Discover Ecuador’s socially driven cocktail menu that’s officially the best in the world

Sorrel Moseley-Williams - 09/12/2022

At The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022, Ecuador officially arrived as a global cocktail destination when Guayaquil bar Juliana was awarded the Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu Award for its Diverso list. Sorrel Moseley-Williams heads to the Pacific port city to meet the brothers behind the bar and discover the indigenous inspiration behind the drinks, which traverse the country and bring its extensive biodiversity to the fore

The team behind Juliana in Guayaquil has succeeded in putting Ecuador on the cocktail map. With the launch cocktail list from its January 2022 opening, it swooped in to pick up the second-ever Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu Award at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022 for Diverso (Diversity), a thoughtful and socially driven menu that traverses the Andean nation.

The brainchild of creative directors Daniel Febres-Cordero, his brother Agustín and bar director Sarah Ruiz, one of the first challenges was getting Ecuadorians – whose drinking customs are culturally linked to ancestral and traditional beverages – excited about sampling signature cocktails made with local ingredients in an insalubrious Guayaquil neighbourhood.

Traditional libations tend to be made from agave and sugar cane, explains Ruiz. “Take miske, an Andean-Ecuadorian tzawar or agave spirit that has been produced for many years, but only recently received Denomination of Origin [status]. Canelazo, meanwhile, is a traditional spiced hot cocktail from the highlands. The original recipe is made by boiling water with cinnamon and panela [unrefined cane sugar], then mixed with a local sugar cane alcohol called punta or aguardiente. As for Ecuador’s cocktail culture, it’s still on the rise,” she adds. “In the major cities you can find a few great bars including some in hotels with classical foundations that are doing a great job.”
Juliana's Diverso menu is a reflection of the bar's ethos and mission

Finding the right location for Juliana was also key: although attractive with neo-classical architecture, Guayaquil’s historical centre had been allowed to depreciate for decades. “It certainly wasn’t a place to go out at night,” says Febres-Cordero. “But, when we started conceptualising, we had to be located somewhere with identity – and that meant being in the heart of the city. Cacao production used to be Guayaquil’s principal source of income and the street we’re on was traditionally related to that activity. Plus, the house we’re based in is more than 150 years old. It was important for us that Juliana joined this heritage while creating our own vision of the city. At the same time, other bars and restaurants opened up, helping to give the area a new lease of life.”

Rooting around Ecuador

A background in agriculture took Daniel Febres-Cordero to all corners of the country – Ecuador holds almost 7% of the world’s biodiversity as well as 32 indigenous communities – to meet small producers from remote places. That helped him to understand the quantity and quality of local products as well as the social and economic reality in which the Ecuadorian farmers live. He vowed to create a project that would celebrate their role by working directly with them – and so Juliana was born.

Febres-Cordero says: “The bar has had a clear mission from the beginning, which was to return a sense of identity and belonging to Ecuadorians, while revitalising interest in our country’s ingredients. We want people to see all their products in use at our bar and treasure them.” Joining forces with Ruiz – who was recruited from San Francisco’s Pacific Cocktail Haven for Ecuador in 2021 – was a meeting of like minds, given her similar passion for casting ingredients in starring roles. “Ecuador is the mecca for a diverse range of amazing products,” says Ruiz. “From tropical and exotic fruits such as macambo (Theobroma bicolor) from the cacao family to Andean herbs such as Santa Maria leaf, and infinite Amazonian gems such as sal de chontacuro (salt made from the chonta palm tree worm), I’m constantly discovering new and exciting flavours in this amazingly biodiverse small nation.”
Juliana's team is passionate about championing Ecuador's products and people

Take motilón (Hieronyma macrocarpa), a native fruit that’s on the verge of becoming endangered due to the high demand for lumber that’s crowding it out. The team sources this purple tree grape that’s loaded with antioxidants from an Amazonian reforestation project in Cuyuja, Napo, led by Karen Bayares, who shines a light on the importance of this fruit. “The problems Diverso addresses include reintroducing our own products and addressing the social differences in our country,” says Febres-Cordero. “At the base of the social pyramid are the poorest people, our farmers, and 60% of them live in extreme poverty. That portends grave social problems because we’ve started to lose traditions and products because it’s more sustainable to cultivate rice rather than motilón.

“By incorporating farmers, producers and indigenous communities into the chain at Juliana, we not only look at ingredients and how to use them, but know who produces them and give the farmers a financial boost by buying from them directly. A lot of work is undertaken by a lot of people – and that’s what we want to show on the Diverso menu. Our diversity makes us unique.”

Drinking diversity

The Diverso cocktail menu, which is expertly executed by head bartender Víctor Villalobos, begins with a poetic introduction: “We are from the soils to which we belong.” It’s a short and sweet list, with each of the nine drinks illustrated by the glassware used to serve it, accompanied by a brief cultural and geographical explanation that maps its diverse origins. Some, such as Chola de Guano, blend gastronomy and alchemy. At the end of the menu, a handy map to Ecuador indicates the ingredients’ origins. “For me, Diverso is more than a list of creations, it’s a tribute that represents our work ethic, and what we should be doing at an industry level in order to make changes for the better. It’s also a tribute to Ecuador and an effort to elevate it,” says Febres-Cordero.
Two signature Juliana cocktails: Dr. Sunfo and El Mito

As for the drinks themselves, each comes with its own culture, geography and human story. Maputo, for example, brings together Scotch, motilón, vermouth, coffee husks and almond bitters. Ruiz says: “The coffee is the Typica Mejorado variety that comes from the Maputo Estate, in the La Perla compound in Nanegal parish, and we got it from our friends at Huma Culture.”

The Pan de Yuca Sour, meanwhile, tips its hat to a classic Ecuadorian snack. Ruiz says: “Our cocktail variation of yoghurt and pan de yuca (cassava bread) highlights tropical guava fruit with earthy and aromatic green cardamom. We use a whey made from clarified yoghurt that adds richness and texture to the cocktail, resulting in a delicious take on a nostalgic snack.”  The classics too have been given an Ecuadorian twist: take the self-explanatory Cacao Old Fashioned, for example, or the Mexican-inspired Paloma that substitutes tequila with Miske Silver, adding lemongrass to the grapefruit mix.

As for the night in Barcelona when Juliana took the top prize at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022, Febres-Cordero remembers it clearly. “When Mark [Sansom] announced ‘from the proud South American nation of Ecuador’, the emotion was huge. This win is recognition of our people and our country, and takes into account the appreciation that our products and techniques have in the world. It lets us carry on dreaming, for me personally and for our country.”

Travel to Guayaquil and go inside Juliana in the video:

The list of The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022, sponsored by Perrier, was announced on Tuesday, 4th October at a live awards ceremony in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. To stay up to date with all news and announcements, browse the website and follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube.