Singapore’s cocktail scene is so much more than a Sling at the Raffles Hotel. As Asia’s wealth and culture has risen, so too has its confidence and with it a growing cocktail scene that is charting its own course. Nowhere is this more true than Arthur Piffoux’s adopted equatorial home of Singapore. He has been talking to the city state’s leading barkeepers about emerging trends and the contrasting flavours of East and West.
There is a common feeling that Singapore is the world’s cocktail mixing pot. Ethan Leslie, head barman at Maison Ikkoku, says that his team is ‘here to serve the world’ and that might well be true. Large numbers of Americans, Europeans and Asians coming together for trade has lead to a fusion of cuisine and an explosion of new mixologists pushing the boundaries of cocktail making. His colleague, Aiken,
points out that Singapore’s ‘history as a global trading post provides ready access to fresh, tropical fruit and a wealth of specialist Asian spices that are not easy to obtain in the West’. Maison Ikkoku is just two years old but it already has a strong reputation and a list of regulars to match. Alex Tan believes that ‘it is because we blend for individuals, on the spot, to their taste’.
The concept of individuality is continued at Bar Stories, where like Maison Ikkoku, there is no cocktail menu at all. Head barkeeper, Dave Koh explained that he and his team ‘actually craft cocktails to our guests’ exact flavour preferences. Americans prefer dominant spirit flavours, sours and classic cocktails. While the French have a palate that is closer to Singaporeans, a little sweeter, more fruit led and refreshing’. Sham Hussin of the Vogue Club holds a contrasting view. He believes that the humid equatorial climate makes a big difference between the Western and Singaporean palate. Away from the cocktail bars he says the ‘locals tend to drink straight up because they are more exposed to bottle sales and the culture at most bars is to make an easy buck. There are not enough bartenders in Singapore confident enough to up-sell a cocktail but that is changing’. ‘Now it seems like every bartender wants to be a mixologist and the flairtending scene has slowed noticeably’.
Back at Bar Stories, Dave Koh points out that ‘it isn’t all about exploring new flavours. There is a real passion for pre-prohibition era, forgotten classics’. These tend to be American with a big spirit flavour and an extensive mix of bitters. He continued, ‘the extension of this trend includes classic Japanese craft cocktails like with an almost fetish like obsession with Japanese technical detail such as the “hard shake” and “ice ball carving”. It goes right down to the bartender’s posture’.
In any city the cocktails are as much a derivative of contemporary culture as they are about traditions and the availability of ingredients and the talent to create something special from them. Dave Koh agrees and says that it is not all about cocktails, ‘It’s about the bars too.’ Speakeasies are popping up across the city and are usually characterised by a non descript entrance that requires a password to enter. ‘Drinkers are attracted by the underground culture and the need to be known and in the know’. Cocktails in Singapore are as much about fun as they are about sophistication and The Library, Jigger & Pony and the Horse’s Mouth are all cool underground spots that exemplify the zeitgeist.
This week’s cocktail is The Ruby of Haji Lane:
Gin muddled with raspberries & ginger
Giffard organic 4 berry liqueur
Goji berry liqueur