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The Ultimate Craft Cocktail Guide


Now that craft cocktails are the norm, drinking well has never been easier, nor the experimentation more exciting. We've spotlighted several cities that best represent what’s happening in mixology right now, plus the newest trends to look for on menus far and wide. Kudos to today's bartenders, especially in our region—they're really shaking things up.

Published on Feb 3, 2017

 

 BANGKOK 
DRINK, EAT, REPEAT

As mixing cocktails becomes as complicated as mastering a Julia Child recipe, it's little wonder that the foodie and quaffer cultures have collided to such delicious effect. Some of the city's best bars are found sharing space with the hottest kitchens. Here, three great Bangkok restaurants to get lit. — JENINNE LEE-ST.JOHN

TOUCHE HOMBRE
You need to get the chicken. No, not the pollo de habenero tacos—although, get those, too. We mean the chicken-shaped pitchers of booze that make the best party-pleasers to souse the city. The hip-hop soundtracked Touché Hombre in Bangkok's bursting Thonglor 'hood is the first outpost outside Oz of the beloved Melbourneborn taqueria. But it also bills itself as a mezcalería, rocking 15 types of mezcal and so many tequilas that no other bar in Thailand comes close, and cheekily tossing a Bloody Maria Oyster shooter on the food menu.

Such liquid ambition shouldn't be surprising from the Sapparot Group, which basically introduced Bangkok to the craft cocktail (Hyde & Seek) and precision-coffee bar (Rocket) cultures. Here, mixmaster Sebastian de la Cruz has dreamed up 10 delicious, original agave-based specialties; try the Nacho Libre, with El Jimador Reposado, Yellow Chartreuse, vermouth, lemon and pineapple. Two must-eats: the tuna tostadas, and the octopus and chorizo tacos, wrapped in executive chef Patrick Marten's authentic-Mexican corn tortillas.

As for the big chickens, they hold about 10 glasses of nectar, and options range from the easy-drinking La Paloma to the intoxicating El Chupa Cabra (or, Goat Sucker), packed with 12-centiliters of tequila and mezcal. For its hefty Bt6,950 pricetag, you could probably buy a real goat, but we doubt it would get along as well with the chicken. fb.com/touchehombrebangkok.

Touche Hombre
Touché Hombre's open-air upstairs. Chanok Thammarakkit.

BUNKER
Inventive, exploratory chef Arnie Marcella has run several Michelin-starred kitchens, but he was also a consultant at seminal New York speakeasy Death & Co, a pioneer of the neo-retro cocktail movement. His well-rounded CV makes him a living embodiment of this 'drink well-dine well' trend. And when you pair that with the expertise of beverage director Andreas Pergher—a sweetheart of a sommelier who believes in value-for-money wines and more than holds his own with booze and craft beers—you've got a drinking dream team.

Pergher continually tweaks the alcohol menus to match Marcella's ever-changing Contemporary American food offerings, of which the roasted baby carrots are heaven on a plate (also get the veal agnolotti with sweetbread, and the melty smoked wagyu beef rib). But in general, the cocktails in Bunker's dystopian-chic, concrete-walled, glass-lantern-lit, ground-level bar veer to well-done classics newly interpreted; we recommend the Tokyo Rose, starring sweet, fermentationphase nigori sake. The range of bourbons, ryes and mezcals will impress, yet these guys are passionate about gin, and for that we suggest you head up to the third-floor balcony bar, which focuses on the botanical elixir, along with a bunch of taps custom-made for their global selection of craft beers. Pour it on. bunkerbkk.com.

Bunker
Kiattikoon Auengkum mans the Bunker bar. Pornsak Na Nakorn.

IL FUMO
It's tempting to call the Il Fumo lounge a mancave
, what with the low lights, wood paneling, wall of whiskey, and buttery leather armchairs. But it's a woman who rules this roost, and a superstar woman at that. The reigning Southeast Asia Bartender of the Year is Il Fumo's bar director Pailin "Milk" Sajjanit, a firecracker personality with a dapper sense of style and the keenest intuition. She's put together a tome of a menu highlighting nouveau classics, such as the whole egg-whipped Sherry Flip that dates as far back as 1874, but you might as well just have a little chat with Sajjanit and let her decipher your desires.

To take home the crown from the Diageo World Class awards in Bali in 2016, she had to create four cocktails in eight minutes, so you know she's good at thinking on her feet. While she heads back behind the bar, let yourself sink into the leather and soak in the surrounds. Look into the light—specifically the big, glass meat locker displaying crimson hunks of beef from Galicia, Tuscany, Queensland… A head chef Nelson Amorim has concocted a textured menu, including piquillo peppers stuffed with burrata, marscapone and Parmesan atop eggplant purée, that perfectly complements all those cuts. Savor your Sherry Flip then adjourn to dinner, after which a Bulleit rye-Licor 43-orange bitters Louis Old Fashioned—and that excellent armchair—awaits. ilfumo.co.

il Fimo
Stuffed piquillo peppers, new on the Il Fumo menu. Pornsak Na Nakorn.

 


NEW FASHIONEDS 

Timeless classics have never been so timely. Spurred by ubiquitous speakeasies, an obsession with gin and whiskey, and a collective Midnight in Paris mentality, old favorites now occupy prime menu real estate. While the latest incarnations carry hallmarks of the original recipes, some are reborn with experimental, even unorthodox, twists.—KISSA CASTAÑEDA-MCDERMOTT

NEGORI
BITTERS, IN MANILA

Though the origins of this traditional aperitif are steeped in lore, the most widely accepted version is that Count Camillo Negroni, a swashbuckling ne'er-do-well who roamed the American Wild West as a rodeo cowboy, returned to his native Florence and asked for a stiffer version of his usual Campari-vermouth-soda drink, the Americano. Bartender Forsco Scarselli obliged him by swapping soda with gin; today, on this side of the world, mixologist Lee Watson, who also helms ABV, makes a fruitful update at his bar, Bitters. His Negroni's Love Child replaces gin with the slightly sweet Asti, before finishing it off with a few dashes of sour cherry bitters. The count would be sated. +63 2 942 9750.

JULEP
AKADEMI, IN BALI
The old-school-elegant julep took over verandas in the 1800s American South first as a breakfast drink, then became popular with everyone from U.S. presidents to Hemingway-era literati. This sweet sipper is synonymous with bourbon, but some barmen are swapping in other regional spirits. No one is more passionate about Balinese liquors than Potato Head Family head mixologist Dre Masso, who helms the open-plan Akademi bar at the Katamama hotel. Order his Jumping Julep, full of local ingredients like blimbing buluh juice, jack fruit purée, and orange-and-clove-infused arak (Bali's favorite rice-based moonshine). akademi-bar.com.

OLD FASHIONED
VEA RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE, IN HONG KONG
Suave, yet simple, classy but unpretentious, this preferred cocktail of the modern gentleman can trace its roots back to at least 1806. Antonio Lai, the lauded pioneer of "multisensory mixology," adds another layer of manliness to his version, the Bone Marrow Old Fashioned. Featuring umami-rich bone marrow-washed bourbon and dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters, it's a heady drink that's meant to be nursed. No need to order dinner; move right on to a digestif and coffee. vea.hk.

Vea
The Bone Marrow Old Fashioned, at Vea in Hong Kong. Courtesy of Vea Restaurant and Lounge.

OLD CUBAN
ONE-NINETY BAR ANF TERRAZA, IN SINGAPORE
Known as a cross between a French 75 and a mojito, the old Cuban retains some of the latter's flavor profile, but throws in bitters and champagne. When Audrey Saunders of New York's legendary Pegu Club created this tipple, she served it double-strained, garnished with a sugared vanilla bean. The One-Ninety F1, crafted by Proof & Company for the Four Seasons Singapore bar in time for racing season, adds coconut water and raspberries, meant to address the dehydration Formula One drivers feel after a race. fourseasons.com/singapore.

