Usually, when it comes to adding a local touch to the city’s drinking scene, it is usually by way of herbs, garnishes and infusions of local and Asian ingredients. We have seen cocktails flavoured with pandan, calamansi and even chilli crab sauce.
Here, we explore how you can go the whole hog by drinking libations where the base spirit is Asian or Asia-made. This could be Japanese Whisky, Thailand’s Rum, Sri Lankan Arrack and even a made-in-Singapore gin.
All of the above are being swirled into worthy, delicious and interesting cocktails in watering holes around town.
Allow us to lead the way.
1. Gin made in Singapore
Photo: Brass Lion Tasting Room
The only gin to be distilled in Singapore, Brass Lion is a first of its kind variety called Singapore Dry Gin that boasts 22 botanicals - most of which have been locally sourced on our island.
These include torch ginger flowers, kaffir lime leaves, coriander seed and more.
The impressive distillery at Alexandra Terrace has a tasting room on-site where you can sample the Singapore Dry and the blue-hued Butterfly Pea Gin, both of which lend themselves well to uncomplicated G&T’s or more celebratory gin-based cocktails like the French 75 (gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar syrup).
Brass Lion Tasting Room, 40 Alexandra Terrace
2. Makgeolli from Korea
Photo: Joo Bar
Makgeolli is a Korean alcoholic beverage which can be brewed at home, and is a milky, fizzy, rice wine. It can be had straight up at Joo bar (where they brew it in-house and serve it on tap, $16 onwards) and is also flavoured with a variety of fruits into Makgeolli slushies, and in cocktails like the A-peach ($16) where soju (a vodka-like distilled spirit from Korea) makgeolli, peach schnapps, green tea and lemon come together in a potent mix.
The sweet-sour and slightly bitter taste of the original brew maybe an acquired taste, hence it works well with flavours and mix-ins.
Joo Bar, 5 Tan Quee Lan Street
3. Region-specific cocktails
Like everything about the dining experience at Nouri, their succinct cocktail menu is well thought out and each drink represents a specific Asian region and celebration.
Asia-made ingredients feature in all; and are paired with elements from other parts of the world to represent the ‘crossroads’ of cultures. T
he An Ode to Celebration is inspired by Chinese mid-autumn celebrations and pairs whisky with nu er hong huangjiu (fermented glutinous rice wine from china) flavoured with osmanthus syrup, grapefruit juice and hopped grapefruit bitters.
In the An Act of Integrity which is an India-inspired cocktail, expect India-made Old Monk Supreme dark rum, Falernum flavoured with masala chai spices, and spiced almond milk.
There are also drinks that feature sake and Japanese tinctures, and one that uses Baekseju (Korean glutinous rice-based fermented alcoholic beverage). Cocktails are priced at $22 onwards.
Nouri, 72 Amoy Street
4. All things shochu
Photo: RPM by D.Bespoke
Cocktail aficionados would be familiar with D.Bespoke, which a zen-like bar for artisanal, tailor-made cocktails. Their sister bar, RPM by D.Bespoke at Duxton Hill is an intimate vinyl listening room with a focus on shochu (Japanese distilled spirit).
Here, rare and exclusive varieties of the spirit are served neat, as a flight, on ice, with hot water or in shochu cocktails. Shochu works well in classic cocktail recipes like a martini or a negroni.
They also serve claypot-aged cocktails like the Kame aged cocktail that is aged on-site in traditional Japanese clay pots. Prices begin at $20 per cocktail.
RPM by D.Bespoke, 16 Duxton Road
5. Asian classics with a twist
Photo: Jigger & Pony
This name is almost synonymous with Singapore’s cocktail scene, and with their recent move to larger, swankier digs at Amara Hotel has only solidified their position as the ‘go-to’ bar for fresh interpretations of classic cocktails.
At Jigger & Pony you can expect classic drinks done well and innovative concoctions, like the Whisky Highball which uses Japanese Suntory Chita Whisky pre-mixed with soft water from Hokkaido, and the Tokyo-Hi, which is a fruity highball-style drink of Nikka Coffee gin, umeshu (Japanese ume liquer), shiso peppermint, gari (pickled, sweet ginger) and soda.
Awamori, which is a Okinawan distilled alcoholic beverage and Thailand-made Phraya rum feature on their cocktail menu too, as does Japanese Roku gin and a variety of Asian infused liqueurs. Most cocktails are priced at $23 each.
Jigger & Pony, 165 Tanjong Pagar Road Amara Hotel
6. Chinese spirits
Photo: Jiu Zhuang
Tucked away in a lush Dempsey barrack is a cocktail bar that boast that boasts neo-Siheyuan style with Chinese heritage influences and luxurious Shanghainese decor, furniture and fittings. So it's not surprising that a significant part of Jiu Zhuang’s drinks menu is dedicated to Chinese spirits like Baijiu and Huangjiu.
They serve the potent distilled beverage, baijiu, straight-up and the varieties range from the household name, Moutai Baijiu to the Shui Jing Fang Brewed from the award winning, oldest distillery in China.
The strong, pungent and fiery taste is not for the weak, so baijiu is also blended into cocktails, like the season-inspired Winter which is a mellow concoction of Shui Jing Fang Baijiu, coffee liqueur, and baileys with peppermint.
Huangjiu features in the Spring and is paired with lychee liqueur topped off with lemonade.
Jiu Zhuang, 6D Dempsey Road
7. Sake and shochu specialists
Possibly the most commonplace Asian alcoholic beverage on this list is Japanese sake. The fermented Japanese rice wine is readily available at most bars and Japanese restaurants. From typical table varieties, to rarer finds, there are sakes to suit various tastes and budgets.
Boruto along North Canal Road serves some rare and fine varieties, and stores some of their finest sakes in an actual vault on-site. They also brew their own shochu on-site (aged for six months) and all of these are used in cocktails.
You could ask for classic or bespoke cocktails, or try something off their menu like the Rum Royal ($20) where white rum is paired with sake, lemon juice, grenadine and egg white.
Boruto, #01, 80 South Bridge Road
8. Asian spirits, foraged ingredients
Photo: Native Bar
This list would be incomplete without mentioning Native Bar, the multiple-award winning cocktail spot’s main focus is on using regional and foraged ingredients in their drinks - these include the spirits that form the base of their drinks.
Their menu evolves but some of their memorable drinks have featured cocktails made with Sri Lankan Arrack (anise-flavoured distilled spirit), Thai rice distilled gin, Indian Amrut whiskey and several varieties of rare and special Japanese sake.
These find perfect pairings with local (sometimes, foraged) ingredients like fruits, herbs and spices that have been treated by pickling, curing, fermenting and more to create unusual flavour combinations. The drinks are all one-of-a-kind and flavours are definitely novel, yet familiar.
Native Bar, 52A Amoy Street