Asia’s Mix Masters
Tippler Jeninne Lee-St. John distills the mix of cocktail madness down to a few must-visit bars.
Published on Jul 16, 2015
Whose libation innovations are worthy of your time and money? Mixology is so close to the saturation point in our major cities that it's getting downright difficult to decide. Luckily for us traveling tipplers, a global group of expert imbibers has made it its mission to point the way.
Diageo World Class conducts months of bartending boot camps and elimination rounds leading up to its annual Global Finals. The Southeast Asia final round was recently held in Bangkok, and it was the capstone thus far of the nascent career of Pailin Sajjanit, who told me without a hint of cheek that she was inspired on her path by the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail. Pailin, who happens to sling drinks at one of my favorite Bangkok restobars, Vesper (vesperbar.co), was one of four who represented Thailand in these regional finals. Though she did not take home the gold, the pint-sized pint-pourer has no complaints: "Competition is the most important part of a bartender's life," she told me, while trying to drag me to the afterparty for more beverages. "You learn new skills, and become friends with each other."
Direct from Pailin, here's a new skill for you: mix Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve and Talisker with homemade chili bitters; add lemon zest, cinnamon, and cardamom syrup.
I can also share (below) some delicious-but possibly insane-recipes from the two gents who were crowned the best bartenders in Southeast Asia: Shawn Chong, of Kuala Lumpur's secret saloon Omakase + Appreciate (fb.com/omakaseappreciate), and Steve Leong, who playfully accessorizes his concoctions at Tess (tessbar.com) in Singapore. These two are Clark Kent wunderkinds, nice and unassuming ‘til they step behind the bar and bust out their drinks-making superpowers.
Lest you fret that we'll leave you hanging in other cities, here's the list of the country winners joining Shawn and Steve for the World Class Global finals-or, whose bars you should visit now before they totally blow up:
- Thailand. Ton Sudthipongse of Why 97, Bangkok
- Vietnam. Rex Tu of Urban Kitchen and Bar, Saigon
- Hong Kong and Macau. Antonio Lai of Quinary, Hong Kong
- Indonesia. Ayip Muhammad Dzuhri of Sofitel Nusa Dua, Bali
I ran into the last member of this mix-master crew, Philippines champ Ken Bandivas, at one of the many bars lining the awards party. He recognized me from ABV (abv.ph) in Manila, which I had visited no less than three months prior-though, admittedly, the drinks and the vibe were so good (not to mention the clandestine location, behind an elevator shaft in burger joint, so clever) that I went twice. Still, I was surprised he remembered my Negroni order. But I guess that's exactly the kind of place you want to go...where everybody knows not only your name but also your preferred poison. -Jeninne Lee-St. John
Diageo World Class Global Finals 2015 will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, August 28 through September 5.
Shawn Chong's Freedom Hoedown:
Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, 45ml
Caol Ila Scotch, 10ml
Lemon juice, 10ml
Boont American Ale Reduction, 10ml
Sugar syrup, 5ml
Shake and serve in a stainless steel mug.
Steve Leong's Blessings from Johnnie
Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, 50ml
Homemade sherry with imperial mandarin, 20ml
Plum sauce and jasmine essence
Maple syrup, 5ml
Stir and serve in a stem glass garnished with smoked salmon, cabbage and a lion dance puppet