Photo: Diageo Reserve World Class
Describe your approach to making cocktails in one word and tell us why that defines your style.
Hipster – I enjoy classic cocktails but what I really love is putting together flavours that, on paper, don’t seem like they would work together. I love doing something for the first time, especially if no one else has done it before.
Where do you find inspiration for creating new drinks?
I take walks through markets. Sometimes you can find fruit and vegetables that you wouldn’t normally associate with traditional bartending. I also find a lot of inspiration during my travels and I try to visit local markets whenever I am abroad. I believe that local markets are the best places to appreciate any food and drink culture because you get to see the very essence of the produce.
What made your creation stand out at this edition of Diageo Reserve World Class Singapore?
My winning drink was a take on the classic Bloody Mary. As random as it sounds, I combined tomatoes and lychees into my cocktail but it really worked. Those lovely top quality cherry tomatoes definitely made my creation stand out. The varying qualities of produce from farmers can make big differences in your tipple. If I had used local tomatoes, the drink would have been considerably different. I’ve always wanted to use cherry tomatoes in a drink and I was really inspired to use basil from visiting a pizza place. I also wanted to use something local, and a random walkabout in a supermarket left me thinking about lychees and pineapples and something told me they would work really well together.
Louis Tan's The Wolf's Peach Illusion, his award-winning take on the Bloody Mary.
How does a competition like this help you career-wise and on a personal level?
A competition like World Class is going to be phenomenal in anybody's career. It’s just a fantastic learning experience being able to compete in an international competition with some of the most acclaimed spirit brands in the market. I absolutely think that the kind of exposure we get out of this program – globally and regionally – will inspire any bartender out there to be the best they can be. I must say the pressure of having to present our creations to three stern looking judges (during the first semifinal in November), and have the rest of the bartending community watch you in total silence, is unlike anything we face behind the bar. Being able to walk away from that competition with a spot in the national final has definitely made me more confident than ever.
What is your advice to anyone who wants to get serious about making good cocktails?
Invest in a good set of equipment. Any serious bartender worth his salt, will have his or her own personal kit. Get a shaker set that works for you, and get a dedicated mixing glass for stirred drinks.
"Any serious bartender worth his salt, will have his or her own personal kit."
What is your favourite cocktail?
The Gimlet. It’s based on the classic "sour" (spirit, acid and sugar) family that works so well and is seen in many if not most of the classic cocktails of the world. The sour family is what I consider to be the building block of modern mixology, laying the foundations for most bartenders. In the Gimlet, there is no additional flavour from liqueurs or fruits; just gin or vodka, lime juice and sugar syrup. I like to use Tanqueray No. Ten and Ketel One for the drinks due to their subtle notes. It’s a sour drink that has been stripped to its core. With a drink like that, you can never use bad ingredients – a slight difference in flavour, quality or technique will make the drink instantly unrecognisable.
What do you think of buzzwords like "mixology", "bespoke", "boutique" and "speakeasy" when it comes to describing cocktails and cocktail bars?
I think those buzzwords are there to create more noise for our humble profession. It is nice to see that bartenders around the world are becoming more valuable, and are now being seen as professionals, or even artists. At the end of the day, we are all still bartenders. Bartending is more than just about mixing drinks and being able to remember one million recipes in your head. It’s honestly about being a host, and making your guests feel at home in your bar.
The holiday season is here, what are your recommendations for people looking to make some festive cocktails?
Egg nog! Making it is a great deal of fun, and does not require great technical know-how. The ingredients of eggs, milk, sugar, whipping cream and Ron Zacapa Rum make me feel like I’m baking. There is no standard recipe and everybody has his or her own variation; I've been making it every year for ages, but no two batches ever taste the same. There is no right or wrong with egg nog, so you can just dive right in and be creative with it!
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A beer enthusiast first and a writer second, Kurt Ganapathy has tried more than 1,000 brews from 80 countries. Some of his most memorable exploits include tackling the one-time world's strongest beer – BrewDog's 41 per cent abv Sink The Bismarck! – and getting his name on the wall of an Irish pub in Melbourne for drinking 100 pints of Guinness (not in one sitting, of course).