What a stirring time to be involved in Singapore’s cocktail scene. The city-state has come far from the days when the Singapore Sling was its only contribution to the cocktail world. Now, world-class events like the Singapore Cocktail Festival can attest to the scene’s epic boom, and the island’s bars consistently loom large in the rankings of Asia’s 50 Best Bars.
With cocktail culture brewing strong, it’s no surprise that the challenge to invent a new Singapore cocktail has captivated Singapore’s best bartending minds. Glenfiddich is one of the latest industry giants to get in on the action, and recently brought its World’s Most Experimental Bartender Competition to Singapore for the first time.
Launched globally in 2016, the competition challenges bartenders to push the boundaries of Glenfiddich’s single malts. Contestants must craft an experimental serve using the well-loved Glenfiddich 12 Year Old – that particularly sweet and earthy whisky, flexible enough to play well with diverse flavours in a cocktail. Besides taste, Glenfiddich is also looking out for innovative sights, sounds, and presentation. Each bartender pairs up with a local creative to present a novel drinking experience in their country’s national heats, with winners advancing to the global finals.
It’s a tall order, but Singapore’s top watering holes certainly brought their A-game. Singapore’s inaugural edition on August 19 saw five mavericks shaking it out: Benedict Poh of British-inspired joint The Monarchy, Chang Yue Shuen from the hip Anti:dote Bar, Chung Ya Han of Swissôtel’s sky-high SKAI Bar, Jekyll & Hyde’s Head Bartender Michael Foong, and Russell Ong of Atlas fame.
Homegrown whimsy was the order of the night, with participants drawing inspiration from all manner of local desserts, snacks, and staples. The crown of Singapore’s most experimental bartender went to SKAI Bar’s Chung Ya Han, who worked with health enthusiast Bella Koh to create Slow Cha – an elixir capturing the light, buttery goodness of traditional pineapple tarts.
Made from sustainably-sourced ingredients, Slow Cha is a brew to be sipped slowly and mindfully. In a refreshing take on the classic whisky-and-tea pairing, Chung’s creation is infused with light, floral oolong tea. A mellow blend of pineapple and wintermelon allows the whisky’s fruity notes to blossom, nicely balanced by a tart splash of lemon.
A ‘Singapore Fan Favourite’ was also voted in by event attendees, a title clinched by Break Fast in the Valley from Jekyll & Hyde’s Michael Foong and chef Dylan Ong. Their cocktail spices up the traditional Scottish creation of whisky-laced porridge with the audacious addition of bak kwa (salty-sweet Chinese pork jerky).
It takes some serious chops – and guts – to make bak kwa work with oatmeal, but Foong manages it brilliantly. Smoky bak kwa oil is whipped into a sinfully creamy froth, setting off the earthy sweetness of the thick oatmeal. The breakfast of champions indeed.
Other contestants played on the Glenfiddich with equal aplomb. Ben’s Essence of Chicken, created by Benedict Poh and illustrator Shaun EE, was a savoury tonic inspired by cup noodles – complete with gelatinous ‘noodles’ made from spice, vanilla, and honey. Chang Yue Shuen and photographer Ryan Mamba presented Kalos Maize, a saccharine mix of purple corn, red cabbage, and popcorn syrup, while Russell Ong and embroidery artist Teresa Lim served up Water of Life, a warm brew of longan and white fungus reminiscent of traditional Chinese desserts.
Ya Han and Bella will take their winning cocktail, Slow Cha, to the global finals in Scotland this coming November. Meanwhile, if you want a taste of these experimental serves, you can sample four out of five in the finalists’ home bars this September. From 1 to 30 September 2019, Slow Cha will be available at SKAI Bar, while Break Fast in the Valley and Ben’s Essence of Chicken will be served at Jekyll & Hyde and The Monarchy respectively. Kalos Maize will be available at Anti:dote Bar from 16 to 30 September 2019.
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