GIN FIZZ
JIN AT EBONY, IN GUANGZHOU
An effervescent cousin of a sour first whipped up in 1888 by Henry C. Ramos in New Orleans, this southern staple quickly spread and by the Roaring Twenties was fueling flapper parties across America. Despite its succinct ingredient list, the Ramos gin fizz is a labor of love, needing three to 10 minutes of vigorous shaking to bring it to frothy completion. For a modern version, head to the first-ever gin bar in southern China, which stocks 37 types of gin, including house-infused versions like Mandarin Oolong, Korean red ginseng, and goji berries and dates. Ask for the Honey Sage Gin Fizz, with a smoky bacon undertone in tune with the moreish palate of the Big Easy. mandarinoriental.com/guangzhou.

 

 PHNOM PENH 
LOCAL LIBATIONS

Bars in Cambodia's capital have long stuck to safe import staples, attempting to win over patrons with heady splashes of liquor and sugary bases. The tide is turning though, as inventive mixologists give their beverages unusual local twists. These hot spots incorporate homegrown ingredients, from fish sauce to Kampot's famed black pepper, to create fresh flavors. — HOLLY ROBERTSON

ELBOW ROOM
The menu slides out of a 45rpm record sleeve to reveal Volume One of the city's most au courant cocktail list. Each drink is either an ode to hip-hop, which plays all night long, or an intriguing story of the capital's chaotic streets. Mixologists go on pre-dawn foraging expeditions for butterfly pea flowers, which lend a shocking blue hue to house-made syrup.
DRINK THIS: Yuz Ya Head: jasmine tea-infused rum, sesame orgeat syrup, lime, coconut and yuzu foam. fb.com/elbowrm.

Elbow Room
Get cozy at Elbow Room. Courtesy of Elbow Room.

ALCHEMY GASTROPUB
In the heart of the emergent Russian Market area is a welcome addition to the small but growing nightlife segment. Though there's plenty of craft beer, you'll also find appetizing cocktails, each with components found in traditional Cambodian cuisine—from red-hot chili peppers to homemade pineapple palm sugar juice.
DRINK THIS: One Hot Minute: Khmer chilies, Monkey Shoulder whiskey and honey from Mondulkiri province. fb.com/alchemygastro.

LE BOUTIER
With hopes of rekindling the spirit of Cambodia's musical 'Golden Age' in the 1960s, it's fitting that the cocktail list at this stylish three-story bar on hip Street 308 includes nods to icons of the era such as crooner Sinn Sisamouth, and exclusively spins Cambodian rock 'n' roll.
DRINK THIS: 1,000 Tears of a Tarantula: Samai dark rum, kaffir lime, curry syrup, coconut, benedictine, pineapple and fish sauce. leboutier.com.

Le Boutier
Le Boutier's Ros Sereysothea, named for one of Cambodia's great crooners. Courtesy of Le Boutier.

NAANG AT MONSOON
A Cambodian cook would no doubt recognize much of the lineup in Naang's infused spirits collection, but would probably never have thought about combining them with alcohol, as this street-side watering hole does. The resulting drinks run the gambit from savory to spicy, but are almost always surprising.
DRINK THIS: Havana Heat: galangal- and cinnamon-infused Havana rum. fb.com/NaangAtMonsoon.

OENO WINE BAR
Hotel bars often lack inventiveness, but Villa Oeno's is defying that stereotype with aplomb. Using oak barrels imported from the U.S., the venue produces aged mai tais, negronis and more, before applying a smoking gun to add rich aromas moments before the drinks are served up to customers.
DRINK THIS: Ginger Mojito: light rum, ginger, fresh mint leaves, lime, sugar syrup and hibiscus tea. facebook.com/OenoWineBar.

Oeno Wine Bar
A full-bodied red at Oeno Wine Bar. Courtesy of Oeno Wine Bar.

