Movers and Shakers: The San Diego Cocktail Connoisseur
The Experts: Leyla Javadov, Co-Owner and Executive Chef, Louis Chavez, Head Mixologist & Zane Mandt, General Manager at Zymology 21
WRITTEN BY: GENESIS GONZALEZ | PHOTOGRAPHED BY: MICHELLE KIM
Innovative. Creative. Passionate.
These individuals are pioneers in the world of cocktails, transforming their unique visions into extraordinary concoctions. They know what works, what doesn’t, and maybe what is yet to come. With every ingredient, test tube, and barrel at their side, there is no telling what they will “drink” up next.
Q: With the success of Café 21, what was the inspiration or “science” behind Zymology 21?
Leyla Javadov: I have always liked to do stuff that goes back to our roots and to see how people did things without a refrigerator. I grew up in the Soviet Union; my mom is from Ukraine, and my dad is from Azerbaijan. My mom’s side was living in the mountains where they didn’t have refrigerators or ovens. What they had was a huge wooden heating device that resembles what we know as a pizza oven outside of the house. They were cooking their breads, all their meats and they were braising. When it comes to the refrigerator, everything was seasonal. They were going through the process of fermentation, making their own vodka and beer. They were making all of the black bread and putting them in one big pot and going through fermentation. Eventually it became naturalized beer. It was low in alcohol, but it was tasty, and even kids were able to drink it (because it was allowed). My dad’s side had their own grape yards and were making wines. Again, this was house fermentation. That’s how we decided to open Zymology. If people pay attention to our bar, we don’t have too many syrups; everything is house-made. We are making old-fashioned shrubs that encompass vinegar, sugar and fruits. All of these little techniques come back from the roots.
Q: What was the goal or motivation in establishing Zymology as one of a kind?
Louis Chavez: There are a lot of craft cocktail bars. For us, the premise was to have quality craft cocktails, but have a fun environment as well. Everybody downtown makes their own bitters, and they infuse their alcohols and we do that, too. But we were focusing more on shrubs, the drinking vinegars. We use all fresh fruit, and everybody stays involved in the process. We found an avenue, and we ran with it. They are slightly fermented, and a part of Zymology and it just fit in naturally.
Q: What was the base concept for Zymology 21?
Zane Mandt: What we started with was a base concept of shrubs. We were looking at zymology and what it is. Obviously all alcohol is fermented, so that was easy. But then we went all the way back to the concept of how they used to preserve fruits over long periods of time. So what we did was take the concept of seasonal vegetables and fruits, and we let them sit out with sugar. The sugar naturally takes out the flavor and makes this beautiful syrup. Right before the sugar starts to turn everything and ferment it, like with alcohol, you add vinegar; we use all types of vinegars. Everything from balsamic to apple cider, to white to Champagne vinegar. All of that will stop the fermentation process and preserve it for a long period. We technically don’t have to preserve it for very long, because we end up using it probably within a day or two. But we press it out, so all that good flavor comes out. Finally, we bottle it, which becomes the base for the shrub cocktails.
Q: Are you finding that most people are receptive to the unique concept?
LC: They are. When you say “drinking vinegars, ” they are like, “What?” But when you tell them the process and what the vinegars are supposed to add to the drink, they start to get it. We like to educate people and give them a little bit of a taste. It’s not like drinking regular vinegar out of the bottle. It’s syrup and vinegar to add dimension and preservation. We will make you whatever you want; we don’t feel we’re too good to make a whiskey and coke, but we focus on our craft and fine drinks. We have a flight program so guests can be introduced to different shrubs.
Q: What shrub flavors are currently being offered at Zymology 21?
ZM: The shrub flavors we are currently running right now are grapefruit, orange and carrot. Plum and grape are technically not in season right now, but these have been infusing since the summer, and that’s why we are still able to have them. The apple, blueberry and honey will be changed as blueberries go out of season, but we are going to change that to an apple- cranberry that is going to be delicious!
Q: Do you feel that shrub cocktails will begin a new trend?
ZM: We’ve seen it happening in the neighboring businesses more and more. Dry ice was one of those big things; bars love making dry ice cocktails. But I love that. I think it’s great to share. It’s essentially sharing inspiration and pushing everyone to take it to the next level, which pushes us to think harder to come up with a little something else to give people.
Q: For those coming to Zymology 21 for the first time, what do you recommend they try?
ZM: It depends on what they’re after. If they are not sure what they want or they come in and ask about Sangria popsicles, obviously I’m going to make them have a Champagne cocktail with a little California cream and beer. But if they come in here and say, “The beakers look amazing, tell me about it, ” I usually make them get a flight. You have to have a flight; it’s the way to go. You pick your base cocktail, and you get to try one of every flavor of the shrubs.
Q: Serving cocktails in beakers and test tubes is interesting; applying shrubs to cocktails is unique. Do you feel people will be willing to try something new?
ZM: San Diego is a little bit behind some of the real cutting edge cities out there, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. We get to take some of these forward trends and give it to people in a sneak preview. They get to come in here and try something new. It’s weird because you’re almost trying something old. There are a lot of the pre-colonial, and there are a lot of the classic cocktails, but it’s twisted and updated and given back to you in a way that you’re excited about again. Some of those long forgotten things are now this new and amazing thing.
Q: Are the customers able to see the drinks being made?
ZM: We try to display as much as we can. A lot of our bartenders will be pressing shrubs right in front of you. You are seeing them bottle it. You’re seeing them make the flights, and you almost become part of that process sitting at that bar. The bartenders want to tell you about the process and teach you how to make your own. Being a patron of this business is being a part of this business.