The Evolution of Cocktail Culture in Kuala Lumpur

Cocktail Evolution | Food For Thought

Kuala Lumpur has seen a burgeoning cocktail culture in recent years with more and more concept bars sprouting throughout the city. From speakeasies to rooftop bars, Kuala Lumpur is quickly becoming one of the favourite places for bartenders and mixologists to come and hone their craft. Because of the unique climate for tropical fruits and herbs which is indigenous, it is only a matter of time these ingredients are exploited. We speak to mixologists from some of Kuala Lumpur’s most famous bars to find out what they think.

In conjunction with Cocktail Evolution by Taste of Tiffin, we speak to some of Kuala Lumpur’s resident mixologists to hear their thoughts about the constantly evolving cocktail scene, including Angel Ng of PS150 (Classic Era), Karl Too of Omakase + Appreciate (Disco Era), Junior of Marini’s on 57 (Molecular), Erik of The Vault (Molecular) and Kelly D’Cruz of Secret Mermaid in Singapore (Modern and Contemporary).

Angel Ng | PS150 | Cocktail Evolution | Food For ThoughtAngel Ng of PS150

What do you think about the burgeoning cocktail culture in Kuala Lumpur?

Angel: There are definitely tons of room for exploration and what I love about Kuala Lumpur is there are no rules and no particular trend that bartenders follow here which makes it more exciting to work with random ingredients and people. This is something I strive towards – not to conform to create simple unconventional beverages! Right now, Kuala Lumpur is the best city for it.

Karl: Well, that means imbibers get more opportunities to experience a consistency of different sorts of good cocktails or novelty cocktails. This “motivates” bar operators or bartenders keep up the game of quality. 

Kelly: I feel like the way the cocktail culture is growing in the region is extremely exciting. Based in Singapore I can see how people are choosing to frequent cocktail bars as opposed to something saved for an occasion. There’s a lot more knowledge and interest in cocktails. KL is definitely becoming more vibrant by the year and I look forward to watching the growth and development of cocktail culture.

What is your philosophy when it comes to creating your concoctions?

Angel: Rule 1: Know your basic, learn the classics. The formula is a very good guideline of a balanced beverage. Rule 2: Use what you have on hand. Vanilla pods are great and elderflower is a life saver but they are expensive. In South-east Asia, we have an abundance of ingredients that many countries will envy over it. We should embrace this land that has provided for us and make full use of it. Rule 3: The story. Who made it? What are the influences? Why did you use this ingredient and not that? Almost everyone I met love a story attached to a cocktail. It brings them closer to the industry and the people who created it and hoping it will transport them back to the particular era.

Erik: Think out of the box and be well balanced.

Kelly: For me, simplicity is key. I enjoy making drinks that taste good without using too many ingredients and over complicating it.  The most important thing however is keeping in mind that the success of a cocktail is based on whether your customer has enjoyed it. 

Karl Too | Omakase + Appreciate | Cocktail Evolution | Food For ThoughtKarl Too of Omakase + Appreciate

What is your favourite cocktail and why?

Angel: GCR – Gimlet, Collins or Rickey. Really simple London dry based beverages with either lime, sugar, soda or all mentioned. Sometimes to enjoy your spirits, you need to keep the ingredients as minimal as possible. My comfort drink is gin on the rocks with a wedge of citrus squeeze which varies from different botanicals. Keep things simple since the world is trending towards the other way.

Erik: Hemingway Daiquiri because the character of the drink is like no other.

Kelly:  Old Fashioned. I love the taste of spirits as they are and the old fashioned is a great way to bring out a few extra flavours that need a little push to come alive while retaining the Taste of the spirit itself. 

What is your signature drink at your bar?

Angel: We do have a few like herbal tea-inspired Dragon ‘Eye’ Fist, floral-dry Lychee No. 3 and the well-known classic twist Asamboi Margarita however Salty Chinaman is the winner at PS150. It is a refreshing tall drink that is slightly sweet, slightly savoury, slightly bitter and slightly sour; consist of preserved orange peel & lemon peel infused vodka, orange bitters, lime and lemonade soda which is heavily influenced from my trips to Foshan, China. Best consumed on a hot sunny afternoon or warm evening!

Karl: Our core selling point is “Omakase” which means leave it to us, but of course we do ask our guests for their preferences. Hence, we don’t serve “signature” cocktails. 

Erik: My signature drink at my bar is called The Erik..hahah.. it’s created on the spot as I saw some chili padi in the fridge during our bar teams cocktail tasting for the directors..

Junior: We have a few. We change our menu often but our guests love our Mellow Sundown Cocktail.

Kelly: I always found this to be a slightly difficult question to answer mainly because  people have varying tastes and favor different spirits so we’ve got a collection of signature cocktails that cover a wide range of taste profiles which changes frequently. One of the more popular signature drinks is the Negroni Sour which is made using Half Moon Gin, Atbsy Armadillo Cake Vermouth Syrup, Campari, Grapefruit and Hopped Grapefruit Bitters. It’s a lighter take on a classic Negroni. For when you want that bitter taste profile but a slightly more refreshing drink.

Junior | Marinis on 57 | Cocktail Evolution | Food For ThoughtJunior of Marini’s on 57

What is your favourite ingredient that you have used in your cocktails?

Angel: Anything that is local – from asamboi to pandan to ginger blossoms (bunga kantan). I just love the strong flavours; it is a challenge to balance the cocktail but really rewarding when you get the measurements and formula right.

Erik: Marachino liquor, elderflower liquor, gingerbread syrup and cili padi.

