Ready to shake it up at bartending competition

Diageo Reserve World Class' South-east Asian finals kick off with six bartenders manning a guest bar each tonight

Nath Arj-Han. -- PHOTO: HYDE & SEEK
Nath Arj-Han. -- PHOTO: HYDE & SEEK
Shawn Chong. -- PHOTO: OMAKASE KL
Shawn Chong. -- PHOTO: OMAKASE KL

Tonight, six bartenders from the region - rising cocktail stars all - will take over four bars in Singapore.

They are in town for the Diageo Reserve World Class' South-east Asian finals and Bar Show 2014, a prestigious bartending competition happening today and tomorrow. And they want to make you drinks.

Some of the show-stopping concoctions up their sleeves: a Cosmopolitan topped with cotton candy, a twist on the Moscow Mule involving gula melaka and coffee, and a drink inspired by Thai mango sticky rice. Each bartender will work a three-hour guest bar shift at a local bar, from 9pm to midnight.

Indonesia's Aldi Upay will man the bar at Ah Sam's Cold Drink Stall in Boat Quay. Thailand's Nath Arj-Han has specially prepared three cocktails for his shift at cocktail bar L'Aiglon in Neil Road.

Meanwhile, Filipino bartenders Erwan Heussaff and Jericson Co will create cocktails that showcase herbal and earthy flavours (chilli figures as an ingredient) at Manor Cocktail Room in Ann Siang Hill. And Malaysian bartenders Shawn Chong and Karl Too will showcase their Japanese and Western bartending flair at Fordham & Grand bistro and bar in Craig Road.

Chong, 27, who was Malaysia's Diageo Reserve World Class champion in 2009 and is working at Kuala Lumpur's Omakase + Appreciate cocktail bar, says: "The scene in Singapore is really vibrant and so competitive. The standards are surely rising, so it'll be interesting to see what's changed since my last visit in May last year."

While the guest bar shift is not part of the competition, Mr Colin Chia, regional head of Diageo Reserve World Class Asia Pacific, says the guest bartending programme, called the World Class Experience, "provides a great way for bartenders from different countries to meet their colleagues from around the world, exposing them to different skills, techniques and mindsets from other markets".

The drinks across all four bars will average about $25.

Bartender Co says being a guest barkeep is "the only way to grow" and "you become a better professional for it".

Adds the 28-year-old, who owns coffee and cocktail bar The Curator in Manila: "The challenge is to properly communicate with the customers to understand what they are looking for and what we are about."

Omakase + Appreciate's Too, 30, agrees. "Guest shifts allow bartenders to expand their network by having the opportunity to meet new guests and bartenders," he says.

For Arj-Han, who previously worked as an apprentice bartender at Singapore's Tippling Club restaurant-bar, tonight's guest shift will give him an opportunity to showcase what he has learnt in his decade-long bartending career.

Says the executive bartender with Hyde & Seek gastro bar in Bangkok, who is in his 30s: "All the drinks I have chosen will showcase my style of bartending. My Ron Zacapa Honeysuckle Smash is made of ingredients you can find in a garden and will immediately transport you to lazy, laid-back afternoons in the garden.

"The Naughty Little Girl is a Tanqueray No. Ten gin-based drink, which I serve with a popsicle in the glass to add a touch of playfulness."