Baijiu, China’s famed “white liquor“, is a cultural icon and the world’s most consumed spirit, holding a central role in Chinese social and culinary traditions, which is gaining popularity in global mixology circles due to its full-bodied, fruit-flavoured profile. The high ABV alcohol of 40 – 60%, typically consumed by older generations is fast getting a fresh remake by the younger generation, through twists in complex cocktails, whilst not sacrificing its flavourful aromas.
Crafted through a meticulous fermentation and distillation process, baijiu is primarily made from sorghum, although other grains like rice and barley may contribute to its diverse flavors, and is deeply intertwined with social interactions and celebrations in China. Share a toast, with a customary exclamation 干杯 (“dry the glass”) or bottom’s up; an ubiquitous way to tip fortune in your favour.
That communal aspect is seen at recent celebrations at integrated hotel, Resorts World Sentosa, in an exclusive pop-up partnership with its Michelin-starred restaurant table65, Peruvian Chinese restaurant CHIFA! and Bar Sanyou. The collaboration includes cocktails co-created by the brilliant minds behind Hope & Sesame by Bastien Ciocca, the only bar from China in World’s Best Bars 2023 list as well as Bar Sanyou’s Head Mixologist, Heaven Zhang.
The result of this creative collision is six unique alcoholic concoctions with a captivating flavour profile. Enjoy a taste of the East, feel the rhythm of the West, as you step into the hotel this festive season to meet the “Bai Jiu Magician,” Bastien, in his inaugural collaboration debut at Resorts World Sentosa.
With these accolades under his belt, Bastien remains humble and thoughtful. He shares his thoughts on setting industry standards by benchmarking his favourite bars across different markets, such as Hong Kong, London and Singapore, to stay ahead of Baijiu trends.
Popspoken: Working across three continents must have provided you with a diverse perspective. How has this international experience influenced your approach to the food and beverage industry?
Bastien: Having worked in Switzerland and Canada, Asia provides a different perspective and clientele. I grew up in a F&B environment, with my father’s restaurants and was thereby influenced since a young age, as we travelled to very good restaurants and I was constantly trying different things. With this background, it naturally makes me curious and passionate about the F&B industry.
Of course, there are specific requests from different countries. For example, in China where I have been working for the last 10 years, there are not many regulars. This is unlike in Switzerland, where we have regulars coming into the bar four to five times a week, ordering the same drink in the same way. In China, they have a penchant for something different. It is always interesting to witness such cross-cultural differences.
Popspoken: Can you share with us the inspiration behind opening the first “speakeasy” cocktail bar in Guangzhou, Hope & Sesame?
Bastien: Hope & Sesame was not born from long-planning. It actually arose from a meeting with my former school mate, of whom graduated from the same hotel school as me; when we again met by chance in Guangzhou. We wanted to create something.
Shortly after, we found a location in an unknown, hidden party of the city and everything fell in place together. The space was not too big, with 30 seats at the start and gradually, the concept grew. We added a jazz room, a fermentation space and even a garden.
Popspoken: Share with us some insider tips for those hoping to become a culinary icon, what are some of the best stories you have seen directly in relation to guest interactions?
Bastien: We are constantly trying to improve creativity, speed of service and every single detail of what makes a guests’ experience great. When you have a lot of passion to try different and new ways of making things, you slowly grow into becoming more knowledgeable about the subject. Soon, people will ask you for more ideas and opinions, which is when you become a role model for the bar industry.
In my opinion, aside from bar nominations, it is more important to be an almost an older brother to help the bar industry to reach where we think it should be. We are not here to give a lecture or to be stiff. In my time running Hope & Sesame, we have seen guests from Japan fly down to Guangzhou just to visit our bar. Those are really special moments. It is truly humbling.
Also, when you hear people in the industry tell you it is one of their favourite places, knowing they have been to many places, we feel proud of our achievements.
Popspoken: How do the Swiss relate to Baijiu?
Bastien: First time I tried Baijiu, was actually via a bottle of Mou Tai and I disliked it. I recall it was weird, funky and not very pleasant. Subsequently, in 2011, I came to China. I started to travel to different cities across the country and came to learn about the different aromas of Baijiu. It was not until we decided to open Bar San You in 2020, where we specialized in the Chinese spirit. With a lot of trials and vintages of the same aroma, we added many layers as I was impressed by the spirit.
Not many people know that the production amounts of Baijiu is actually more than all other alcoholic spirits combined, such as the popular ones in bars, such as tequila, whisky and more.
Popspoken: Will you be able to share some memorable consulting projects you’ve worked on in China? How will you apply such learnings to Resorts World Sentosa?
The most fun to work on and successful projects, are the ones where we had the most creativity and freedom to do what we want. There is always a learning process. For example, I worked with Mandarin Oriental in Beijing and when the General Manager told us “you have carte blanche“, that he would support me to do anything; to me, those are great moments.
We were then able to deep dive, see what makes a great bar and leverage on to the existing quality of the hotel, in adding a layer of special flavours and creativity to its cocktails and food. For Resorts World Sentosa, we would like to understand where they want to see the bars in four to six years. Also, in doing so, not being too shy to create something truly unique, than to simply follow existing trends.
These exclusive collaboration cocktails are available at table65 and CHIFA! from today until 31 March 2024, and as part of the festive menus between 13 to 19 February 2024. For more information, visit the official Resorts World Sentosa website.