Lebanese winemaker Faouzi Issa is also the mastermind behind GinBey, Lebanon’s first premium gin. He talks to Joe Bates about his love of London and Manhattan, and how to make the most of offline time during long flights.
Joe Bates (JB): What have been some of the most memorable and interesting countries and places that your work has taken you?
Faouzi Issa (FI): Travelling for work has offered me so many opportunities to visit new countries and explore new cultures. I make wine as well as gin, and so I love visiting other wine regions around the world to see how other winemakers are working. I always enjoy visiting the US. I spent my honeymoon in Napa Valley tasting wonderful wines. The city I love visiting the most is Manhattan. I’ve been five times in three years, and I love the energy of the place – it’s on another level!
JB: What spirits other than gin do you like to buy in duty-free when travelling overseas?
FI: Whisky. I love looking in duty-free shops as they always have special blends and limited editions not present in local markets.
JB: In normal times, do you spend a lot of time on the road? If so, what travel tips do you want to pass on to our readers?
FI: Before the pandemic, I spent about a quarter of the year travelling. The most difficult thing when I’m on the move – apart from missing time with my family – is keeping on top of work and emails. One thing I do is create a folder on my laptop of files to read during passive travel time. I fill it with project ideas, articles, or reports to read, while I’m in the air and offline. It gives me thinking space, which I don’t get when I’m in the office as there are constant interruptions.
JB: If your flight was delayed, who would you most like to share a G&T with in an airport bar?
FI: Because my life is usually so hectic with work, travel and a young family, for me, the ultimate indulgence would be to enjoy my G&T alone!
JB: If you had 24 hours to spare, what city in the world would you most like to explore?
FI: I would love to visit Beijing. I have never been to China and it’s a country that fascinates me.
JB: We have a long 12-hour flight ahead. What book would you recommend we read to while away the time?
FI: I’m not much of a reader – I prefer to watch movies – but if I had to choose a book, then it would be something about outer space and the other planets.
JB: When we are back travelling again, where can travellers find GinBey, and what’s your favourite way of enjoying it?
FI: It’s available in Lebanon, of course, in some of Beirut’s top bars, and it’s available in the UK via Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange, and [online Middle East food and drinks stockist] Arabica. I like our ‘GinBey Rosé’, a lovely cocktail with rose syrup, which gives it a real Lebanese feel.
JB: Brand loyalty aside, what are some of your favourite gins and gin cocktails?
FI: I like Nordic gin, very fresh and subtle. I like it with lemon and champagne – a French 75.
JB: Tell us about a funny, strange or unusual thing that happened to you on your travels.
FI: I remember one flight I took from France going back to Lebanon around 15 years ago. I was sitting next to a woman who had the window seat. Suddenly she said to me, “How come there is another plane which has stayed so close to us the whole flight?” I looked out of the window and I saw the light on the wing – she had spent the whole flight thinking the light was from another plane flying 10 metres away from us! I had to try so hard not to laugh for the rest of the flight.
JB: Once international travel gets back to normal, what destination will be top of your list to return to?
FI: It would be London. It’s a city that I love coming back to time and time again. I love the fact that I always discover some new corner of it every time I visit. There are always new bars and restaurants to try. I love looking at the shelves in the drinks shops, too; London really is a window on the rest of the drinks world.