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Singapore’s hottest bartenders predict 2018 cocktail trends

Find out what's trending in the cocktail world from Native Bar's Vijay Mudaliar, Neon Pigeon's Symphony Loo, Vasco's Christian Hartman and The Secret Mermaid's Kelly d'Cruz.

Vijay Mudaliar, Bartender-owner, Native Bar

Vijay Mudaliar, 28, started his bartending career in 2008 as a student looking for spare cash. He was part of the opening team for Pollen, before heading on to set up The Library Bar. Vijay then moved on to work with Luke Whearty at Operation Dagger, a progressive, award-winning bar. The owner of the 10-month-old Native Bar is a pioneer in Singapore in searching for wild food resources alongside local produce, and incorporating them into cocktails. He has participated in countless bartending competitions and often places in the finals. In 2012, he won second place in the Diplomatico rum competition in Singapore, before winning it in 2014 and representing Singapore in the World Finals in which he was placed eighth.

Plans for 2018
We hope to grow our bar and stay true to what we believe in. I want to dig deeper into our culinary tradition, and look into the style of foods our grandparents used to eat, as well as the foods and traditions that we have forgotten.

I hope to work closely with more craft brewers and distillers too. Our bar is also a platform for local and regional craftsmen like carpenters and apron makers, and musicians. Our playlist consists of 85 per cent local music. We want to grow as a community and create awareness for a lot of these small craftsmen.

We are also working on our next menu. We are working with small farmers and edible gardens, and going direct to the source (to get our ingredients).

Forgotten foods for cocktails
Recently we found this thing called tapai, which is fermented tapioca (fermentation of this alcoholic paste is done using a yeast strain). The Malay community especially used to have it as dessert. It’s sweet, sour and slightly boozy. It’s really hard to find tapai these days. Besides that, we are also using herbs and spices like ginger, purse lane and turmeric leaves (for our drinks). To get these ingredients, we talk to a lot of people, such as the older generation, friends or neighbours who grow these herbs and spices.

Upcoming cocktail trends
Hopefully more people will do what we are doing, so that we can create a community. And we can bounce ideas off one another and grow faster. Hopefully more people will also get to talk about sustainability. We are very heavily focused on that. For instance, we use dried and pressed lotus leaves as coasters. We measure our rubbish every day, and we don’t use trash bags. We use metal straws, instead of plastic ones.

What’s your favourite cocktail or drink?
I always say my favourite drink is the next one. Recently I’ve been very interested in arrack. Different parts of the world make it differently. In the Middle East it’s made of anise – so you have drinks like ouzo and zambuca. In Sri Lanka and India it’s made of coconut flower sap. In Indonesia, molasses or red rice is used. It’s a very exciting spirit which I hope to see more of in the near future.

 

Symphony Loo, Group bar manager, Neon Pigeon

When Malaysian Symphony Loo was studying hotel design and project management in Switzerland, she became enamoured with the bartending craft, and worked at a few F&B establishments in Switzerland. After graduating with honours, she joined Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, and trained as a bartender at the hotel’s One-Ninety Bar by Javier de las Muelas. A year later, she moved to The Cufflink Club to develop her bartending skills. Loo joined Neon Pigeon as bar manager/head bartender in 2015. Currently, the 25-year-old is the group bar manager for The Dandy Partnership which runs Neon Pigeon, Fat Prince, The Ottomani, and Summerlong. Recently, Loo received the title of The Rising Star in Bar Awards Singapore 2017.

2018 trends in our cocktail scene
We see bartenders here using more local ingredients such as dragon fruit, pineapple, mangosteen, pandan and sugar cane in cocktails. Personally, I hope to see more focus on sustainability, as well as the full utilisation of ingredients in the drinks. Also, I would like to see more focus on the key elements, such as taste and fragrance. And garnishes should not be overdone.

New drink menus/ concepts in 2018
I have been working on the R&D for a project for months. It is a drinks menu which combines our regular customers’ favourite profiles or ingredients. We will simplify the preparation (for the drinks), using key elements and formulas.

I will also be focusing on rolling out a better, more systematic beverage programme for the group, in order to take the bar team to the next level. We will introduce new flavours such as rosemary, pineapple, and shiso leaves.

