Just as fashion runways are dictated by trends, so is the bar counter. And liquor trends are as cyclical and faddish as they come, bearing influences from all manner of sources.
Bespoke cocktails and elaborate mixology creations have had a good run over the past few years and now that every fancy ingredient and technique has been used, what new trick can bartenders pull out of their sleeves? An old recipe, ironically.
With the popularity of drinks like the Manhattan, gin and tonic, and Negroni already on the rise, bartenders everywhere are expecting more classics to make a return this year. And will they be taking a methodical or experimental approach when revisiting cocktail history?
Head bartender of Tess Bar & Kitchen and Diageo World Class South-east Asia Bartender of the Year 2015, Steve Leong, tells us what he foresees.
What would you say are the drinking trends to expect?
We are seeing less molecular mixology, which was a fad here in Singapore not too long ago. Classic cocktails are definitely making a return, but with a twist this time around. Bartenders are not only experimenting with different ingredients, but also placing more emphasis on exceptional presentation for cocktails.
How has the local drinking scene evolved, and what brought this about?
Drinks in Singapore bars are now meeting the standards of their international counterparts, namely London and New York City. Ten years ago, the only cocktails people knew about were the likes of your Long Island Iced Tea, Screwdriver and Singapore Sling, of course. Cocktail bars were rare, or maybe even non-existent in Singapore then.
What’s popular in bars here now?
Today’s patrons are appreciating bespoke or classic cocktails like the Tom Collins and Old Fashioned — cocktails that were less ordered or appreciated years back. Some customers even specify what spirit they would like in it, for example a Ketel One Vodka Martini or a Ron Zacapa 23 Old Fashioned. They are very well-travelled — visiting different countries has allowed them to explore new flavours that they usually wouldn’t find in Singapore. So are bartenders these days. We bring that knowledge back and share our experiences, which creates a great exchange for trends and ideas.
Which spirit remains the most timeless, and why?
Tanqueray No. Ten gin — because its citrusy and camomile notes make it so easy on the palate. Anybody can drink it! It’s even in one of my concoctions named Tender. 10, a variation of the classic martini featuring a chicken rice liqueur that I made. This drink was inspired by the location of the bar I work at — Seah Street, known for its association with the Hainanese.
What will be the hottest drink this year?
I reckon the martini, not just for 2016 but for many years to come. It’s such an iconic cocktail that it will never go out of fashion. I’d expect bartenders all over the world to start experimenting with different flavours when making this drink.