The cocktail culture is just at its inception in Lebanon. Historically, people would go to bars and purchase whole bottles of alcohol to share. “The cocktail culture is getting better,” says Jad Ballout, bartender at Beirut’s Central Station. “We are seeing a lot of new cocktail bars opening.” When Ballout’s bar first opened, people weren’t used to ordering cocktails, especially complicated cocktails. “They would only order margaritas or Cosmopolitans and drinks like that,” he says. When Central Station opened, people started to try other, more complex cocktails. “So now, we have people coming to the bars and saying that they want something more exciting, not just the regular drinks,” he says.
What they’re drinking: Vodka is everywhere, but spiced up with sage, basil, oregano, and thyme. Even the classic cocktails are punched up with infusions.
Trends: Ballout has seen a lot of barrel-aged cocktails, as well as a return to classics. “At first, people were afraid to try a drink that was more bitter or with vermouth. Now, the sour drinks are becoming less popular and the more complex and classic cocktails are taking their place,” he says. And every bar has its own signature style. “The majority of people like Tiki drinks because Lebanese people are used to drinking booze. That’s why before, cocktail customers didn’t think there was any alcohol in the cocktails.”