We will also make in-house limoncello and ginger beer, and create a series of highball cocktails. One of the things we will do is to clarify a drink like Bloody Mary and reduce it (to coax out the flavours), and also dehydrate it for garnishing. So it’s the same cocktail flavour but in a different format.

Plans for New Year’s Eve
Most probably working, and celebrating with our customers and team at one of our venues. It is always better to usher in the New Year, when surrounded by the people I’m close to.

 

Christian Hartmann, General manager and co-owner, Vasco

His affinity for cocktails began when he was 23. Hailing from Copenhagen, he was a business school student working part-time as the concierge of Hotel Fox in the city, and he also assisted at the bar helmed by mixologist Gromit Eduardsen. He went on to work at award-winning cocktail bar 1105. His studies later took him to Bangkok where he worked for Hyde & Seek bar, and cocktail consulting company Flow. Christian Hartman arrived in Singapore in 2013, where he joined The Cufflink Club (now defunct). About three years ago, he launched Latin American cocktail bar Vasco in HongKong Street. The 34-year-old recently took over the American-style bar at Boat Quay named Skinny’s Lounge.

 Trends in Singapore’s bar scene
Sustainability and simplicity are what I’ve noticed. Fewer but better ingredients are used by bars. And they also focus a lot on zero waste. By simplicity, I mean that more bars place emphasis on more narrow concepts and offer a more specialised focus. Less is more it seems.

Singapore’s cocktail trends in 2018
I hope that the rapid growth that we have seen in the past three to five years means that consumers have had the right amount of choices to be better educated and thereby have a better experience. When cocktail bars become a natural part of a city, they become less stiff and more of a casual environment. Everyone is drinking cocktails today. It’s taken our industry here five to six years to educate people, and we are now at a point where guests can relax in bars without feeling intimidated by the new things being offered. On top of that, most bartenders have stopped taking themselves too seriously. We are just serving drinks and showing people a good time. I’d like
to see that continue even more.

Vasco’s 2018 plans
In 2018, we have plans for a massive menu change for both drinks and food. We are researching right now and will still have our main inspiration from Latin America. The drinks will be merged with teas, infusions and fresh fruit. We are also looking into a new concept for a weekly changing set menu that will be available only on a certain day. Other than that, we will keep throwing fun parties and have live music once a month.

Kelly D’Cruz, Head bartender, The Secret Mermaid

The 25-year-old Singapore specialises in pairing American craft spirits with a little bit of the unexpected. She enjoys experimenting with flavours, and favours fresh ingredients and homemade syrups for her cocktail creations. To have more in-depth knowledge of the world of spirits, she constantly does research on small distilleries from the US. When she’s not behind the bar, the vegan can often be found exploring the world of fantasy fiction, with a Koval tonic in hand. She also manages The World Is Flat, a new cocktail and craft beer bar at Terminal 1 of Changi Airport.

Trends in Singapore’s cocktail/bar scene
The Singapore bar scene is amazing. It’s so vibrant and everyone is doing something different and exciting. I think there is still a lot of focus on homemade creations. Bartenders are doing some crazy stuff like fermenting, distilling, making liqueurs, vermouth, bitters, etc. I also love the focus on spirits. Many customers know spirits just as well as their bartenders and it’s a great environment to learn together and exchange knowledge.

Personally, I love to taste unexpected combinations and new flavours in cocktails.

New drink concepts in 2018
I’m in the process of working on a new menu with my team. We will utilise cooking as an inspiration, for instance, using fruits and veggies in the menu. And we will utilise every part of the fruit – be it avocado, watermelon, pumpkin, beetroot, coriander or dill. I’m hoping to work on some new concepts as well. I am ending the year filled with inspiration and energy and I cannot wait to bring that to any project I take on! At The Secret Mermaid, we focus a lot on ensuring that whoever walks into the bar has a good time. If they have a good drink as well, that’s even better.

Plans for New Year’s Eve
I am hoping to spend New Year’s Eve at home in my most comfortable pyjamas, with my mum, my sisters (who live in Bangkok and the UK) and my dog. I rarely get to see my sisters as they both live abroad so I cherish the moments we do get to spend together. That is all I need. And maybe a good gin and tonic.