I’m visiting Black Pepper and Basil, and speaking with manager, Pedro Lemos. Luis Domingo, the owner of this extraordinary school for barmen, is currently away, on a busman’s holiday, researching new techniques and ingredients in the US, and in London.
Pedro tells me that it all began in 2009, when Luis Domingo and Dave Belthorpe, both bartenders at Cinco Lounge, one of Lisbon’s coolest bars, had the idea to set up a school for bartenders together with a specialist shop to provide all their supplies. In 2014 Dave left the partnership to return to Cinco Lounge.
Domingo then bought the current property in order to be able to offer a permanent teaching facility. As the school gained traction, Domingo expanded the company in order to offer consultancy as well, initially only covering bars, but then, a natural development, to include also restaurants. By then Black Pepper and Basil was running a whole range of training courses: staff training courses, bar design, menu development and specialist supplies, to name but a few.
In the meantime, feedback from students and their employers, threw up an industry problem. They complained that there was no continuity of suppliers, so Domingo also invested in a warehouse which could provide all the bartender’s needs – beautiful glasses, bio-friendly straws, cocktail shakers…. all kinds of equipment.
And ingredients were also supplied. Originally only niche spirits and bitters were stocked, but now the range has been expanded, and there is also a wine shop. Some of Black Pepper and Basil’s suppliers are direct, but the company also sources from many specialist importers.
In terms of the courses, the most popular is the short, four-day ‘balance’ course, run once a month for 10-12 students. In this course the student bartenders learn how to make a balanced cocktail out of just five ingredients. “It’s all about tasting” explains Pedro, “hence why we have so many bottles. Students need to experience the nuances between the same product made by different distillers. You don’t need books. You smell a potato when you go to buy one in the market. It’s the same for mixologists.” We’re looking at a wide selection of different gins. Pedro tells me that Big Boss was the first Portuguese gin on the market – the taste is not impressive. The newest is Savvy, but best of the local gins on offer was the Adamus. All are distilled from a base spirit that is made from grapes.
For more about Black Pepper and Basil go to their website.
For a tasting of Ginja which I enjoyed at Black Pepper and Basil, follow this link.