Issue 3, 2018. June-July

   

CHACHA STARS IN TBILISI'S GROWING COCKTAIL CULTURE

Georgia's infamous chacha is earning rave reviews as the star ingredient in Tbilisi's budding cocktail culture.

Tatjana Montik


Mixed drinks have long played second fiddle to wine in Georgia-a fact that, while not surprising, has made it difficult to get anything more complicated than a gin and tonic at Tbilisi bars.

But that is changing, and Georgia's own grappa-esque chacha is playing a starring in the country's budding cocktail culture.

"Despite the fact that Georgia is known as a cradle of wine, a lot of people, especially those of the young generation, love to drink cocktails," Joni Tarziani, bartender of the Funicular Lounge Bar on Mtatsminda at the Upper Funicular station, told Investor.ge.

"You do not always feel in the mood for wine, for example, if you are about to experience wild night-life. Therefore, cocktails are a perfect choice as an alternative," he added.

Diana Grigorian, Manager at Dinehall restaurant, agreed, noting that while foreigners often drink wine at the restaurant, Georgians are ordering more cocktails.

More Bartenders, Better Cocktails

Igor Boriskin, Group Bar Manager at Tbilisi's La Boheme restaurant, noted that "the bar culture, particularly cocktail bars, is a few steps up from a few years ago."

"It is a growing industry in Georgia. Anyone can make a drink, but people leave their homes to interact with other people. Uptight cocktail bars have gone. Any neighborhood 'beer and shot bar' can now make a Manhattan and a Negroni," he told Investor.ge, adding that one reason for the increased interest in cocktails is growing competition among the bartenders and establishments, Boriskin added.

At Dinehall, one can order classic cocktails, such as the Cosmopolitan, based on cranberry juice and tequila, which is popular especially among women diners, Grigorian said.

Georgian Cocktails

Bars and restaurants are also introducing local variations on classic cocktails, as well as creating new drinks based on local tastes.

At La Boheme, bartenders are respecting fresh and local produce the way chefs do. "Sours and cocktails that are based on herbaceous plant and fresh ingredients are becoming a newer trend in cocktail making," Boriskin said, adding "they take on so many flavors if you want to add a spirit or liquor flavor to accompany them that it will be a next level thing in big cities."

The Zesty Martini is a very good example. A refreshing blend of coriander with its multifaceted flavor and fabulous kick is paired with fresh, crisp ginger and the vibrant taste of pineapple. The Esmaki Martini is notable for its unusual mix of ingredients: chili, cucumber, pineapple, passionfruit and gin.

What is the most popular cocktail of all? "I would say it is the Bohemian Grove," Boriskin said. "It is simple and perfect, based on 100% agave tequila, Mexican lime, Demerara sugar, fresh mint and a dash of cranberry juice stirred into crushed ice. This cocktail reminds you of warm summer evenings on winter nights and is refreshing during hot summer days."

Funicular Lounge Bar's cocktail menu is expanding with the season, noted Tarziani. In addition to famous cocktails, one can find such drinks as Between the Sheets and Funicular Iced Coffee, made with Georgian brandy, shaken with coffee and dark chocolate, and served over ice and seasoned with vanilla.

Chacha Punch

The bar also serves Chacha Punch, made with chacha, the Georgian grape-based spirit; Martini Rosso vermouth and some syrups; as well as the Cucumber Ginger Collins.

La Boheme also offers Georgia-inspired signature drinks.

"We adapted the old classic Bloody Mary to local flavors: Svanetian salt, homemade ajika, and Saperavi wine," Boriskin said, adding that right now they are "experimenting with seasonal ingredients such a tarragon, pennyroyal, and mulberries."

They have also developed chacha-based cocktails.

"Chacha is noble and a very good ingredient for cocktails. A good-quality chacha is never harsh on the palate and should leave a long and pleasant aftertaste and a generous feeling of warmth. Chacha mixes well with chocolate, honey, mint and nuts.

Our signature cocktail, Cremation of Care, is based on Oaked Saperavi chacha.

The distinctive flavor of chacha shines through in this smooth drink, with Frangelico adding rich noisette, herb notes and pear with a touch of honey."

In La Boheme's cocktail list, there are also two drinks based on Georgian wine: Sangria, which uses semi-sweet Kindzmarauli wine, and Punch, made with Saperavi wine.