As cocktail lovers in Singapore (and the world) continue to thirst for new experiences, bars are stepping up to the plate to oblige.
With Singapore playing host to Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2019 on May 9 and the annual Singapore Cocktail Festival from May 10 to 12, expect a martini overdrive as regional and international bar experts fly into town for guest shifts and masterclasses.
In preparation of the big weekend, we find out what the industry movers and shakers foresee as the major trends driving our cocktail experience this year.
Bars such as Manhattan have already replaced plastic straws with reusable glass versions, and are aiming for minimal or zero waste behind the bar. “Bartenders are putting greater emphasis on the entire process, from drinks creation to serving to guests, to have as little impact on the environment as possible,” says William Drew, director of content for Asia’s 50 Best Bars.
Ricky Paiva of Cook & Tras Social Library at Six Senses Maxwell aligns his tipples with the hotel group’s push for sustainability – alongside pioneers like Operation Dagger (#23 on World’s 50 Best Bars). For example, he looks to the leftovers from adjoining restaurant Yellow Pot’s kitchen for ideas to make all sorts of infused liqueurs. His #FindTheLockerRoom in Bangkok, for one, utilises an entire ear of corn, from homemade corn milk to re-fermented leftover corn fibre for a cracker, in the Buttered Corn.
Play with your food
The sustainability ethos is motivating bartenders to look for ingredients beyond the standard supply chain. NATIVE’s (#13 on World’s 50 Best Bars) claim to fame is owner Vijay Mudailar’s commitment to locally-sourced or foraged herbs. Likewise, Kamil Foltan of IB HQ, an extension of the Indigenous Bartender, uses cascara tea (made of dried coffee fruit skins) in his Old Qisher ($20).
“Bartenders like myself are moving past creating only sweet or sour cocktails,” says Agung Prabowo, founder of The Old Man Hong Kong (#5 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars).
“We’re pushing boundaries with ingredients no one thought would work in a drink years before. Crazy ingredients, crazy cocktails, but presented in a simple way guests can enjoy.”
One of Mr Prabowo’s latest creations illustrate his mad scientist approach: A Moveable Feast #1964 uses a rotary evaporator to infuse basil-tomato seeds, cherry tomatoes and spices for a layered drink adorned with an oyster leaf coated in cheese wax.
Low in ABV
“Waking up without a hangover,” jokes Denise Tan, who handles customer marketing for Bacardi-Martini Singapore Pte Ltd, when asked about the rising demand for low ABV (alcohol strength by volume) drinks.
Colin Chia, founder of bars such as Nutmeg & Clove (#33 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars) in Singapore, agrees wholeheartedly. “Sometimes we just want to enjoy the drink, atmosphere and company at stunning places like Atlas. A quality drink, such as a Bianco Vermouth Highball, with just a wee bit of booze, works.”
It’s not just about adding sugar syrups and mainstream mixers. Bartenders are making sure you’re getting the same experience even with a less potent mix. “They are going the extra mile with quality ingredients and craft mixers in a beautiful chilled glass and complementary garnish,” elaborates Ms Tan.
THIS IS CRAB! is a drink by five-year-old bar Nutmeg & Clove, which conjures up a flower crab and tomato consommé with dry and Bianco Vermouth. It comes with caviar atop an oyster leaf for added effect.
Meanwhile, the Botanical by Anton Gornev, bar manager at speakeasy b-bar, is a light combination of Martini Riserva Speciale Ambrato, Suze Gentian and topped with grapefruit tonic water.
Back to basics
“We are seeing a return to the classics and an emphasis on minimalist, non-gimmicky cocktails,” says Steve Schneider, partner and principal bartender of Employees Only Singapore. Consumers are more focused on what’s inside the glass, rather than how it is served. Think their bestselling EO Gimlet. It improves on the original recipe of just two ingredients with navy strength gin and housemade kaffir lime cordial.
Adds Andrew Loudon, head bartender and group bar manager of Tippling Club, who believes classics stand the test of time. “It has already done so for about 150 years, from when Jerry Thomas published the first cocktail recipes in his book, Bartender’s Guide. And it continues to be the basic formula from which we create new, innovative cocktails.”
The successes of Atlas (#4 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars), perennial brunch spot The White Rabbit and Cin Cin show one thing – we love gin. The cocktail renaissance a decade ago reintroduced the spirit, and amazingly it is still high on our radar, from the ubiquitous London dry to Japan’s more delicate versions.
“Gin is wonderfully versatile. It’s complex with light flavours, allowing for many creative concoctions,” explains Samuel Ng, ambassador and trade relations manager in Asia for Four Pillars Gin, an artisan distillery in Yarra Valley, Australia.
They include Joe Alessandroni of Junior the Pocket Bar’s martini with wasabi and-tomato-flavoured gin, which he created for the Four Pillars Australian [Gin] Open, Asia competition, which concludes at Jigger & Pony on 8 May.
Watching your diet? You might want to skip that seemingly modest Gin & Tonic, which can easily knock you back 200 calories. More are jumping on the fitness bandwagon so it’s hardly surprising there’s a demand for drinks with a lower calorie count.
Brands are becoming more innovative. Notably, Ketel One Botanical uses only 100 per cent non-GMO grains and natural fruit essences for a flavoured vodka that’s only 73 calories and zero carbs per serving. This is a reduction from the 96 calories in the original Ketel One, not to mention the other sugar-fuelled flavoured vodkas available in the market.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.
Photos: Cook & Tras Social Library, IB HQ, Nutmeg & Clove, B-bar, Tippling Club & Ketel One