The last time I visited Jigger’s, the lounge was pretty new, the owner was talented but had yet to place highly in a world cocktail competition in Brazil (but I believe placed very high in European competitions) and I was expecting simple cocktails after work and ended up staying in the lounge for 8 hours taking hundreds of photos. Also, I had yet built a relationship with the owner. We were strangers.
It has been nine months since I enjoyed cocktails at Jigger’s. Yesterday, equipped with my camera and a 100 Euro note, I made a reservation and invited a colleague along. An 8 hour stay was anticipated as well as finding a seat at the bar with the best lighting. My colleague was there for 1 hour. I was there until 2:30AM
The evening started with a beer cocktail, Olivier Jacobs knew I liked beer so he chose an aged 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze, sugar was added, stirred and garnished with citrus and mint. A bright Faro-like Lambic was consumed over ice and there may have been a few other ingredients but they were all well integrated. Following this, a mustard based cocktail with cheese and then an alteration of a Manhattan cocktail with plenty of delicious vermouth and I believe chocolate bitters. Then, we were allowed to sample very old Cognac, Armagnac, Vermouth, Chartreuse and finally Don Julio 1942. The last two drinks were a very herbal Ginger Beer cocktail and a simple, yet elegant Margarita with Don Julio Anejo (or it could have been Reposado. Ah, I almost forgot about the egg white cocktail. Delicious.
The sampling of various liquors straight in 10ML sizes is a common element at this lounge. The artists behind the bar know the profiles of everything liquid and they create drinks to mix all of these profiles together in a perfect way. Allowing patrons to try the base liquors is something I do at home as well. I think a lot of people in America, to put it simply, don’t go for top-shelf tequila for their margaritas or agave nectar or fresh squeezed limes because they don’t see the value of each individual components. Any baker can tell you, real vanilla beans are better than artificial vanilla extract but this is not realized when it comes to mixed drinks. “All vodka is all the same when mixed with cocktail juice” is something I hear often.
Olivier and his rotating guest bartenders are masters but not just in their art but in the wonderful customer service. You are a part of the drink making and these creations are tailored to you each time and the artists LOVE their job and experimenting and sharing these creations.
Given Olivier’s awards and accomplishments, I fear that this small bar may one day not be able to handle the demands of such a crafty artist. I worry he’ll expand and getting an Olivier cocktail will be a small chance when he has 4+ cocktail makers working at one bar. Will he grow the bar or simply raise prices? Maybe the reservation wait will simply get longer and longer. I hope it remains semi-hidden. Each local I speak to in Ghent are not even aware a world class recognized mixologist is active in their town amidst all of the beer bars or that, in a few years, this place may be too famous to get a seat without calling months ahead.
Oliviers is the most fun bar in the world I have ever attended with a team that loves their art. It’s a place that I hope in 20 years, a much older and even more mastered team will still be at each day crafting drinks. It’s a shame this joint is 10 hours from my home by plane + train because, if this level of cocktail was near my home, I would stop drinking beer completely.
For a beer geek, this is saying a lot. This is the greatest bar in the world.