Interview: mixologist Jack McGarry (The Merchant Hotel)

Bartender Belfast

Jack McGarry has become known as a skilled craftsman behind The Bar @ The Merchant. [Gary Regan]

Cocktail culture is thriving in large part due to a passionate contingent of exceptional bartenders and mixologists. This feature places a spotlight on the craftspeople behind the bar, and not just the structure itself. Jack McGarry is mixologist at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Josh Lurie: Do you consider yourself a bartender or a mixologist? What’s the difference?

Jack McGarry: I would consider myself a mixologist. A bartender to me, is someone who is an all-round entertainer and fantastic at mixing drinks such as a Dale de Groff or Gary Regan type of figure. A Mixologist is someone who is totally focused on mixing drinks and coming up with new delectable potions. It’s not to say that a Mixologist isn’t good with their guests because I’m good with customers; however the drink is my god and it’s the tool that I use to ensure that the guest has a memorable evening for all the right reasons.

JL: How did you become interested in tending bar?

JG: I love the sociable aspect of tending bar. Behind the stick you get to meet all different kinds of people from different walks of life. As I progressed from for my local pub to cocktail bars I became utterly obsessed with the mixed drink and started to collect 100s of cocktail books to ascertain a level of knowledge of the subject. This all happened when I started in The Bar @ The Merchant and the passion of the artists behind the bar inspired me to take this career all the more serious.

JL: What’s your first cocktail memory?

JG: My first cocktail memory was a Bartender whipping up a round of cocktails for a group of jovial guests and it was the delight in their faces, upon tasting the beverages, that blew me away.

JL: What’s your current favorite spirit or liquor?

JG: Green Chartreuse.

JL: Which cocktail is past its prime?

JG: Classic drinks are making huge leaps back into the spotlight. The Last Word was a few years ago, in cocktail wilderness, but now is one of the most popular beverages around. Cocktails such as the Appletini, Sex on the Beach, etc. I hope die soon, totally un-balanced and un-imaginative drinks but I suppose it’s up to us to ensure that drinkers have a beautiful drink to obsess upon in order to forget these nasty concoctions.

JL: What’s the cocktail of the future?

JG: Champs-Elysees. A beautiful drink composed of Cognac, fresh lemon juice, Green Chartreuse, cane syrup and bitters. Utterly delicious.

JL: Describe one of your original cocktails. What’s it called and what was your approach?

JG: As stated above I’m a bloody freak when it comes to creating new drink. It’s truly an exhaustive process until I become very happy with a new creation. A drink that I created around a year ago Im especially proud of, it’s called the Vava Voom. It’s a very loose twist on the Pegu Club and the Daiquiri.

60Mls Brugal Anejo
10Mls Apricot Brandy
10Mls Creme de Cacao
25Mls freshly squeezed lime juice
5Mls Cane Syrup
1 Dash Fee Bro’s Old-fashioned Bitters
1 Dash Angostura Bitters

Shake violently and fine-strain into a pre-chilled 7oz Coupette. Garnish with a carved Lime Wedge.

My approach for this drink was quite simple. Upon tasting Brugal Anejo I got lovely notes of apricot and chocolate with a hint of citrus and I simply wanted to heighten these flavours in a simple but beautiful drink and thus the Vava Voom was born.

JL: Do you have a cocktail mentor, and what did they teach you?

JG: Sean Muldoon. His guidance and advice has truly inspired me.

JL: Outside of your bar, what’s your favorite bar in town and why?

JG: Duke of York, with a fantastic Irish Whiskey selection, friendly staff and great banter. There’s no other place like it.

JL: Who’s another mixologist you respect and why?

JG: Tony C, a great thinker on cocktails and immensely innovative.

JL: What’s the best simple cocktail for people to make at home, and what’s the recipe?

JG: Sour styled drinks such as the Daiquiri, Fitzgerald Maiden Prayer etc. But for me a Mojito anywhere in the World is pretty hard to beat.

  • 35 Mls Havana Blanco
  • 25 Mls fresh lime juice
  • 7.5 Mls cane syrup
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 8-10 spearmint leaves
  • 50 Mls chilled Seltzer

Built in a highball glass. Bruise spearmint leaves in sugar. Add bitters, Rum and lime juice and agitate slightly. Top up with soda and agitate again. Garnish with lime wedge and spearmint sprigs. Refreshingly delicious.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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