 

 HONG KONG 
CRAFT CONCEPTS

In a city that already boasts some of the world's most sophisticated sipping options, bars are turning to new and increasingly innovative ways to stand out from the crowd. Here, four examples of bars at their idiosyncratic best. — HELEN DALLEY.

BESPOKE BITTERS
BITTERS & SWEETS
Central's hot spot mixes house-made bitters with a menu that's big on dessert: witness their cayenne-laced-dark chocolate and homemade graham cracker S'mores. The cocktail list is split between signatures and reimagined classics, with popular examples of the former including The Sesame, in which spiced rum and black sesame deliver a boozy take on a traditional Chinese dessert. An imaginative play on an Old Fashioned, The Smokey Joe mixes house-infused coffee bourbon and chocolate bitters while cherry wood smoke adds a final flourish. fb.com/bittersandsweetshk.

Bitters & Sweets
Bitters & Sweets serves a moreish S'mores skillet. Courtesy of Bitters & Sweets.

MIXOLOGY DÉGUSTATION
THE WOODS
A jaunt to The Woods today is sure to reveal a big surprise: a culinary take on mixology that appeals to serious foodies. At its eight-seater bar area, the prix-fixe menu is turned on its head as cocktails take center stage and food is relegated to small bites on the side. Its classic menu includes a Beet Negroni, with Barbie-pink house-infused gin, and the Dirty Dill Martini, with a zesty wallop of pickle brine. Past seasonal shakers have incorporated local ingredients such as snow peas and pea sprouts, as was the case with the gin-based Poddington Pea. No matter what you order, it's a veritable harvest bounty. thewoods.hk.

The Woods
A lively crowd goes into The Woods. Courtesy of The Woods.

HAVANA IN HONG KONG
DELIGATOR
With its distressed concrete walls, peeling paint, faux crocodile skin and funky art, this Wanchai newcomer channels Cuba's faded grandeur. The kitchen griddles up buttery, slow-roasted-pork-shoulder Cubanos. A live Cuban band plays on Saturday evenings, but the joint also hosts eclectic entertainment options from pop-up barbershops to Zoolander-themed disco boogie parties. Rum is, of course, a strong suit and appears in many guises. One of the best is appropriately retro: a strong, smooth daiquiri that’ll transport you to sunnier shores. fb.com/deligatorhongkong.

BROKERAGE BAR
WOLF MARKET
In his heyday, the real Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, would have relished buying rounds for his cronies at this stock market-themed bar, where punters watch an LED screen running across the ceiling with fluctuating drink prices to time their order to market crashes. While bankers may stick to champers, the cocktails at this Lan Kwai Fong hangout are imaginative, including the Golden Cross (Bulleit bourbon, Courvoisier V.S.O.P, maple syrup and coffee beans). As a bonus, they open at noon, so decadent financial types can play DiCaprio with a three-Earl Grey-infused-martini lunch. wolfmarket.com.hk.

Wolf Market
A Rosie Pink Sheet at Wolf Market. Courtesy of Wolf Market.

 

FAT-WASHED
COCKTAILS

Tequila's sultry big sister saunters into our hearts, giving the boot to that shot glass-sloshed, lime-and-salt-leavened, blue agave-based liquor. Mezcal distillers, who use piñas from 150 types of agave, smoke them in pits for days, infusing flavor from the wood used to heat the stones. This means the drink, like wine, can express a broad range of notes, from ash or walnut to citrus or chili. Recent years have seen bars such as Vasco in Singapore embracing the complex spirit in cocktails like the Mezcal '70, with Campari, sweet vermouth and chocolate bitters. A'Toda Madre, Manila's most extensive tequila bar, whips the smoky stuff into a margarita. Hong Kong is in the throes of a mezcal boom, with hotspots like Yardbird and Brickhouse churning out serious mezcal cocktails. One of the biggest selections in town is at Chino, a Japanese-Mexican fusion joint with 23 varieties. Sip them neat or order a Mezcal Old Fashioned, with smooth Los Danzantes A.ejo, agave and orange bitters.—Diana Hubbell

