Cocktails, camaraderie at weekend fest

Cocktails and camaraderie at Singapore Festival

Over the past few years, my choice of places to travel to have been largely decided by what goes into my glass or onto my plate. It could be to discover Hong Kong’s exciting bar scene and connecting with the Diaspora from the sub-continent that helms the city’s cocktail culture.

Or bar-hopping in Taiwan while gorging on Xiao Long Bao’s at the original Din Tai Fung, and at the same time discovering the country’s stupendous whisky industry. Or to grab a meal at Nadodi, the new progressive Indian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, which is touted to be the next big Indian restaurant in the food world after Gaggan.

You get the drift. If not for anything else, I’ll surely land in hell for having indulged in gluttony as a virtue. Hello, Lucifer!

The month of May, in my travel calendar, is reserved for a pilgrimage of sorts to the most hedonistic week of the year in this part of the world. Bartenders, bar owners, brand ambassadors, drinks experts and consumers from Asia and the world descend upon Singapore to celebrate and indulge at the Singapore Cocktail Festival.

The week-long extravaganza kicks off with the announcement of the region’s best bars at the Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards ceremony and what immediately follows is a week of guest shifts by bartending greats at the city’s best cocktail spots, master classes by drinks gurus, industry talks and seminars by bar owners, bartenders and brand ambassadors.

Toast to taste

This year saw the first all-woman edition of the 50 Best Talks kicking off the industry seminar list. And to top it all there is a three-day cocktail festival village, where you’ll get to meet and greet the continent’s finest bartenders as they fix you a drink at one of the many pop-up bars hosted by booze brands at the village.

Over 8,500 people walked into the village over the three-day festival this year. Set at the Empress Lawns in the heart of the city, the cocktail village is the place to be for the weekend that it gets the city to raise a toast to fine drinks, good food and great party vibes.

The cocktail week is supported by the Singapore Tourism Board and the city takes great pride in hosting it. Karl Too, who runs the iconic Omakase+Appreciate in Kuala Lumpur, was manning the bar for Mr. Black, the delicious new coffee liqueur brand that has left industry insiders on a caffeine-like high.

And then there was Roman Foltan, of ex-Atlas fame, serving delicious Jameson cocktails under the same roof. The one bar that drew my attention was the Perrier bar, manned by ‘Din’ aka Dinesh. An investment banker by day and a cocktail aficionado by night, Dinesh is a regular at bars across the continent.

Almost every bar owner knew him and he knew what to tell you to order at a bar that you were visiting. ‘Din’ spent the weekend running the Perrier bar at the cocktail village and later helping at guest shifts where his friends (read Asia’s top bartenders) were working that weekend. I have never felt so humbled seeing a consumer evolve to being a part of us.

‘Jai ho!’

For the rest of the week there are guest shifts by bartending heavyweights at all the cool cocktail spots in the city. And with all bar take-overs that happen across town, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Guest shifts or bar take-overs are a great way to sample a slice of the drinks experience you would have if you were at the particular bar doing the guest shift without actually being there.

This year saw record guest shifts happen as a part of the festival. The one that stood out for me (and also had my heart go “Jai ho!”) was the shift by Santosh Kukreti of Thirsty City 127 (Mumbai), Krishna Kumar (Byg Brewski, Bengaluru) and Sahil Negi (Perch Wine & Coffee Bar, New Delhi).

These boys were a part of the skill development programme called ‘House of Change’ by Grey Goose vodka earlier in the year and were the top performers. As a reward for their hard work they were sponsored by Grey Goose to visit the Singapore festival and also work a night at IBHQ, the bar run by Kamil Foltan.

For Sahil, this was his first trip abroad and the opportunity to rub shoulders with his peers and seniors opened up a whole new perspective of the business to him. There were many such stories that took place throughout the festival. That, to me, is the beauty of this amazing industry event that provides a perfect platform for people to bond over drinks, experiences and tales of merry revelry.

Now, perhaps, you’ll agree why Lucifer and I are going to be very good friends!