There’s a new buzzword in Hong Kong: bespoke cocktails.
While the term “bespoke” isn’t anything new, it’s fast becoming popular to use it for the bartending industry.
“I haven’t heard [the term ‘bespoke’] until this year in Hong Kong,” says Joseph Boroski, the brains behind the J. Boroski, the first cocktail space in Hong Kong operating without a menu. “And it just kept going, coming up over and over.”
The name refers to a off-the-menu creation that a bartender makes specifically for one customer. One unique customer, one unique drink.
While serving customers off-the-menu, tailor-made drinks is not a novel concept, it is becoming the norm. The reason? Blame it on the fast-paced jet-setting lifestyle favoured by Hong Kong’s elite. With frequent travel comes worldly tastes, and with that, a desire for a heightened experience.
Jackie Lam, the assistant bar manager at Salvatore bar at Maison Eight, says there has been a significant increase in the number of customers asking for something off the menu. Around 40 per cent of his clientele now ask for a bespoke creation. Five years ago, he estimates that was less than 10 per cent.
“You will see customers … requiring something more and more qualified – they want more substance,” Lam says. “They [are] seeking more interesting or unique cocktails from the bartenders.”
“Hong Kong people really have a good feel of what is luxurious and good and the best,” Boroski adds. “[And] having a refined audience is pretty important to be able to understand what we’re doing.”
At the heart of the bespoke trend is the undeniable appeal of being privy to a personalised luxurious experience.
“Our spirits, our bottles, are all really great, top-shelf quality products,” Boroski says, noting that many of the bottles come from microdistilleries and smaller batch distilleries.
“Everything [else] is freshly made. The whole team comes in nice and early every day, preps making their own syrups, cordials, bitters, sous vide liqueurs and slow-press juices, and lots of stuff.”
Not only do the bartenders have to fully understand how to mix ingredients in order to play around with tastes and textures to come up with something unique, they also sometimes have to take on the role of a detective in order to understand how best they should interpret the customer’s demands.
“It’s not just about making a drink, but creating an experience – and each person is uniquely different in his or her own way,” says Antonio Lai, the creative force and brains behind some of Hong Kong’s hottest bars including Quinary, Origin and, most recently, VEA Lounge. “Naturally, moods and tastes change, and bespoke cocktails exist to accommodate these individual whims.”
Boroski explains: “Bartenders go through training to learn how to make drinks and stuff, but guests don’t. [Distinguishing what they want] is part of the job… and that’s why repertoire is important.”
To do that well consistently is what elevates it into a high-end experience – and warrants its own term.
“[The whole experience] is quite intimate, because the mixologist essentially has to come up with something on the spot – and quickly,” Lai agrees.
“All in all, it’s a challenge.”
Watch: Joseph Boroski of J. Boroski cocktail space demonstrates how to make a bespoke cocktail
Beer o’clock: four pubs to hang out with your friends over good food and drinks
If all you want is a low-key night out with a group of friends, then nothing can beat a chill evening filled with good food and excellent beer. Our top picks below:
The Globe. With a wide variety of international beers, a solid selection of grub and fun games, there’s something for everybody.
Frites. We don’t know who came up with the idea of pairing mussels with Belgian beer, but we’re not complaining. Frites also boasts the largest selection of Belgian beer in Hong Kong.
Little Creatures hailing from Australia. This restaurant-slash-bar is all about providing good food with in-house craft beer within a spacious, hipster environment.
Captain’s Bar at Mandarin Oriental. An oldie but a goodie, this bar consistently provides the best service in town.
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