Meet the Mixologist: Berg Baboyan
Today on Meet the Mixologist, we meet Berg Robert Baboyan, a 27-year-old Nigerian-born mixologist of Lebanese, Armenian and Russian descent.
Fun fact: Berg was one of the mixologists that made Drink Lagos an exciting venture in the earlier days, check out the bar review on South. He also manages the bar at Moist Beach Club.
Berg’s grandfather also owned three clubs in Port Harcourt back when the town's port attracted many cosmopolitans to the Garden City.
Solid blood lines, I tell you!
Speaking of Port Harcourt, Johnnie, Jazz & Whisky is back in Lagos following a nationwide tour of Abuja, Port Harcourt and a couple other Nigerian cities. Berg will be the resident bartender at the event and ahead of the event, I caught up with him for a quick chat.
At what age did you begin all of this?
I was 16 when I started going out, I’m not sure that’s the legal age to drink. [laughs] I also remember spending some time in Port Harcourt, and have vivid flashbacks from one of my Grandfather’s clubs called La Pavilion. I don’t remember the particular location, back then there weren’t mobile phones or even the internet. I used to go there all the time, the club had snooker tables and this particular bell for happy hours. I think I was born into this industry maybe not behind the bar entirely but here.
“My dad is Armenian and Russian, and I think all of this might just be a cocktail in itself.”
I started going out to bars in university to hang with my friends, and during these outings it became more than just the enjoyment. I was fascinated by how these bartenders made drinks from very simple ingredients. You basically need about four components to make a cocktail – ice, acid, sugar and liquor.
What did you study in school?
I actually studied Computer Communications Engineering (CCE). Bartending created that extra income I needed as a student, which I think is how majority of bartenders start anyway. After university I found work in my related discipline very boring, I couldn’t see myself fixing software and gadgets. So as usual, I opted for income that was based on passion – bartending.
I found bartending interesting because of the little things like the inquisitive guests, and creating drinks that perhaps fits their person. What’s most important to me apart from mixing cocktails is the interaction that goes on between the guest and bartender. In that fusion you’re making people happy – every cocktail you make, whether the consumer finds it likeable or not, always ends up in an interaction, which to me is the point.”
There is a huge Lebanese influence in Nigeria, and knowing that you come from Lebanon. What do you think is the reason for this influx in the hospitality industry?
There are a lot of outlets that opened here in Lagos and some other parts of the region like Abuja and maybe Port Harcourt, not sure about the rest of Nigeria. Working with Johnnie, Jazz and Whisky especially, has exposed me to the hospitality scene in other cities and while the Lebanese influx is true, I think there is a magnet that fuses both countries together – maybe it is purely a financial one. However, you can’t go anywhere in Nigeria without seeing a shawarma
What is a major disadvantage in the industry?
I’ve worked with about 45% of bartenders in Lagos and I think a major disadvantage here is the lack of resources required to craft decent drinks. Because at the end of the day, passion isn’t just enough, accessibility to information is key in this business. Where I come in as a brand ambassador for Diageo (the British multinational alcoholic beverages company with brands such as Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Baileys and Guinness) is to create opportunities that equip these bartenders with adequate tools essential to pursue their passion. I can’t wait to show you all the things we have coming up.
It almost feels like fate that you’re the brand ambassador for the company which owns your favourite spirit.
What’s JJW all about, and what’s your role at the event?
Johnnie, Jazz & Whisky is an experience with live musical performances accompanied with specially-crafted cocktails made with the popular whiskey – Black Label. Black Label, especially, has many layers and flavours, which range from fruity to creamy, tropical and smoky flavours.
What’s your favorite Johnnie Walker recipe?
I like making a Highball cocktail with the JW’s Black Label, and you need to understand that a highball isn’t just spirit and soda. The type of glass it comes in is also a determinant – either a highball or Collins glass. You get more bubbles when it is typically served in either because it doesn’t go flat. When it’s in a short glass it tends to run flat because the bubbles reach the top a lot faster and release all the acid. The acid is what really reveals the distinct flavour of the type of whisky present in the cocktail.
[Ed Note: When I asked Berg for his favourite JW recipe he was willing to give it away under just one condition, that whoever decides to steal his recipe, would have to at least promise to follow his guidelines and make it really well.]
What special cocktail are you making for the Johnnie Walker event?
For this edition we have curated a bunch of interesting cocktails different from the last one, which had creamy, tropical and smoky notes. This time, we are exploring more contemporary ways by infusing the whisky with simpler fruits like apples, oranges, and two other flavours we can’t reveal till the event.