 

 MELBOURNE 
HIT THE BOTTLE

In Melbourne, bartenders are taking one of mixology's trends to new heights: cocktails that have been bottled or aged—sometimes both. Though the quest for convenience sparked the craze, it turns out premade drinks have their own special character. "You can achieve an amalgamation of flavors not possible through shaking or stirring," says Daniel Mason, manager of Joe Taylor. Here, five standard-bearers of the batch-cocktail revolution—all within bar-crawl distance. —Carrie Hutchinson

JOE TAYLOR
At its launch party, the bar staff mixed and bottled Palomas, a tequila-grapefruit highball, ahead of time for easy serving. The cocktail was a hit, and since then they've tacked on new batch drinks like the Cuba Negra: a blend of vermouths replicates cola, then the blend is carbonated, bottled and served with fresh lime. fb.com/joetaylorbar.

HEARTBREAKER
Founder Michael Madrusan—the man behind the award-winning bar Everleigh—cemented his reputation as one of Melbourne's mixology elite when he launched the Everleigh Bottling Co. in 2016. At this divey, neon-lit pub, EBC's "Famous Four"—Manhattan, martini, negroni and Old Fashioned—make up the entire cocktail menu. heartbreakerbar.com.au.

BOILERMAKER HOUSE
This intimate bar offers a single aged cocktail, the aptly named From the Solera: Aberfeldy whisky, rum, house-blended vermouth and a chocolate malted orgeat. It's created in a tiered, three-barrel solera, a centuries-old aging system used by Spanish sherry makers. As the mixture is bottled from the lowest barrel, each level is topped off from the one above, making the final drink a complex blend of batches old and new. boilermakerhouse.com.au.

Boilermaker House
Second Line Julep from Boilermaker House. Courtesy of Boilermaker House.

NOBLE EXPERIMENT
Countertop casks announce the serious aging intentions of this drinking den. Its extensive list includes a page of barrel- and bottle-aged specialties, all of which are left to steep for at least two months to let the flavors develop. Try the Spencer Takes Manhattan, a blend of bourbon, vermouth and blackberry liqueur aged in a black-raspberry-and-coffee-seasoned barrel. thenobleexperiment.com.au.

BAR LIBERTY
Co-owner Michael Bascetta prepares four different cocktails daily, decanting them into apothecary bottles for service. The list changes regularly, but the Briny Bay (vodka, olive brine, Murray River salt and bay-leaf oil) is a must-try when it's on the menu. It's a stylish, martini-inspired tipple to finish off an evening. barliberty.com.

 

SAVORY
CHARACTERS

Eshewing saccharine cosmos and daiquiris, today's most innovative bartenders are crossing over to the saline side. Grandma's favorite panacea gets a less-wholesome makeover with Chicken Soup for the Alcoholic's Soul, an umami-loaded creation from the mixologists at Hopscotch in Singapore. Pour the bone broth spiked with bonito-infused vodka warm from a tea kettle to cure what ails you. Over in Bangkok, the Tee Yai at WTF Bar & Gallery packs a punch courtesy of three types of hot sauce. Of course, the original and still one of the best of the genre remains the Bloody Mary, the Platonic ideal of which can be found at Bar Mimitsuka, a tiny, invitation-only watering hole in Tokyo. You'll find no outlandish garnishes here, just a single spartan cube of ice and spicy, liquid perfection. —Diana Hubbell

 

 

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Gunpowder Treason, at Boilermaker House, in Melbourne. Courtesy of Boilermaker House.
  • Pailin Sajjanit pours a Sherry Flip at Il Fumo. Pornsak Na Nakorn.
  • Chicken pitchers and fish tacos at Touché Hombre. Chanok Thammarakkit.
  • At Bunker, a French Martini. Pornsak Na Nakorn.
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