolitan, Moscow mule, espresso martini and bloody Mary.

For cocktail enthusiasts who want to stay ahead of the game, there are five things to bear in mind beyond choosing the right spirit:
• Glassware
• Quality and amount of ice
• Pouring size
• Mixers
• Garnishes
As a general rule of thumb, if a drink looks better, it will taste better.

Tequila leading the race
I have worked in the industry for eight years, and I have noticed that gin used to be the most requested spirit. However, tequila has been taking the lead recently. I believe that tequila’s rise is down to greater understanding of and appreciation for the way agave is grown, cultivated and used to make this rich spirit. Countless celebrities have also founded their own tequila brands, so there is massive marketing behind it.
We need to go back to basics, as base spirits form the foundation of any liquor collection. By this we mean, rum, whisky, tequila and vodka, along with some other lesser-used spirits, like pisco, mezcal and Calvados.

Top tips
Always remember to sterilize your
equipment before use.
• Boston shaker tins
• Cobbler three-piece shaker
• Mixing glass
• Strainer
• Fine strainer
• Jiggers
• Bar spoon
• Ice pick & Knife
• Muddler
• Wine opener
The quality of drinks suffers without the right bar tools, so it is critical to maintain high quality with the right equipment behind the bar.


Back to basics
I am almost certain that the best-selling drink in bars around the world is the Negroni. This timeless recipe boasts a perfect balance of alcoholic body and sweet and bitter flavors. The Negroni is experiencing a rebirth, with several prominent bars placing it front and center of their beverage offering.
The real trick is to go back in time and revisit the classics. After mastering them and exploring how they “work,” you can create new varieties, tweaking the traditional recipes with modern techniques to unlock new layers of flavor.

I believe sustainability and an eco-friendly approach to the production of spirits will be the next big thing. Our industry is enormous and has a giant carbon footprint. Companies around the world are realizing this and developing inventive packaging and new strategies to tackle global concerns about the environment.
Tequila and mezcal are enjoying their best days; supply is barely meeting demand. Tequila-based cocktails are moving fast in our Buddha Bars, and classics like Tommy’s and Paloma are quite common in venues around the world. Premium and expensive tequilas are also sought after in clubs, with many celebrities riding the wave by creating their own brands. Long gone are the days when tequila meant bad taste, college parties and heavy headaches; it has transformed into a luxury spirit to be enjoyed by alcohol aficionados.

12 bottles for the bar
In Dubai, consumers are educated in its spirits department; they know exactly what they want to drink and how they want to drink it. Having a broad selection of spirits is an absolute must, but if I had to stock my bars with only 12 bottles and run with that selection exclusively, I would pick the following to allow me to create a few hundred drinks:

• A juniper-forward gin
• Potato vodka
• Jamaican rum
• 100% agave tequila blanco
• Spanish brandy
• Peruvian pisco
• Sherry fino
• Banana liqueur
• Junmai sake
• Red vermouth
• Italian bitter liqueur
• Curacao
If I had to pick only one spirit to make a cocktail right now, I would pick gin for its versatility.

Fancy bar equipment
Modern bars are now more like kitchens or pharmaceutical laboratories, with costly equipment that can infuse with sonic waves, redistill, carbonate or clarify ingredients. I’m a firm believer in innovative technologies and someone who enjoys experimenting with every sort of equipment available.
My go-to bar accessories include cream syphons, a water circulator to complement a vacuum machine, a cheap and reliable digital scale, a couple of induction plates and a dehydrator. I am having a great deal of fun lately with a gun that makes flavored and edible bubbles; my guests love it!

Corporate beverage manager
Buddha-Bar International

Cocktails of the hour
Depending on the occasion and setting, cocktail demand can vary. A bloody Mary would be appropriate for brunch and a Negroni for dinner. Highballs have gained popularity recently, especially among those who prefer lighter cocktails.
Depending on the desired outcome, a bartender can play with the ingredients and spirit for any classic cocktail and create an elevated experience. First, you have to define two things: what is the flavor and mood that you are looking to emphasize and what is the main spirit you are working with. You can then work on different techniques and infusions to achieve a unique result.

Fashionable drinks
Consumers are becoming more interested in the flavor, purity and production method of the spirits they choose.
Tequila rose to prominence 10 years ago, especially the aged varieties like reposado, anejo and XO. It is now often requested neat, on the rocks and in trendy cocktails. More recently, a greater number of agave spirits have found their way onto the popularity list, including mezcal, which has a wider variety of agave species and tastes more smoky and earthy. Today, consumers are requesting agave spirits like sotol and raicilla, which are not commonly found in the market.
NOLOs (no and low abv spirits), which include various beers, ciders, apéritives, fermented non-distilled drinks and seltzers, are today’s latest fad. Furthermore, many people have been rediscovering their native spirits, particularly after the pandemic. Examples include the cashew spirit from India, samagon from Eastern Europe and Lebanese arak.

