Javier de las Muelas

…is universally recognised as one of the best bartenders in the world. Sophie Digby shared a cocktail with him at Sundara, Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay.

YOUR name, Javier de las Muelas – Xavier of the Molars. Are you named after a saint?
And I haven’t even added the Frances bit at the front because then it really would be . . . Maybe that’s how I came to the similarity between bars and churches. Some are cathedrals and a very few are the “chosen ones”, Vaticans. Like the liturgy carried out at the altar; cocktails are being created at the actual bar.

Cocktail making is ecclesiastical? How so?
It is the liturgy that surrounds the way we work – ritual, veneration toward the “flock”. The barman is the priest, the bar is the altar, the offering is the cocktail and as I said previously the venue is the church.
… and scientific also – supported by two sciences, chemistry and maths; flavours which attract and compliment each other, alongside calculus and proportions. And in both cases presided over by exactitude.

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When and why did you take up the cause of the cocktail?
From very young, I remember aged six being drawn to the goings-on in the pub (bodeguita) opposite my house; they sold wine by the barrel, drinks and ice blocks for refrigerators. I am from a different generation than my wife, as Lourdes often reminds me; and in those days seated around a marble table as they drank their small bottle of beer or maybe a coffee, the patrons chatted on a diverse number of themes . . . about life. Those moments, the murmur of those conversations, the plunk of the empty bottles and the clink of those sharing a toast enraptured me. Many years later I discovered the world of cocktail; I discovered a bar called Boadas, a uniquely American bar, next to Barcelona’s famed Ramblas. And it was there that a great lady, Maria Dolores, “officiated”. A grand dame of the bar, leading her team in a perfect ballet. Seeing the mixing glasses being decanted, the cocktail shakers in motion and the music that emanated from them as the spirits, liqueurs and juices were ‘beaten’ together seduced me and opened a world of magic. From these moments came the rest . . .

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Timeline of your mixology history …
My initiation came with Gimlet (a legendary cocktail bar in Barcelona). Then in 1980, in a neighbourhood of Barcelona, The Born – bohemian, London-Soho in style, full of artists, of colour and dreams. Then came another Gimlet in the higher part of town, then Nick Havana, Casa Fernandez, Fats, Montesquiu and Dry Martini . . . then I opened more Dry bars in Madrid and San Sebastián . . . until reaching Bali – Sundara at the Four Seasons Jimbaran. I am interested in creating “collections”, similar to fashion lines, in enriching the world of The Bar, in attaining excellence.

What for you is the “tipping point” behind the bar, and in the public eye?
The way in which we welcome our “parishioners” that enter our establishments . . . empathy, a smile and enthusiasm. The tipping point to the public has to be when we “officiate” a Dry Martini . . .

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What have been the main game changers in the world of cocktail?
The most decisive and for me the most important: the inclusion of woman and the feminine in the drinking culture. Bars opened themselves up and are now spaces with light and glamour. Women fly the flag to drink more intelligently, with less alcoholic content in today’s style of cocktails. Maddona’s blessing (Javier is a huge Madonna fan!) of the Cosmopolitan, and the repercussion that chick flicks and TV series such as Sex in The City have had.

Retro cocktails are making a comeback – why?
They answer to the present trend of the Speakeasy, homage to clandestine bars under Prohibition. Personally I am not a fan as they have a high alcoholic content.

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What is the secret behind a good cocktail versus a bad cocktail?
The difference is in Professionalism with a capital “P” and knowing that success also depends on the time of day and the company you keep.

Why in your opinion are there so few women in the industry?
That was true in the past but today there are a number of great “barmaids”. It’s the media that gives them less attention, as it is with men and the world of cuisine, I don’t get it!

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Tell us more about your company drymartini.org
It’s our passion; our aim is that our bars and restaurants become an active and positive part of human life. We travel; venues, countries and continents. We are ambitious yet humble. And a passion is Asia and her different cultures, above all Japan and Bali. The way they understand life and their people impassion me.

What is your proudest moment?
When two people leave one of my bars holding hands – united in communion.

Your collaboration with Four Seasons Jimbaran, tell all …
It was at first contact, with Michael Braham, the G.M. here, a few years back in Tokyo. Bonds happen when meeting certain people. Michael believed in me, in us, and in the idea of collaborating with him; the fantastic project of Sundara did the rest. My input with the concept of the Dry brand goes further than to just create signature cocktails . . . it is to help guests to enjoy different positive experiences.

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Where do you see yourself going, personally and professionally?
Professionally, its my wish is to translate my brand into other countries in Asia and if possible hand in hand with the Four Seasons. In the upcoming months, I am opening Dry in London and in another capital in South America. Also my aim is to develop surrounding ‘elements’ to my brand Dry Martini, new ways and methods – droplets, joyas and glassware. Personally, I am going to collaborate with the Barraquer Foundation of Barcelona on their journeys throughout diverse countries in Africa, as a nurse assisting in mobile cataract operations.

If you weren’t “the best bartender in the world” what would you be?
I don’t think that I am. The only thing I do pursue is to offer satisfaction to those who come to my bars and to those that surround me daily. I’d like (and I already do) to manage people in whose ideas I believe in. And actively help the needy, with love and as a source of support.

You brought ‘drops’ into the world of cocktails, what are they?
Droplets are drops without alcoholic content, natural concentrates of different flavours – honey, ginger, smoked, rosemary . . . that transform with only seven or eight drops the flavour of the cocktail or the taste of a dish.

How did that come about?
Investigating, trying to find “the way”. After two years we found it.

Highlights and lowlights of your trip to Bali?
The goodness of her people. I had been here before but now I leave even more emotional and shocked – in a fabulous way – by their “being”. The sounds, the smells. I am fascinated by Bali and her everything. It could be a little less humid but hey, it’s the tropics!

Will you be back?
I am already wishing I was. It’s like part of my soul is here. It has also permitted me to meet an amusing English gypsy who has spent the last 20 years living there – that’s you!

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