Before she became bar manager and sous bartender at Operation Dagger (7 Ann Siang Hill, #B01-01) – one of the world’s most renowned bars – Sasha Wijidessa might not have imagined her days would be spent studying the minutiae of fermentation.
Sasha’s bartending journey started early; she was already taking part-time shifts whilst finishing her studies. In 2014, Dagger co-founder Luke Whearty hired the fresh graduate, and spurred her passionate dive into sustainability in bartending and experimenting with fermenting wines.
“Instead of throwing away wines that have gone off, we simply re-flavour them, which then helps to strip away unsavoury characteristics you would typically find in oxidised wines. One example of this would be our Banana Wine, where we take an oxidised Chenin Blanc and sous vide it with ripened bananas, green cardamom and a verjuice caramel before fat-washing it after.
“Very organically, the oxidised wine slowly evolved into taking a more self-sustainable approach and fermenting ‘wines’ in house, which now makes up the natural wines section of our menu.
“With wine-making, wine makers are essentially converting the sugars in grapes into alcohol through fermentation, and we do the exact same thing with our natural ‘wines’ but with different fruits and starches, which then allows us to play on flavours a lot more.
“From our first natural wine till now, we have since come up with about 15 to 20 different natural ‘wines’. It’s early days, but I think the next step for us would be to ferment and make spirits in-house while still focusing on flavours to create new spirit categories.
On experiments that didn’t turn out the way she expected…
“So many! Bottles exploding was definitely one of the more notable mishaps. Accidentally fermenting mead in a jar that was previously used for kimchi was another one - the smell on that one was very funky. Ferments turning into vinegar…too many to choose from – just name a mistake, we probably have done it.
On her favourite part of bartending…
“It would definitely be making drinks, the creative process, interacting with people, and customer service. Operation Dagger was opened by Luke and Aki Nishikura about five years ago purely as a creative outlet to reflect what they were learning and to express different forms of inspiration through the space and through our drinks.
On working in Operation Dagger…
“I think of Operation Dagger as a very personal and intimate reflection and extension of who they are, and moving forward, a continuous reflection of the team as well. Be it with the drinks that we do or the service that we provide, it will always be a space that allows us to take our guests on our journey of learning and growth. Being in a creative space, making drinks, the creative process, interacting with people and customer service, seeing people having a good time at the bar, and knowing you’ve had a part in that, those things made me really happy. And if I could be happy and still make a career out of it, why not?
“The emergence of local pride is probably the most interesting and current trend at the moment. The increased emphasis of using native inspiration in drinks is a trend observed worldwide. Paying homage to where you come from is an emerging trend, and the diversity of new ideas and drinks as a result of this movement elevates the standard of bars worldwide. Going pretty much hand-in-hand with the above would be the sustainability movement as well.
On her sustainable approach to running a bar…
“The F&B industry has a big carbon footprint, and bars and restaurants do generate a lot of waste. So, seeing a rise towards sustainability within the F&B industry in recent years has been truly amazing and long overdue as well.
“I think it is important to understand that being sustainable isn’t an item that could be put on your to-do list to be checked off, but rather, a concept that has to be integrated into everything that we do on a day-to-day basis.
“If you take a look at the supply chain of your business, changes that has to be made most often only requires simple innovation and a little bit of effort. Be it extending the life cycle of a product, or practicing the 3Rs, it all begins with being environmentally aware and mindful and understanding how impactful an individual or an organisation can be.
“From day one, we’ve always taken a sustainable approach with the way we operated the bar on a day-to-day basis. Couple of examples are that since day one we have never used plastic straws and choose to use reusable alternatives like glass or even organic straws like the ones we make from our vanilla bean pods.
"Also, all our paper waste from dockets, used menus etc are made into paper again to use for our bottle labels on our back bar. We also take a look at how we can we can use a product more than once and ultimately hope to adopt a closed-loop cycle resulting in zero waste."
On taking part in Asia's 50 Best Bars' #50BestTalks*...
“To be completely honest, I am a little bit nervous for #50BestTalks, but I am excited and proud to be a part of this push for change with Asia’s 50 Best Bars, and am excited for a more positive future where equality is no longer a privilege but more rather a norm.”
* Asia's 50 Best Bars' 2019 has announced that this year's #50BestTalks on 10 May will feature an entirely female lineup of panellists under the title ‘Female Spirit’. The thought-leadership and discussion platform will feature insights from Operation Dagger’s Sasha Wijidessa, The Woods (Hong Kong) founder Victoria Chow, Anti:dote’s Bannie Kang and Pinsuda Pongprom, head bartender of The Bamboo Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok.
This female power quartet are chock-full of anecdotes and stories of their bar journey, the outstanding women who inspire them, and what empowers them. They will also touch on their route to success in a male-dominant industry and their visions for the bar scene in Asia.
Singapore Cocktail Festival 2019 kicks off on 10th May at Empress Lawn. All info and tickets at Singapore Cocktail Festival 2019