Originally from Baku, Azerbaijan, mixologist Tural Hasanov’s illustrious career in the hospitality industry has seen him win many awards – including the 2020 Mixologist of the Year at the That’s Shanghai Food & Drink Awards.
Currently working as a Director of Beverage for the Portman Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai, Hasanov has now turned his hand to writing, and just published his first book, Distilled, the first installment of a planned five in his My Encyclopedia of Beverages series.
We caught up with him to find out more.
Let’s start at the beginning – how did you first get into bartending?
I still remember my first visit to a bar – a small bar run by an old gentleman in the old town in Baku – and my first cocktail – an old fashioned.
When I saw that gentleman making the old fashioned – and when I had a sip – I realized this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life. Since that day I have never left the bar.
So what was your next move?
I studied in an international bartender’s school in Kyiv, Ukraine, then started as an on-call bartender for an events company working with world-famous DJs.
I then moved on to an exclusive private bar in Bahrain, a remote and tiny island in the Maldives, and many hotels in the Middle East, including Dubai where I was bar manager of Atmosphere on the 123rd floor of the Burj Khalifa, the highest bar in the world.
I had everything, but I needed a new challenge. So when I got an offer from Portman Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai, I said ‘Why not?’
Congratulations on the book – it is beautiful. What first made you want to write it?
Actually, I was working on a project to have training materials that would cover the entire liquid program for bartenders around the world. So I started taking all the possible training courses, reading every book that I could get my hands on and doing extensive research.
My research grew so big that I had to divide it into categories, such as distilled spirits, fermented beverages, modified liqueurs, cocktails and so on.
So I decided to turn it into a book series, written by a professional in easy-to-understand language, by someone who has been there.
There is a whole lot of interesting knowledge in there – how did you do your research?
First, I built the structure for the book and then started to research each part separately.
Distilled took me almost two years to complete. I read a lot of books written by great people and science documents by university professors.
The illustrations and images are also great. How did you source them?
One of the most challenging parts was the illustrations. I knew what I wanted but could not explain or find out how to get them made.
All the illustrations are hand-drawn, so I had to draw what I had in my mind and share that ugly painting with the illustrator to try to draw it in a professional way.
It took three months to get what I wanted.
The book covers science, history, myths and good old-fashioned barman know-how. How did you go about striking a balance?
As mentioned, the main purpose was to have that balance when I started. Obviously, there are books with more detail written by great people.
What I wanted to do is a book that you can read and have all the necessary information to become knowledgeable about distillation and distilled spirits.
It is very accessible indeed. Who is your target audience – strictly fellow professionals? Or are you hoping to reach a wider audience too?
The main beneficiary is definitely professionals who understand the industry.
However, it is written in a simple way, and any distillation and spirits enthusiast would find something very interesting in it.
The book is packed full of fascinating facts. Do you have a favorite to impress people with?
The distillation and post-distillation chapters are very interesting ones; who may be the first person to ever distill, who may be the father of alembic and what happens inside the barrel when nobody watches.
Also, the fact about an enzyme called ADH4, which breaks down the alcohol in the human body and its rate of doing it.
An interesting – if maybe disappointing – fact, is that the first mention, and probably the origin of vodka, is not in Russia, but in Poland.
The book really takes the reader on a journey around the world...
As we know, there are six main distilled spirit categories and all the other spirits from around the world – from baijiu to Turkish raki – we usually include in one of those categories.
I wanted to give them more of a stage, separate them by culture, and recognize the important role distilled spirits play around the world.
The book also delves into the characters behind some of the world’s most famous spirits and spirit brands. Which three of the historical figures featured would you most like to enjoy a night drinking with?
From the living legends, I would be honored to have a dram with Dr. Jim Beveridge, who I believe is a massive contributor to blended Scotch.
Then Don Facundo Bacardi, at his distillery.
As for a great gin and tonic session, I would have that with the master distillers behind Hendrick’s.
Oh, and definitely an evening with Jose Antonio de Cuervo, who put the tequila in the world market for us to enjoy.
That was four, but we’ll allow it as there are so many interesting spirits covered in the book. Speaking of which, if you were to be washed up on a desert island with a case of just one spirit, which one would it be?
It is very difficult to choose, to be honest. I prefer different spirits based on my mood and the occasion.
But, because I’m on an island, I think there is one spirit that comes to mind… Singing ‘yo ho ho and a bottle of rum’ – Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson, 1883.
And if you could only drink one cocktail for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Old fashioned. Definitely.
It was my first cocktail – I go back in time whenever I take a sip of a good old fashioned.
You mentioned that this is the first in a series – why did you choose to start with Distilled?
Distillation was the first thing I wanted to cover no matter what I was going to write about. It is a simple process, but it requires a master distiller to precisely cut heads, tails and hearts.
It is a process that has man and nature involved working together.
Tell us about the other books planned for the series.
As you can see from the subtitle – My Encyclopedia of Beverages – it is a series that will form an encyclopedia that will cover any liquid that a human can consume without harm.
The second book, on which I am working at the moment, is called Fermented, and is about fermentation and fermented beverages; the third will be called Modified and be about liqueurs, amaros, vermouths and fortified wines; the fourth will be Mixed, about cocktails; and the fifth and last will be about nonalcoholic beverages such as water, tea, coffee, soft drinks – I’m still working on the title for that one!
Purchase a Copy
To buy a copy of Tural Hasanov’s Distilled: My Encyclopedia of Beverages click hereor scan the QR code below:
[All images courtesy of Tural Hasanov]