Playing bartender at house parties can be fun.
One moment you’re putting together a G&T, and the next you’re eight drinks deep, serving spherified Cointreau shots infused with deconstructed tarantula venom and yuzu jam to your guests. At least that’s what you think you’re doing. Some things are best left to the pros.
But Brett Bayly wants you to take that energy and curiosity out into the good Singapore night, to explore all the experimental tipple that our vibrant cocktail scene has to offer. In town to organise the national leg of the World’s Most Experimental Bartender 2019 competition, the regional brand ambassador for Glenfiddich is here to prove that a night out should be so much more than a posh-nosh purist exercise in getting tipsy.
Aimed at empowering bartenders to push the boundaries of their creativity, the competition will challenge five bartenders from iconic Singaporean watering holes, who’ve each partnered with a local creative:
Benedict Poh of The Monarchy (think high-society, with major street cred); Michael Foong from the understatedly hip Jekyll & Hyde; Chung Ya Han from Swissôtel’s refreshingly modern SKAI Bar; Russell Ong of Atlas – which needs no introduction, honestly -and Chang Yue Shuen from the whimsically inventive Anti:dote.
They’ll be pairing with illustrator Ee Shaun, photographer Ryan Mamba, health and wellness enthusiast Bella Koh, chef Dylan Ong and embroidery artist Teresa Lim, to take single malt beyond the bartending norms and invent brilliant new experimental serves, ranging from maggie-mee inspired tonics, to mouthwatering pineapple tart cocktails.
Popspoken chats with Bayly on the sidelines, about the craft, the cocktail movement and saving the world from aliens.
What was the last experimental thing you did lately?
I actually competed in the WMEB Competition last year in Manila, which was a really exciting process. Since then, having taken on the Brand Ambassador role for Glenfiddich, I’ve been really trying to experiment with the types of training sessions I do with the industry, to see how I can create a more unique, and better understanding of what makes our whisky so special.
My favourite session I’ve been playing with, breaks a tasting session down using colour, rather than traditional whisky tasting methods of nosing and sipping alone.
Utilising a colour spectrum to help people new to single malt, and really have a chance to try to find the key characteristics of our whisky in a more approachable, less formal type style.
What does Singapore’s cocktail scene bring to the table – how is it unique?
Singapore’s scene from what I’ve really had a chance to see, is all about pushing the boundaries.
It’s truly unique for the region and is competing with the industry pinnacles of London and New York for its creativity, excitement to explore, and also the wide variety of South East Asian produce.
Singapore is a real melting pot of cultures, which bring their unique culinary cultures also, so we really are spoilt for choice with the serves that are showing up.
I think the huge blend of local Singaporeans, working alongside some top imported talents has helped develop something you just don’t see elsewhere in the world.
There’s been a growing resurgence in the craft of cocktail-making, and drinking, especially amongst the younger crowd. Why do you think this is so?
I watched this really kick off while I was still living and working in Australia. I think people behind the bar got a little sick of the outdated techniques of the early 2000’s and wanted to drive a more artisan experience.
It also helped having a massive influx of TV shows and movies that were centred around key points in time where this style of drinking was the vast majority, with limited knowledge and limited developments in technology to support the desires to create unique syrups and spirits.
I also put it to the notion that a 3 part drink, being very simple, can also be very easy to ruin.
An over diluted Manhattan for example is possibly one of the most heartbreaking things a bartender can serve to their guests, considering in its simplest form, is rye whiskey and Vermouth Rosso.
Drinkers are often creatures of habit, how would you encourage bartenders and consumers to be more experimental with their options?
I think people are naturally curious, which definitely helps with this.
For the bartenders, it’s really about being the best version of you, within your craft. Who wants to settle for knowing a small handful of simple, easy to make drinks? Those are your back pocket drinks for the nights you’re getting slammed behind the stick.
As for the consumer, it’s a really exciting time to be sitting in such an amazing selection of bars, all bringing their own unique offerings.
I love my local, but it’s always a good time going out of my comfort zone to discover some of the more unusual experiences I wouldn’t normally look for.
The bartending community in Singapore is truly a talented bunch, so why not put them to the test and really see if the vast awards, notoriety and banter is as good as you’ve heard?
Three cocktails a novice can whip up for a house party, using Glenfiddich.
Ok, first and easiest is a classic Highball, it’s one part Glenfiddich 12, to three or four parts soda water, with a slice of lemon, easy peasy.
If they want to knock the booze up a little, then maybe try one I’ve been playing with recently while I’ve been doing guest shifts, a twist on the classic Boulevardier. 25ml Glenfiddich 15, 25ml Lilet Blanc, & 25ml Campari. Simply add all three shots into a mixing glass, and stir over ice until you like the flavour dilution.
Finally, If you’re looking to mix for a bit more of a party vibe, you can’t go wrong with a Glenfiddich 15 Daiquiri. I love this drink, because it’s easy and fun, and doesn’t really have the ability to offend.
My take on this is 45ml Glenfiddich 15, 20ml fresh pressed lime, and I like them a little sweeter so 15ml sugar syrup, which is just equal parts (1:1) water and sugar. For this one, pour it all in a shaker, add ice, give it a good hard shake, and then double strain into a chilled coupe, add a lime wheel if you’re feeling fancy!
Underrated skills that all great bartenders should have in their arsenal:
Oh this list could go on forever, but I think foresight is the key!
I’ve been 6 deep in the bar, 25 min wait on cocktails, 45 dockets waiting with 4 cocktails a piece, and watched the new guy just crumble next to me.
A great bartender should be able to build, shake, stir, blend, and garnish at least 5 to 6 drinks at a time. The one by one style just doesn’t work, because the second you get more than 3 drinks up, you’re already in trouble and will spend the night chasing your own table.
The other big one for me, is keeping your station clean! That 5 seconds to wipe things down and put stuff back where you got it, will save you 10 seconds on each drink.
Aliens have invaded the earth – name a drink that would you make to appease them, and save the world.
Now we’re getting out of the box. I think if I was looking to save the world with a drink, I’d have to go with something like a blue pina colada, because no one has ever frowned or been angry when they’ve had one of those put in-front of them!
Honestly, how could you, it’s a party in a weird glass, it’s blue, it’s fun, it tastes delicious, and I doubt they’d appreciate something like a Negroni.
What do you hope the future of bartending looks like a decade from now? What can we do to make it happen?
I have no idea what the future holds! If you’d asked me 4 years ago what a rotovap was, how to make a distillate, what a smoking gun did, I’d be clueless!
The industry has jumped so far ahead in the last 5 years, and with the level of skill people are developing, it’s only going to get bigger.
I think the competitive nature of the industry means that within 10 years, we’ll most probably start seeing the demand for the top industry leaders will be so high, that you’ll start to see bartenders making some serious money, more so than they do already which is a pretty wild thought.
What I hope is that the industry just makes a point to try to support each other, build the community, and look after each other!
The only people who understand the trials and tribulations of working behind a bar for 12 hours a night, 5 to 6 days a week, are the people standing next to you, and down the road, and around the corner. Take care of one another, and the calibre will naturally grow!
Raising the Bar is a new Popspoken series by Kenneth Chia, for kindred spirits by kindred spirits, about kindred spirits on our sunny island. As the saying goes – it’s 5pm somewhere in the world.