The perfect bar
Primary spirits, namely vodka, gin, rum, whisky, tequila and wine, are must haves behind the bar. It’s possible to make countless drinks and even fortified wines with the addition of spices, fruits and other components. The rotovaps (rotary evaporators) have evolved into an essential toolkit for modern mixology and are now widely used in high-end cocktail bars. They help in the creation of homemade distillations by concentrating flavors and infusing delicate ingredients. Every bartender needs at least four pieces of equipment: a shaker, bar spoon, jigger and strainer. It’s paramount for a bartender to learn how to use these tools properly because, armed with knowledge, they can create a bit of magic.

Outlet and bar manager
Soul Kitchen and Isolé Lebanon

Gin basil is by far the most requested drink when it comes to spirit-based cocktails. As for the bartender’s creativity, it starts with infusing different flavors together to create a unique combination of sweet, sour and aromatic. An alcoholic beverage must be served in the right glassware to elevate the experience even further. To top it off, the way the drink is garnished and served allows the ingredients to stand out even more.

In high spirits
The spirit of the year is tequila, mainly due to the brilliant marketing campaigns by high-end influencers and celebrities. The hype around tequila has broadened beyond only shots and margaritas. Tequila brands have focused more on the culture and pride associated with this spirit, as well as on the process of production. In addition, tequila is an all-rounder, so it can be used in a broad spectrum of cocktails.

Spine Beirut

Most ordered item
The whisky-based, old fashioned cocktail, made with bouillet, brown sugar and angostura bitters, is the most popular item at Billionaire Dubai. Being a great bartender requires boundless creativity. Most importantly, you must learn to pre-empt your guests’ preferences and listen to their needs. Monkey 47 gin is in high demand at Billionaire; it’s a refreshing drink to whet your appetite. Crafted in Germany’s Black Forest mountain range, it contains 47 herbs and has an ABV of 47 percent another reference to its name.

Skill comes first
More than ever, consumers are seeking experiences that engage all of their senses, so garnishing has become an increasingly important part of the cocktail-making process. The garnish adds a significant design aesthetic to the drink. However, no amount of top quality equipment can make up for the skills of the bartender.

Head of mixology
Billionaire Dubai

Most in-demand spirit-based cocktail
The Dry Martini, the Old Fashioned, Negroni and their riffs continue to top the sales charts around the world.
Bartenders find inspiration for their cocktails in different things, from an ingredient to a local practice or an old familiar recipe, yet the choice of the spirit always depends on the story behind it: Where was it invented? What’s so special about it? How was it made? Understanding those features with the help of a well thought-out back bar cabinet and a decent pantry will always provide more choices and wider options to create.

The latest trend
There’s a genuine appreciation for the quality that’s emerged recently. With numerous options from around the world constantly knocking on our doors, we are able to discover premium spirits with true craftsmanship in the blink of an eye. “The Perfect Serve” is what attracts me in terms of trends – the appreciation of the raw form of a good spirit is what’s been causing a buzz and I love it.

Essential spirits
The back bar in any trendy bar has been transformed into a world of choices. There has been a shortage of Tequila Mezcal, while with the over demand and short supply of single malts, many new world whiskies found their way into local bars. Yet the classics will always be the essentials, and everything else remains a luxury or is mainly for show.
An easy vodka, a dry gin, a good Reposado Tequila, a mildly aged rum, a whisky and a whiskey ,cognac or a nice brandy and your local spirit are your essential spirits for any bar. Those are the base ingredients in over 90 percent of cocktails, whether classic or modern.
Add a couple of vermouths, a good orange curacao, a nice maraschino liqueur and a couple of renowned liquor brands, a red Amaro and some bitters, and you’ve got yourself an entire repertoire of over 100 classic cocktails.

Bar accessories must-haves
It all depends on the style of the bar. A cocktail room has different requirements than a club bar, as does a wine bar or any other concept.
Bars have evolved to a point where we can find exquisite cocktails that require minimal preparation time, and they are served prebatched a la minute, either from a tap tower, or simply poured straight away from a chilled bottle, or in the bottle as it is. Other bars impose different practices to showcase the complexity behind the craft. These two concepts require a totally different set of tools.

Founder and beverage consultant,
Forward Creative Consultants (FCC)

Passion for the industry
based cocktails are those that contain gin, as it adds an exquisite taste. Indeed, our gin-based Aurora cocktail is one of our bestsellers. It is infused with basil, cucumber and ginger.
I’ve actually found that reading books on cooking, botanicals and mixology has helped me to unlock some of the flavor combinations that are now present in my menus. The more you read into it, the more you understand which botanicals and herbs are used in different spirits.

Market trends
I believe that trends are linked to the market. In Dubai, when it comes to spirit volume, I believe tequila leads the way. During the past three years or so, people have started looking at tequila in a different way — not just as a strong spirit taken as a shot. Tequila can be combined with other spirits and mixers with relative spirit ease, so it has gained popularity in bars everywhere.

