Finding the perfect mix

A sophisticated cocktail culture is emerging among expatriates and younger locals, writesLin Yang

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 5:41pm

It wasn't long ago that to get a good cocktail in Singapore, you would have to dress in your best club attire and hit the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling. Today, however, a plethora of cocktail bars and lounges are opening, tapping into the growing demand among expatriates and younger locals, many of whom studied overseas and gained an appreciation for a carefully crafted drink.

Spurring demand is the high duty on alcohol in Singapore. A beer at a bar usually costs S$14 (HK$87). At these rates, S$20 cocktails seem like a bargain.

"There's been a big explosion of the cocktail scene and, in my opinion, it's because people want to get more for their money," says Patrick Fok, who opened Bartini cocktail lounge last year. "If they're going to part with their money, they'd like to see something a little bit more special in return."

Fok's inspiration for Bartini came from a bar he worked at in Britain. The premises in Singapore's trendy Club Street focuses on artisan cocktails with bottles rarely found on this side of the world. For instance, the "Pornstar Martini" is sweetened with Chambord, a black-raspberry liqueur from France's Loire Valley, and the "Diplomat",

a rum-based cocktail, uses Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva,

a Venezuelan rum that is aged an average of 12 years, as its base.

Bartini is upscale without being pretentious. Its low-key atmosphere, where people in business suits mix with those in flip flops, is a point of pride for Fok, a Hong Kong native and anchor at Channel News Asia. The bar has plenty of mingling space, and has relaxing living-room-style furniture. DJs spin a retro blend of indie, soul, house and funk to create cocktail lounge vibe.

For those with a weakness for good Scotch whisky, head to B28 in the basement of The Club Hotel. Mike Soldner, who opened the bar last year, pioneered the whisky bar concept in Singapore.

The dim, yellow lighting and luxurious beige leather chairs give B28 a gentlemen's cigar room ambiance. Soft jazz, whether by a live band or through stereo, sets the mood for fine-whisky consumption. Each order is served in a whisky snifter with a glass of water.

Soldner recommends Littlemill, a lowland scotch aged for 19 years before bottling, for beginners. The whisky has a blend of flavours reminiscent of baking spices and citrus, and will leave the drinker "feeling warm, sweet and spicy all over", Soldner says. Or try the Laphroaig 1996 from the Scottish isle of Islay, a caramel sweet and warm, spiced flavour with hints of wood fire, barbecue and cough drops.

Besides whisky straight, B28's not-so-secret weapon is Aubrey Sim, who won the Diageo Reserve World Class Singapore bartending competition in 2009. She serves premium cocktails such as spruced up apple martinis and whisky sours.

Maison Ikkoku is also new on the cocktail scene, opened in February above a café and a menswear store of the same name. The greatest feature of this boutique-styled bar is the semi-alfresco seating on a balcony with a spectacular view

of the Sultan Mosque and the downtown Singapore skyline.

The bar's director, Ethan Leong, has 18 years of hospitality and bartending experience. He says his bar attracts an 80 per cent female clientele primarily because it tailors its cocktails to the customer's taste.

"This bar has no menu," Leong says. "Tell the staff what your preference is and the mixologist will design a cocktail that's beyond your expectations, or you can simply ask for a 'Surprise Me'."

The ingredients that go into some of Leong's creations attest to his attention to detail. Inspired by the cafe below, the "White French Maid" cocktail contains fresh milk and premium coffee beans. The bar's "Rose Seduction" has a sprinkling of lemon zest and rose petals across the top of the rose liqueur, gin and vodka-based drink.

As Singapore gains a reputation as an international hub, the tastes of locals have become increasingly sophisticated, spawning a renaissance in the cocktail scene that is ripe for exploration.