Southeast Asia's most interesting cocktail city: Singapore
Booming in tandem with the Lion City's food scene is a very interesting cocktail revolution. Explore what Singapore has to offer, one sip at a time.
The first drips
The words 'Singapore' and 'cocktail' might bring to mind the tourist-favourite Singapore Sling, which was invented at the iconic Long Bar by Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915, but the little red dot's cocktail scene has so much more to offer. It all started, perhaps, in 2008 when British chef Ryan Clift blazed his way onto the scene with Tippling Club, Singapore's first foray into not just gourmet cocktails, but cocktails paired with food. Today, based in Tanjong Pagar, an area packed with bars, restaurants and hotels, such as M Hotel Singapore, head bartender Kamil Foltan continues to push the boundaries and diners’ palates.
“Customers are much more adventurous these days and we're really excited to introduce new spirits and edible garnishes,” Foltan says of his new cocktail menu, such as the creamy Lime & Tofu Daquiri, which toes the line between sweet and savoury with bonito, tomatoes, togarashi, rum, tofu and citrus.
Raising the bar
Foreign kings of the kitchen, like Gordon Ramsay and Daniel Boulud, have claimed their stake in Singapore, but top mixologists have also taken a piece of the pie – from famed Spaniard Javier de las Muelas of One-Ninety Bar and Terraza, American Michael Callahan of 28 HongKong Street, and British Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton of The Library. While these overseas talents have undoubtedly raised the bar, award-winning Singaporean bartender Mark Graham Thomas of the new bar on Duxton, Club 39, says the cocktail scene is erupting due to multiple factors.
“The introduction of global spirit evangelists like Proof & Company and Liberty Spirits has opened doors [and given bartenders access] to new spirits and artisanal brands,” he says. “Plus we are able to get a myriad of ingredients and spices all year round. So Singapore has become a virtual playground for bartenders to experiment with flavours and methods.”
Shaking it up
Singapore's recent cocktail renaissance has birthed speakeasies, pubs, dive bars, chic lounges, bespoke bars and pop-up bars literally all over the city. Helming them are a new breed of bartenders who are winning global awards, such as the Diageo Reserve World Class, and setting trends by creating multi-sensory presentations that tell a story with garnishes that can be eaten, played with or even worn. All of this boundary pushing has taken bartenders past the bars and into the kitchen, working with sous vide machines, smokers and dehydrators – tools previously reserved for chefs.
A few movers and shakers include Nutmeg & Clove, which offers a unique cocktail menu inspired by traditional Singaporean ingredients. The Golden Dawn cocktail, for instance, is a mix of gin, ginger wine cordial, hawthorn and chestnut, and their Singapura Sling is a blend of hibiscus-infused gin, cherry heering, and goji berry and red date syrup. Bitters & Love, on the other hand, is mostly known for its whimsical, over-the-top garnishing and bespoke creations. Their signature drinks include an ode to the Singaporean breakfast: Kaya Toast, a cocktail of rum, kaya, peach liqueur, English breakfast tea and honey served inside a kaya jar. The Horse's Mouth, however, hidden in the basement of a ramen shop at the mouth of Orchard Road, serves up seriously good cocktails like the citrusy Oxaca Americano with Mina Real Mezcal and the refreshing Unencumbered with Tapatio Blanco tequila and sake.
With hungry and creative bartenders helming Singapore's watering holes, and with adventurous and thirsty customers seated at the bar, Singapore's cocktail scene shows no sign of slowing.
“We're always learning new methods, ways of presentation and ways of working with both exotic and local ingredients,” Thomas says. “The cocktail scene in Singapore is ever-growing and its bartenders are ever-evolving.”
Read on for more fun ideas in Singapore.