We always try and ensure that we have all the items required to please our guests. Essential spirits include Calvados, Cognac, Armagnac, tequila, mezcal, rum, cachaca, whisky, gin and vodka. A good selection in each category completes a bar.

A positive attitude
Before we get into accessories, it’s important for all bartenders to maintain a positive attitude and a smile when serving guests. A bartender should always have a bar plate, wine opener, lighter and a pen to hand to provide best-in-class service. If you want to take things up a notch, a rotovap machine, sous vide and siphon are super tools to deliver unique, innovative and highquality drinks.

Bar manager
Hutong Dubai
@andreaskps @hutongdubai

Nothing like Negroni
Negroni is the most requested cocktail. Five years ago, around 20 percent of customers consumed Negroni. Nowadays, it is a drink known by everyone, and 70 percent of guests consume it.
Bartenders need to be creative in their work. Creativity comes from different places: culture, childhood memories and interests for example. The most complex aspect of creativity is bringing innovations to life, giving the customer an experience in terms of aesthetics and taste. My source of inspiration is art and design. A perfume or a note of music can also get my creative juices flowing.

Dream in agave
Agave spirits have been in fashion for five years or more. Over the past year, whiskies — especially single malts — are causing a buzz. People are becoming more curious about tasting the whiskeys of the world and are appreciating the characteristics of single malts. But agave spirits are unbeatable.

Japanese whisky
Excess stock is a bartender’s worst enemy. It is a product that sleeps and does not generate revenue. Japanese whisky is something I like to have available due to its rarity and the beautiful experience it can offer guests. Advanced bars
Certain accessories depend on the bar program. I am a fan of a vacuum cook machine and ultrasonic homogenizer, which allows you to infuse syrup, cordial and spirits. In my opinion, it is the best investment for the bar, as it helps to deliver a great product and is easy to use. Many bars invest in rotovapors; they use it two or three times but fail to gain consistency, so they stop and it becomes part of the décor.

Clap Dubai

Serving a story
In our bar, we have an eclectic menu. Many cocktails are in demand, such as margaritas (tequila based) and the gin basil smash. In Dubai, preferences vary considerably from one area to the next. Creativity derives from music, nature, art, movies, people and so forth. It is essential to seek inspiration and push the boundaries. I have seen people create cocktails based on a song they love.
Creativity is limitless, as long as it makes sense and conveys a meaningful message. Cocktail spirits have stories behind them. It is important to know where the bottle you are pouring came from. Understanding the product is another key element, as it gives you the ability to think of ways to introduce it into a cocktail.

Time for tequila and mezcal
People still love their gin and tonics, but tequila and mezcal are on an entirely different level.
There are some people who dislike tequila as it reminds them of a time they drank too much and didn’t feel well the next day. However, much has been done to change the perception of tequila and celebrate it as the beautiful and rich spirit it is.
The Salmon Guru Paloma is one of the best on the market. It was created by our team and it combines tequila and mezcal, with grapefruit cordial, lemon juice and grapefruit soda.

Taking stock
The list of essential stock can vary greatly depending on where you work. At a beach bar, for example, people will not order single malt whisky without ice to sip. In contrast, a lounge bar requires greater variety. Understanding where you are serving, whom you’re serving and what concept you have determines the spirits you need to have.

It’s all about the bartender
The list of accessories is so long and sometimes so complex that it is hard to keep up with them.
However, a bartender’s best accessories are his personality, aptitude, passion and humanity. All this is followed by a couple of good shakers, a bar spoon, strainer, double strainer, mixing glass, muddler, peeler and a citrus squeezer.

Senior bartender
Salmon Guru Dubai

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About author

Rita Ghantous

Rita Ghantous is a hospitality aficionado and a passionate writer with over 9 years’ experience in journalism and 5 years experience in the hospitality sector. Her passion for the performance arts and writing, started early. At 10 years old she was praised for her solo performance of the Beatles song “All My Love” accompanied by a guitarist, and was approached by a French talent scout during her school play. However, her love for writing was stronger. Fresh out of school, she became a freelance journalist for Noun Magazine and was awarded the Silver Award Cup for Outstanding Poetry, by The International Library of Poetry (Washington DC). She studied Business Management and earned a Masters degree from Saint Joseph University (USJ), her thesis was published in the Proche-Orient, Études en Management book. She then pursued a career in the hospitality industry but didn’t give up writing, that is why she launched the Four Points by Sheraton Le Verdun Newsletter. Her love for the industry and journalism led her to Hospitality Services - the organizers of the HORECA trade show in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, as well as Salon Du Chocolat, Beirut Cooking Festival, Whisky Live and other regional shows. She is currently the Publications Executive of Hospitality News Middle East, Taste & Flavors and Lebanon Traveler. It is with ultimate devotion for her magazines that she demonstrates her hospitality savoir-faire.

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