Tipples

New spin on spirits at Marriott Tang Plaza's new bar, The Other Room

Bartender Dario Knox takes his cue from the creative Prohibition period when it comes to creating drinks.
Bartender Dario Knox takes his cue from the creative Prohibition period when it comes to creating drinks. PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

While there is no shortage of "It" bars in Singapore, a new establishment at Marriott Tang Plaza - The Other Room - is flipping the script by offering whisky, bourbon, rye, gin, vodka, cognac, brandy, tequila and mezcal infused with different ingredients.

Tucked away in the hotel behind a nondescript black door, the 700 sq ft bar, with dark interiors and pops of pink and teal, seats 30.

The spot, run by the same people behind Catalan restaurant FOC in Hongkong Street, officially opens on Wednesday.

Instead of the standard commercial labels, the bar is stocked with rows of clear bottles containing liquids - clear, golden, amber or dark - that head bartender Dario Knox has tinkered with.

There are more than 150 spirits on offer and they are not just the usual suspects such as whisky and rum.

The spirits have been treated and finished in various ways: stored in casks or infused with ingredients such as spices, roots, herbs and bark.

"Every bottle and flavour that we have, you can't try it anywhere else in the world," he says.

Everything is made in-house by Knox and his team and listed on the almost 50-page menu.

Taking his cue from the creative Prohibition period in the United States from the 1920s to the 1930s, when bars had to concoct new libations from limited stocks of spirits, the 30-year-old Italian is doing something different with spirits by giving them new life.

His spin?

"I take the main product and finish it - or give it a little twist - in different ways," he says.

For instance, he offers 14 brands of gin. He transforms each with a variety of techniques including macerating (drawing out the flavours of ingredients) to give new flavours and taste profiles to already familiar spirits.

Taking a typical juniper-driven London dry gin, for example, he adds flavour combinations such as lavender and white peppercorn or mandarin and lime.

By adding water or tonic water (he uses 10 varieties, though not all are available at once), the gin is transformed, revealing its individual botanical notes.

On the other hand, a single-malt whisky could be finished in a sherry wine, port or bourbon barrel or even one that was treated with elderflower and pear liqueur.

He uses two-litre medium- charred American oak barrels that he treats himself. The treated spirits are priced from $16 for a reposado tequila to more than $90 for a 25-year-old Islay whisky.

If you want to try a few finishes at a go, there are also tasting flights available from $23. These 15ml portions make up a desgustation menu of sorts.

The Other Room also offers more than 30 cocktails that cost $19 and up, spanning everything from Pre-Prohibition era cocktails - such as the black tea and smoke-laced Southern New York Sour - to classic cocktails and punch bowls.

With the need to stand out in an already crowded field, Knox says he started tinkering with spirits a year ago, experimenting with flavours and finishes.

He knew instinctively what spirits would work with particular flavours, having been in the industry since he was 17.

He says: "When you work with flavours for this long, you develop a mental palate. Without trying, you already know what it tastes like and what combinations will work."

Harking back to the Prohibition time, instead of numbers, the tables are scribbled with the names of bootleggers, among them Al Capone and Johnny Torrio.

Given Singapore's booming cocktail scene, he feels it is a perfect spot to pursue his concept of a drinking house.

He says: "There are a lot of countries that are ready for this concept and Singapore is definitely one of them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'New spin on spirits'. Print Edition | Subscribe