Monkey Shoulder Global Brand Ambassador, Dean Callan (right) was in town and held guest bartending shifts all over Singapore. Pictured with Zachary Connor de Git (left)
Are bartenders serving the greater good of the industry by doing guest bar shifts, master-classes, even joining other bars rather than being stuck behind the same stick?
Celebrated bartenders such as Zachary Connor De Git, former Tippling Club head bartender and winner of Diageo Reserve World Class Singapore 2013, is now plying his trade as William Grant & Sons' (Singapore) regional portfolio ambassador. Instead of concocting tipples, the 25-year-old now concocts events for the Scottish distillers' stable of brands that includes Hendrick's, Sailor Jerry and Glenfiddich.
De Git's move from cocktails to brand ambassador echoes the L'Aiglon head bartender Louis Tan's (pictured, right) observation.
"It is becoming increasingly competitive among employers to retain talents from such a limited pool of people," he said. "Not only are bars vying for mixologists, but the brands themselves are also catching on to the game with more openings in the market for that elusive 'brand ambassador' job.”
A brand ambassador is employed by the organization or company to promote its products or services. These internal spokespersons usually positively embody the company's identity in appearance, demeanour, and values.
A finalist at the recent Diageo Reserve World Class Singapore, Tan left The Horse's Mouth to head L’Aiglon late last 2013. The affable 25-year-old’s former colleague, Brandon Hon, 21, recently joined Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall set up by former Jigger & Pony stalwart, Sam Wong, 29.
This sudden flurry of movement within the artery of the industry is exciting. On most visits, you are not only likely to meet the resident bartender, but also guest bartenders from bars across town doing guest stints. But why now?
"Employers who aren't in the industry only look at bars as a profiting sweathouse, bartenders look at it as a platform to build themselves. Bartenders are now celebrities."
With wider media coverage, coupled by greater opportunities, bartenders are stepping up their game.
"I've had several discussions with Sam about a collaboration," ex-Bitters & Love bartender and winner of the Diplomatico Rum Singapore finals in 2013, Eugene Chua, 23, revealed, "I joined Ah Sam because I was given the opportunity to open my own bar. Plus, we are long-time friends and ex-colleagues."
Thrilled with the possibility of setting up his own joint, Chua asserts: "When you work for a company, you build somebody else's dreams, but when you work for yourself, you build your own." He added that bartenders now are getting a lot of recognition and media attention. "They are celebrities."
For Hon, who was facing a creative block, a change of environment was imperative for his career. "[Being at Ah Sam] has definitely jolted my senses and I feel rejuvenated," remarked the 21-year-old. He also referred his good pal Steve Leong as another mover and shaker. "He is opening a new place soon. I would definitely keep my eyes on that."
"It’s a drink-centric but food-centered concept with a focus on modern interpretations," Leong, formerly from Bitters & Love, explained. Leong's drink and food concept is his signature. During a round of the Diageo World Class competition he mixed up a bak kut teh-inspired Tanqueray No. Ten concoction. His new cocktail, a joint called Tess Bar & Kitchen on 38 Seah Street, will open in June 2014.
Leong isn’t the only one leading the charge. His former mentor from Bitters & Love, Din Hassan, 40, now heads Manor Cocktail Room, and is backed by ex-Maison Ikkoku bartender Alex Tan, 23. Another Diageo Reserve World Class Singapore finalist Bannie Kang, 25, shifted over from City Square in Swissôtel to Anti:dote and has gained more exposure doing so.
"They want to show their talents and at the same time learn as much as they can," Hassan observed on the number of bartenders on the move, "and move again to learn new tricks."
Most parting bartenders seem to gravitate towards one common denominator: bars opened by fellow bartenders.
"The reason is simple," Chua explained, "bartenders are more aware of operations procedures than anyone else because they've been doing it for years. Employers who aren't in the industry only look at bars as a profiting sweathouse, bartenders look at it as a platform to build themselves."
One of the many interesting initiatives include the likes of a friendly monthly competition called The Bartender's Allowance by 28 Hong Kong Street, and guest bartending nights such as Remix! and Bar Shift curated by Maison Ikkoku and Manor Cocktail Room respectively.
But how would this seemingly encouraging trend impact the average customer and bar owners?
"At the end of the day, even regular customers require some sort of change and [to] visit other bars," Tan said. "Which is why I believe guest bartending to be a very good thing for all involved."
Marketing manager of establishments Bincho by Hua Bee and The Market Grill, Denise Tan, 27, has been an advocate of the local cocktail bar scene. She noted that there were not many opportunities for bartenders to showcase their talents before, and consumers didn’t fully appreciate the craft cocktail scene. "It’s a different story now," she opined.
Backed by a tight-knit community, Tan, who counts Jigger & Pony, Ah Sam and The Horse’s Mouth as her favorite bars, added that how the bartenders support its circle reminds her of the top chefs in Spain that don’t hide information from each other.
"The bartenders are all about educating and being educated," she concluded.
Formerly staff writer and web editor at I-S magazine, Zul Andra’s extensive and in-depth coverage of Singapore’s nightlife and lifestyle industry has appeared in newspapers such as Today and South China Morning Post; magazines such as Time Out, Nylon, Ziggy, Travel+Leisure, Scoot and Smile (in-flight reads); websites such as Red Bull and HungryGoWhere, and columns in Esquire, Juice, The New Paper and inSing.com. In a drive to expand and share his knowledge on all things nightlife and lifestyle related, the award-winning journalist also heads a PR and marketing outfit called Those PR Guys. As part of his triple – who’s counting? – life, Zul also handles the music direction for Gem Bar, and hosts parties such as the year-long, bi-monthly session Jack’s Hit at Loof where some of the best home grown DJs lay down discerning grooves.
Follow him on Twitter at @zulandra.