Kelly: I love using fresh fruit! There’s just so much you can do with fruits. One of my favorite fruits is dragonfruit and I love working with it. People always have a preconceived notion that dragonfruit is tasteless and only works as a garnish. I like trying things for myself so I have used it a lot in cocktails and I always love the subtle flavor it adds. It may be easy to miss or overlook but it’s definitely there. I also love working with Milo mainly cause it just brings back a lot of childhood memories and it’s great with alcohol! I love watching customers react to a Milo cocktail. My dream is to work with Milo from a Milo truck. It’s just so much better! 

Which is your favourite bar to go to when you have the time? 

Angel: During my day off and when I’m itching for an intoxication beverage, The Bar Kinugawa and Hyde at 53M are my go-to bars. I love the set up at Kinugawa, it is slick and simple and one of very few places where I feel really relax without feeling the need to talk. Their cocktail selections are pretty close to my disco-era bartending days which brought back many nostalgic memories.

Erik: If I were to have cocktails, I’ll go to P&C or IKKI love their cocktails and their concept.

Karl: The Great Beer Bar. 

Erik | The Vault | Cocktail Evolution | Food For ThoughtErik of The Vault

How do you feel about the current level of public knowledge about cocktails in Malaysia?

 Erik: We are living in the internet age where any information is at the palm of your hands, people are knowledgeable and well aware. For sure the level of knowledge is high nowadays. But only a few understand the art.

Karl: Well, I think the locals gain their whisk(e)y knowledge from the internet or by years of experience. Some locals think gin is good for cocktail. 

Kelly: It’s great to see people becoming more interested in cocktails. What excites me most is the interest in spirits itself! I think a lot of customers are paying more attention to the spirit that goes into their favorite cocktail and figuring out how different spirits affect the taste of the final product. It’s definitely taking off very nicely and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of it! 

What trends do you see happening for 2016?

Angel: I wouldn’t know what is the trend however I do know dehydrated garnishes are easy to prep and pretty and used by many bars. Twists on the classic are definitely something most bars are doing too. It has been a while since I see any original cocktails on the menu. Infusions of spirits and bespoke homemade syrups is pretty common too!

Erik: I don’t see different trends happening this year, but I feel for 2017, flair bartending will get their place back in the local market as there are too many cocktail bars with similar concepts around KL.

Karl: More customisation cocktail programmes in bar for year 2016.

Junior: I hope to see more approach on the Latin America cuisine and more rum and tropical taste. Speakeasy style bar is becoming hot! Crafts Beer too!

Kelly: I think Vermouth and wine cocktails are becoming a lot more prominent. Another thing is little cocktails! Cocktails served in smaller portions, smaller glasses. Sort of like tapas style. 

Kelly D'Cruz | Secret Mermaid | Cocktail Evolution | Food For ThoughtKelly D’Cruz of Secret Mermaid in Singapore

Cocktail culture in Kuala Lumpur is maturing as more people are starting to learn the ins and outs of hoe to enjoy their drinks. As people develop a better palate, cocktail bars are able to cater to a more educated audience who will not only learn to appreciate their whiskeys and gins, but also that there is a lot of depth to cocktails than just fruit juice and alcohol.

| PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF: COMMAS & INDUSTRY |

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Nicholas Ng

Nicholas Ng is a restaurant critic, travelogue and opinion columnist which is curated on Food For Thought. He has been a freelance writer for 10 years and has previously worked as a lawyer. He currently is the Managing Director of Black Wolf Digital, a digital marketing agency.

33 Comments

  1. What a nice article Nic! Great to know what’s up and coming. Wine bars?? Also, where do you find all this time to do these reviews? 😛

  2. It’s time to check out these new bars. Been to Marini’s a few times but its a little expensive.

  3. I always wanted to enjoy some drinks with my friends,
    we my friends just don;t like cocktails….haiz

  4. I remember Karl Too when I visited his bar!! A very nice place to chill, and the cocktails there are really special!

  5. Ah I was supposed to attend this as well but will only be back in town this Friday. Cocktail culture sure is booming in KL nowadays

  6. Whoa! this industry indeed need skills people like this. I love to read this kind of interview.

  7. Awesome article that you have! great interview session. now i finally know a little more about cocktails. 😀

  8. I don’t drink alcohol at all so cocktail is out. However, I do drink mocktails and I have a friend who keeps mixing her new creations for me to try.

  9. So happening in the KL, shall come by your blog read more often. I seldom go KL for cocktail.

  10. Wow that is a good compilation. I like Erik, the way he makes his cocktail and such. Nice write up and interview.

  11. wow.. these people are so serious about making and creating their cocktails.. I no longer drink cocktails but rather go for mocktails… which is more sweet and no bite.. LOL

  12. Great interview. Did some before but it’s for magazines so never end up in my own blog. LOL. Always nice to see how the drink culture grows through the eyes of the mixologists themselves.

  13. this event sounds so familiar.. i think i saw it in my email. hmm

    nice pictures taken though!!

  14. Your post make me craving for cocktail now. LOL~ It’s been awhile since I visited a bar or lounge. =)

  15. Angel looks so cool and yeng lol! Not much chance to have a female cocktail mixer in town. This was a interesting post and interview to have more knowledge on cocktail culture in KL.

  16. a nice interview done by you, Nicholas 🙂 enjoy reading it & learnt up new knowledge about cocktail 🙂 cheers, siennylovesdrawing

  17. I salute this mixologists as they work are challenging and they are good in creating their own cocktails. Impress with them.

  18. Nowadays, not just the cocktails, even mixologists also look so cool with their unique style 🙂

  19. I’m an Omakase fan and I’ll like to keep it that way. Will I sound like an alcoholic if I always request for the one with more alcohol? HAHA. Having a fun night out need not be complicated. I’d like to keep the conversations going and let the masters do their jobs! 😀

    • think we’re all secretly alcoholics. Haha. Quite a lot going on with the cocktail scene here. What a great time to be living in!

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