HENNESSY X JOE BRADY
Joe Brady is a bartender at Belfast city centre hotel, Bullitt. With a hunger for creativity and innovation, he brings a passion for fermentation into his work and has even created a beard balm inspired by Hennessy.
Meet the Belfast bartender who’s branching out into fermentation and male grooming products
How would you describe Bullitt, to someone who has never been here before?
We’re a city centre-based hotel with a vibey lobby bar, cocktail bar, restaurant and a lively courtyard area. Inside, we’ve got our big spacious lobby bar, which is where you’ll find me and my team serving up drinks and cocktails.
I may be biased but I genuinely think we serve some of the best food in the city. We’re also looking at a refreshed bar/restaurant offering to replace our former rooftop bar - watch this space.
How do you think Belfast compares to the cocktail scenes in other cities around the world?
Belfast has a vibrant cocktail scene. It’s come on a lot in recent years and a lot of our top bars and hotels are serving quality drinks. I've been to New York and Philly, Sydney and Melbourne. They've got some phenomenal cocktail bars.
I've only ever lived in one other major city, Brisbane. That really opened my eyes. It’s like Belfast in that the local hospitality community is very tight knit - everyone knows everyone and I think that drives a scene and the creativity within it. When people come together and share ideas, go into each other's bars and try each other's drinks, it benefits the whole scene and drives up the quality. I think that's been happening here in Belfast in recent years too and it’s great to see.
When I think of Brisbane, I always think my end of the night Sazerac cocktail, using Hennessy - it's delicious cocktail to sit back and savour.
For people coming to Belfast for the first time, what are your recommendations?
Obviously, I’m biased but I'd say Bullitt for food and drink – our restaurant Taylor and Clay is probably one of the best steak houses in Belfast, and the drinks and banter aren’t bad either!
I’d also recommend they check out the Belfast street art tour. The city has such a rich history when it comes to murals, but the street art here in recent years has had such an impact on the look and feel of the city centre – moving away from political murals to more contemporary designs that feel more fitting for the city Belfast is today.
The Hit the North Street Art Festival with Hennessy introduced me to so many cool artists. I’ve bought art and clothing off the back of the artists I’ve discovered. There’s so much incredible artistic talent here.
How important is creativity for your work?
It’s crucial. This industry is steeped in history and tradition but innovation is key to the evolution of venues. We have to be creative to keep our customers interested and coming back.
In the past, people would’ve gone on to bartend in London, New York and other big cities, but increasingly we’re seeing people in the Belfast scene being given the space to be creative in their work.
How did you first get into bartending and when did you know that this was going to be the career for you?
When I first moved to Belfast, I started working in the bar at Queen’s University Student Union. Initially, it was just a part time bar job while I was studying. Then, one thing led to another and I decided to stay in hospitality.
I had a brief period where I did some office work, then took a career break and moved to Australia. That's how I got back into the industry; that experience helped me reconnect and reignited my passion for hospitality. I haven’t looked back since.
How do you mix things up?
Most of my inspiration comes from everyday things. I might be walking down the street and see something and be like, ‘Oh, there's an idea’. Say for example, I see a blackberry bush while I'm walking to work, I'm instantly thinking how it could go into a cocktail.
I write down notes on my phone whenever inspiration strikes me like that. It’s a very long list at this stage. It's also when you’re having a conversation with another bartender, and you ask ‘what do you think of this idea’ that it can start something and help you move forward.
What sparks your creativity outside of bartending?
I dabble in many different things. I love fermentation. I started playing around with different fermentum techniques about six or seven years ago and just like playing about, because I wanted to try something different. I make lots of hot sauces. I also make Kimchi and sauerkraut. One of my favourite things to make is lacto fermented blueberries, which I enjoy in porridge in the winter. They’re delicious!
Once you get started with fermentation, you can really get hooked very quickly. It’s so easy to make things like your own ginger beer, then you can experiment, infuse it with different flavours. Blueberry ginger beer was a discovery I made from playing around with fermentation and flavours.
I try and champion zero waste as our goal in the bar. So, I use as much of the ingredients and their by-products as I can. For example, if I was doing a drink with gooseberries, we'd juice them but then would have the pulp leftover. I'd try use that to make an edible garnish. I think we should try to have as little waste as possible.
We hear you’re branching out into Hennessy-inspired grooming products too?
Yes! I make my own moisturising beard balm and hair products and recently, I made a new Hennessy and ginger beard balm. I used a combination of different natural oils – the likes of coconut oil and jojoba. It took me quite a while to figure out how to get Hennessy properly incorporated but I did some research. After some trial and error, I found a binding agent that worked and added some nice essential oils using ginger and lime fragrances to complement the Hennessy. My beard has never been as soft and it smells great!
Any career highlights? What's next?
I’ve had the chance to work with a number of great brands, including Hennessy. I love that spirit of collaboration. I’m really passionate about championing local ingredients and I've tried to bring this into my work as much as possible. I recently won Bartender of the Year at the Irish Whiskey Industry Awards as part of Belfast Whiskey Week, which was a nice nod to receive from my peers. I love the industry; I've been working in hospitality for a long time and love what I am doing now. Longer term, I would love to own my own venue. It’s something I've discussed with a good friend of mine and one day, we’d love to do something together.
Hennessy is proud to partner with some of Northern Ireland’s best bartenders; mixing things up, making their mark, near and far.
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