South East Asia: Worlds apart, but truly World Class!

When we talk about top bars, the world’s best bartenders, or the latest trends, we are quick to mention Europe, America, and Australia. With 14 of the World’s top 50 bars located in London and 11 coming from America, I guess these conclusions are valid. But are these results due to the rich culture and history of liquor in Europe and America, or because of the lack of exposure and opportunity that other countries have?

After moving from the slow and relaxed humble abode we call New Zealand, to the hustle and bustle of South East Asia to work for MONIN, my expectations of this region had been heavily influenced by society. “All they drink is Mojitos, Singapore Slings, and whisky by the bottle”. I can however inform you first hand that this couldn’t be further from the truth!
Whether it is barrel aged cocktails, fat washed spirits, or mind blowing molecular mixology you are after, or you wish to try some home-made bitters, jams, soda’s, or bourbon lollipops, all you have to do is ask. Classics are made to absolute perfection and individual taste, and signatures are created at the drop of a hat. Jason Soon from Sky Bar (Kuala Lumpur), Putra Liriyanto from Munchies (Jakarta), Zyach Mirwansya from Union (Jakarta), Willy Gunawan from Loewy (Jakarta), and Reiza Yuda from Bluegrass (Jakarta) are some of the magicians, chemists, mixologists, or whatever you want to brand them behind these concoctions, and definitely worth a visit.
Over the past 6 months I have read cocktail list after cocktail list, and today it is purely educational as these are not true reflections of the bartender’s potential. Given the free reign to be creative, these young, talented, professional, and passionate individuals serve some of the most innovative, well balanced, and unique drinks I have ever come across. Truly World Class! Pair these fantastic drinks with the exciting ambience, the amazing bar/restaurant décor, and the skilful bartenders; you have a recipe for success. So the question remains, why are these bars and restaurants not being recognized on an international level?
The majority of the problem is that the customers here in South East Asia are poorly educated when it comes to alcohol and cocktails. They are scared and wary of trying anything new or unknown to them, their palate is extremely sweet, and flavours must be pronounced. For example, a whisky sour with a subtle hint of Monin Cherry Blossom would not go well because the Cherry Blossom is an underlying flavour. Secondly, bartenders are restricted to simply regurgitating the cocktails on their menu over and over again without being able to add their own style or inspiration. In this sense, Asia is still worlds apart from the major players around the world.
However, the fact that the customers here are still so ‘fresh’ also makes this region one of the most interesting to work in. It gives bars and restaurants the opportunity to be adventurous and try something new, to offer something that no one else has, to be the market leaders, and set market trends. If given the same opportunities as our Western counterparts, some of these bartenders will one day soon be competing with the world’s best. Within the coming 2-3 years we will see the spread of the world’s top 50 bars reach the shores of South East Asia. People will then finally realise that behind every Mojito you will find a world class bartender and have to come to terms with the fact that South East Asia and the rest of the world are actually not ‘worlds apart’!
By Kenny Ariaens - MONIN Beverage Innovation Manager Southeast Asia