Singapore's amazing cocktail scene driven by economy

Jim Meehan, founder of the famed New York speakeasy PDT, will do guest bartending shifts here.
Jim Meehan, founder of the famed New York speakeasy PDT, will do guest bartending shifts here.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Bartender Jim Meehan says the country has world-class bars

Mr Jim Meehan, one of the most respected bartenders in the United States, says the future of cocktails is big - as in big rum punch bowls that can be shared, rather than esoteric and bespoke drinks tailored to the individual.

The 39-year-old, who founded the famed New York speakeasy PDT (Please Don't Tell), says: "We've seen cocktails on tap, bottled cocktails and different styles of mass-quantity cocktails. But for me, they take the art out of it."

Instead of sticking a spigot in a cask of pre-mixed cocktail that can be served en masse, he says rum punch bowls can still have a handcrafted element as they can be made table-side "in a way that's quick and elegant".

"You can assemble all the ingredients, grate the nutmeg over it, ladle out the first cups, put the bowl on the table and then the guests can serve themselves," he says.

There are equally practical applications for the punch bowl. "Ten years ago, cocktail bars weren't that busy and they weren't as popular as they are now."

With a punch bowl sitting at the bar, ready to be ladled out when guests come in, "it's going to buy the bartender time to have that conversation with you to find out how you'd like your Old Pal made today."

  • BOOK IT / SINGAPORE COCKTAIL WEEK

  • WHERE: Various bars and restaurants islandwide

    WHEN: Till Saturday

    ADMISSION: A set of passes at $38 for full access to all eight days of Singapore Cocktail Week parties and pop-up bars, discounts and signature cocktails at $14++ at participating bars

    INFO: singaporecocktailweek.com.sg

He believes that punch is an "innovative and timely solution, and has a good chance of catching on".

Mr Meehan, who began his bartending career while in college in Wisconsin, is in town for Singapore Cocktail Week, which runs till Saturday.

He will be doing guest bartending shifts at The Cufflink Club (tomorrow) and Manhattan (Friday), and rum and food pairing sessions at Sugarhall (Wednesday) and Lime House (Saturday).

The last time he was here for a guest bartending shift at The Cuff- link Club in 2014 - he was blown away by some of the "world-class bars" including Manhattan at the Regent Singapore and whisky bar The Auld Alliance at Rendezvous Hotel, which he considers "the best whisky bar in the world".

He was here for only five days but he was struck by how "amazing" the scene was here. "There's a lot of money in Singapore. The economy here drives the cocktail world and the cocktail renaissance in a way that is vital."

Based in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and daughter, he takes on a mentor and consultant role at his own bar, PDT, which is run by head bartender Jeff Bell.

PDT, which opened in 2007, is an exclusive spot that is accessed via an old-fashioned phone booth at the back of a hotdog restaurant in the East Village in New York City.

He says he did not realise how much he would miss running a bar, having stepped out of daily operations for a long time. "It makes me hungry to be involved in running a place again," he says.

Though he has nothing on the cards in terms of bar spaces to run, the brand ambassador for Banks rum has other projects to keep him occupied, including an upcoming second book - called Meehan's Manual - that he has spent the last four years working on.

His first book - The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender's Guide (2011) - contained more than 300 cocktail recipes, but his new book pays tribute to people who have influenced and mentored him.

He has interviewed 52 people all over the world, including chefs, bartenders, distillers and sommeliers. Japanese mixology guru Hidetsugu Ueno, ice sculptor Shintaro Okamoto and Audrey Saunders, one of the pioneers of New York's craft cocktail explosion, are among those he is planning to feature.

He says he wanted his new book to be a moving picture instead of a snapshot of a time period like The PDT Cocktail Book was.

"I want it to be about the way I bartend, who I am, why I am and the way I am. It's a book about life because bartending is my life."

Correction note: An earlier version of this story stated that Jim Meehan will be guest bartending at Manhattan on Saturday. It is actually on Friday. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore's amazing cocktail scene driven by economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe