Dozy hotel bars with just-passable drink options may be fading — at least in Montreal, thankfully. And Bar Nacarat, part of the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth’s major recent renovations (alongside new restaurant Rosélys and a food hall), has been doing anything but playing it safe since arriving last summer. At the helm is Nader Chabaane, who cut his teeth working internationally, now bringing some innovation to Montreal’s cocktail scene.
Nacarat’s upcoming menu change isn’t just about a new rotation of cocktails; everything from the menu presentation to the techniques being used to make the drinks is getting refreshed.
Arranged like a tasting wheel, the menu itself is designed to help customers know what they want upon first glance. The drinks are organized into sections based on their flavour profile: sweet, sour, or somewhere else. Each one is depicted with a pictogram highlighting a key ingredient or garnish. “It tells you what you are going to get — like a Chinese restaurant,” Chabaane laughs.
Chabaane also strays from tradition by not listing any ingredients. “People are often put off by drinks because they think they don’t like the base spirit,” he points out. By solely describing flavours, he’s able to get around such biases. “If you don’t tell them exactly what’s inside, people are more curious.”
Another conceptual detail of note is the inclusion of non-alcoholic drinks alongside the alcohol ones, the only point of differentiation being the listed alcohol volume. This highlights Chabaane’s view of non-alcoholic options as something just as viable as their boozy counterparts, instead of sidelining them.
“If I come to have a drink, I come to enjoy a drink and the flavours in it. I don’t come for the booziness. Otherwise I’d go to a dive bar and order shots. At Nacarat, we try to give you a drinking experience. Yes, alcohol is one of our base ingredients, but it’s fun to work without it too. To make non-alcoholic drinks work takes a lot of research and development, often even more so than alcoholic ones.”
Their bell pepper shrub, which Chabaane proudly notes that they just nailed after multiple rounds of testing, is the perfect example of this. It takes over 48 hours to prepare and is even centrifuged before service to clarify the resulting liquid. As Chabaane puts it, such technical equipment isn’t used for show. “It’s just a big black box with a digital panel on it. It’s not fun for the guest per se, but this is what we do to have our drinks at that level.”
Pushing boundaries is nothing new to Chabaane. He has managed to skirt around Quebec’s liquor laws prohibiting batch cocktails by going straight to the source and collaborating with Montreal’s 1769 Distillery to produce a barrel-aged Negroni for Nacarat. “The law only forbids me to batch at my own bar, but it doesn’t forbid me to batch elsewhere.”
With more barrel-aged projects in the works, as well as distiller collaborations to produce infused spirits (also banned under the guise of “alcohol tampering”), Chabaane knows what he wants and he’s going straight to the source to get it.
“It’s exciting to see both the cocktail and distilling movements push forward together, pushing limits, and it’s very cool to be a part of it.”
Nacarat’s new menu is set to launch mid-February.