Meet the Mixologist: The Biochemist
Most of us do not take note of the individuals who make us the bloodiest or maybe lousiest drinks because all we see really is THE establishment. Not realising that no matter how dope you think a place is, it will suck without a good powerhouse putting everything in place, behind the scenes of course.
As one of the things we promised you on Drink Lagos, Meet the Mixologist is a series on the individuals who consider mixology a craft rather than just a profession.
We met with Seth Awesome Jhan from Plateau state, who has a long-standing career from the early 2000s. Awesome currently works at Ile Eros as the Bar Manager and has an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry that passionately informed his career path as an internationally certified mixologist.
In 2002, the Biochemist was a teenager who had just finished secondary school and was visiting Abuja for work opportunities. He got a job at Transcorp Hilton as a bar-server, the person usually assisting the bartenders and his career took off from there.
What inspired your interest in cocktails?
I fell in love with the creativity behind the bar because when I was in secondary school organic Chemistry was one of my best subjects. Then I got to the bar and mixology piqued my interest. It didn’t take too long before I went back to University to study Biochemistry. I was able to get part-time jobs and work at bars to earn some money while studying at the same time.
Ed Note: Coincidentally, he went on to do his NYSC in Cross Rivers state which at the time was the tourist centre of Nigeria. It didn’t take too long until he started to master the hospitality industry and how he could make his mark.
What mark did you want to make as a mixologist?
I saw everybody doing the same thing which was normal classic drinks done without any passion. If you asked 1/10th of bartenders then, they would tell you they were in it for just the money. In as much as I like to make cocktails, I always like to make drinks that will make you feel good about yourself and are healthy. I do core research on ingredients and make sure my recipe is good.
Ed Note: Awesome is known for incorporating indigenous ingredients into classics, in a way most people aren’t used to. His tiger nut concoction called, Crouching Tiger available on the Ile Eros menu is one of his best inventions (as reported by yours truly). He boasts of his avocado and bourbon cocktail, which I endorse even without trying yet. After all, he is The Biochemist for a reason – gotta trust that!
What’s one cocktail and spirit that you would go to a desert with?
I’m sorry but I can’t pick one spirit, I will go with tequila and whisky (bourbon). Tequila because it has a really good story behind it. It was found way back in a little town in Mexico called Jalisco. They were looking for a spirit that was unique to them and they found the blue agave plant. Tequila is healthy because of blue agave; I also like that it has the most distinctive taste among other spirits. My second spirit bourbon, because the first cocktail I ever made was a Whisky Sour. Although in my recipe, I use fresh pineapple juice instead of egg whites to give it the same foamy effect.
Ed Note: While the whisky sour holds sentimental value, if he was going to a desert. It’ll be his signature Red Bottoms which took him three months to perfect. His preference of margaritas, and reverence for tequila is the inspiration behind the zobo cocktail that has gone on to become one of my favourite drinks.
How do you create cocktails?
I create according to seasons and what’s available in the market at a certain point in time. I also know a lot about spirits and what flavours can bring a drink to life.
When did you become certified, and what was that experience like?
It is funny that I started this line of work in 2002 but professionally, I only became a certified international mixologist in 2018. It had to take this long because in Nigeria there are no proper bar schools. I wanted to stand out and that’s the reason I spent three months at the European Bartending chool (EBS) in Cape Town.
The course is for two months and the last month is when you intern. I worked in some of the best bars in Cape Town including Cause & Effect and Botanical Bar. It was during my time in Cape Town that I had one of the bestsellers: the avocado and whisky cocktails.
Did you just go to get a certificate because you wanted to prove that you had arrived?
I had been doing this for years already but what I realised when I got to EBS was that my method was very backward. I had to start all over again. I struggled mostly because I already knew some things but the motto then was to leave all that you have been taught and start afresh. It was frustrating but fun.
Was there any time you considered you didn’t want to become a mixologist?
Thankfully, there has never been!
Do you have a memorable experience you would like to share?
When I worked at NOK by ALARA as Lead mixologist there was a time I had an event with Denola Grey and Falana. The day before I prepared for the event with the bartenders I supervised. There was this special homemade syrup I had prepared but one of the bartenders didn’t know I needed it and threw it in the trash. It was the most annoying moment for me out of all the bars I have worked at.
What challenges have you faced in this career path so far?
Nigerian society doesn't place value on bartending. So, telling your parents after sending you to school that you want to become a bartender is a no-go for many. I found it very difficult to tell my parents I wanted to become a full-time bartender for the rest of my life.
All the drinks on the Ile Eros menu were handcrafted by The Biochemist himself. This title was given as a chieftaincy title by yours truly.