A Master Of His Craft
25 Jun, 2017 | Sophie Hogan
Photos: Nick somers and Sophie Hogan
Humo Mixologist Josué Grajeda Lino has his artform down to a tee
When I tell Josué Grajeda Lino, the bartender at Humo's bar - The Whiskería - that I'm just not sure what I want, he tells me to pick a spirit. Slightly perplexed, I pick cachaça, Brazil's crown jewel of liquor. For a moment, I see him ponder, searching his brain for just the right thing to make. Then, as if a light bulb has gone off in his head, he springs into action, grabbing his cocktail shaker and beginning to craft his newest creation.
The taste could almost be described as out of this world. As he explains what's in it, I begin to understand the flavour that is so intoxicatingly good: cachaça, egg whites, passion fruit juice, a touch of lemon juice, and the syrup of huira huira, a flower from the altiplano. It is clear to see why this place, attached to the restaurant Humo, tucked below the Montículo in La Paz’s Sopocachi neighbourhood, has quickly become one of the most talked about bars in town.
'As a kid, I was desperate to be pilot,' Josué recalls. We are sitting in the restaurant as the cooks prepare for the night's dinner rush. 'Later, I wanted to dedicate myself to gastronomy, to be a cook, but it was during a time when my parents didn't really have the money to pay for the schooling.' To fund his dream, he began working nights as a security guard in nightclubs, while by day he attended Manq'a, a culinary social project in El Alto for low-income youth. As he began to learn his craft at the institute he had a small revelation. 'I realised that I like gastronomy – and I love working nights – so why not work in bartending?'
Josué, an alteño, found his way to La Paz and was eventually able to take a place at the famous Gustu culinary school. 'I was studying there for two years,' he remembers, although much of his learning came from the people surrounding him throughout the years. 'At first I was teaching myself, and I learned many things from those around me,' he says. 'As time passed, people left and changed, so I began to really use what I'd learned from them, and in later years of course the internet was extremely useful.'
After his two years at Gustu, he was taken in for a job at the new restaurant in Sopocachi called Humo, which means ‘smoke’ in English. When The Whiskería opened in February, however, Josué got his first big bartending job as resident mixologist on the restaurant lounge. At the new job, he was able to do much more than at Gustu. 'I would like it to be the best bar in La Paz. At least, to make it a place with artesanal drinks for a fair price,' he says. 'I want to get along with all my clients. I do not spoil them. I do my job and sell them something good.'
In only four months, his vision for the bar is starting to materialise. Humo's resident bar has been hailed as one of the best in La Paz. Every night clients come from all over the city, locals and tourists alike. The classic cocktails, many of Josué's own creation, have been popular with many. Josué’s personal favourite is the Humo 2.0, which includes cold coffee amongst its ingredients. It might seem risky at first, but it is actually a beautiful drink. 'The Negroni is my all-time favourite cocktail, but of my own creation, it has to be the Humo 2.0,' he says, laughing.
Although Josué’s nameless, custom cocktails are not a common occurrence, I will never forget that first sip of the cachaça-based drink he made for me. He has more talent that some of the bartenders of Lima or Rio de Janeiro, and he tells me he would like to go to London some day. 'They have the best bars in the world, without a doubt,’ he says. ‘It would be a dream to visit them.'
Josué's work is simply extraordinary. Something tells me I will be imbibing within the dark wooden walls of Humo's Whiskería more than a few times in the near future.
Humo is located on the ground floor of the Montículo Apart Hotel, Calle Macario Pinilla #580, La Paz.