2023 was a year of thrills and spills for Singapore’s drinks community. Batching cocktails came back in a big way — a decade after now-defunct gastropub Oxwell & Co first popularised the concept. Today, Taiwanese import Draft Land and nightlife venue Highhouse serve cocktails on tap.
Uniquely Southeast Asian spirits such as pahit gin, a pink gin with roots in colonial Malaya, also began to proliferate in bars like Jungle Ballroom. We find out from industry insiders what will be in the spotlight in the world of tipples this year.
1. The rise of independent cocktail bars
The local cocktail scene is often dominated by opulent bars like Atlas and Manhattan, but smaller and independent operations have been making their mark of late. Before relocating to Duxton Hill last October, Sago House, originally a self-built bar on the third floor of a walk-up shophouse in Chinatown, rose to global prominence when it placed No. 32 on The World’s 50 Best Bars 2023 list last year. Cosy and hospitality-forward, these bartender-driven concepts tend to be more approachable, informal venues that focus on giving guests a good time.
Another example is Puffy Bois, a neighbourhood-style pizza bar with a charming DIY aesthetic serving world-class cocktails. Another independent bar Spectre, helmed by artist Inch Chua and Suntory brand ambassador Andrew Pang, focuses on mental wellness in its intimate space.
“What will trend in 2024 are independently owned cocktail bars,” affirms Cat Bite Club’s Jesse Vida, who is the former head bartender of Atlas. His speakeasy on Duxton Road, which provides a niche for cocktail lovers to discover agave and rice spirits, might just be the blueprint for more specialised concepts.
“Indie, bartender-driven concepts will continue flourishing, bringing a fresh perspective and creativity to the bar scene. These concepts often emphasise artisanal techniques, unique ingredients, and personalised experiences, which resonate well with consumers seeking authenticity and exploration,” adds Kavish Hurrydoss, operations manager of Potato Head Singapore.
2. Draft cocktails make a comeback
Although draft cocktails technically started gaining popularity last year, most bars serving them only opened in the latter half of the year, so the trend is still in its infancy. “The draft cocktail trend is definitely set to grow,” says White Shades’ founder JiaWei Bai. For many, pre-batching cocktails for the taps offers several advantages.
Hurrydoss explains: “Draft cocktails streamline the serving process, allowing for consistent quality, faster service during peak hours, and better control over portion sizes. They also enable bartenders to pre-mix intricate cocktails in larger quantities without compromising on taste, ensuring a level of consistency that might be challenging to achieve with made-to-order drinks.”
Places serving draft cocktails include Underdog Inn, which has 18 “Tavern Taps”, comprising 12 cocktails alongside six beers, and Draft Land, which has 20 cocktails on tap. Even HighHouse, One Raffles Place’s new nightlife destination, has a draft cocktail programme designed by Sago House’s Jay Gray.
London’s Bar Termini takes batching a step further with its excellent bottled Negronis, available in Singapore at Wildcard. “Draft cocktails, gaining worldwide popularity in Singapore, are a concept similar to bottled cocktails. The attraction is due to their efficient service and consistently high quality,” explains Leonardo Filipponi, Bar Termini’s head of development.
“Bottled cocktails have the additional advantage of extending this experience beyond the bar. Draft cocktails (should) complement rather than replace the artistry of handcrafted drinks. Offering personalised expertise and unique creativity from bartenders is one of the key reasons people go to bars.”
3. Going off the beaten vine
With the warming climate affecting traditional wine regions and altering grape characteristics, and prices of classic wines, such as Burgundy, soaring, more wine drinkers are venturing afield. “We have definitely seen a rise in requests for non-alcoholic options on our menus and have developed a range of exciting zero-proof cocktails as well as ‘session’ wines that mirror the traditional complexity of their higher ABV (alcohol by volume) counterparts,” shares Lauri Vainio, wine director of Mandala Club.
“Session wines are becoming much more drinkable, particularly those from the Australian region, and there are now many more options around the 7 per cent ABV mark that are suitable for a leisurely lunch than a heavy Burgundy. Notably, they are a more affordable option, too, as the tax on alcoholic beverages in Singapore is based upon ABV levels!” RVLT co-founder Ian Lim echoes the sentiment, “Lower ABV wines will still be a front runner for the wine-drinking crowd in the next year due to ‘drink-ability’ and accessibility. Consumers want to drink and not feel bad the next day.”
Roberto Duran, head sommelier of 67 Pall Mall Singapore, observes, “As wine drinkers and the younger generations get more well-travelled, their exposure to diverse wines grows. They have more opportunities to visit various wine regions, sparking a greater interest in formal learning and studying wines. In fact, I believe that moving forward, Burgundy might not be as prevalent as a top preference.” He adds that there has been growing interest in rarer varietals such as Teinturier, Saperavi, Alicante Bouschet and Chambourcin.
On the other hand, “the popularity of champagne will continue to grow,” says Richard Hemming, head of wine, Asia, 67 Pall Mall Singapore, “with a good opportunity for other sparkling wines to follow suit. English sparkling could take advantage here, since it is increasingly competitive and many of them have large marketing budgets. We are seeing strong growth in these categories at 67 Pall Mall.”
“We have seen the success of more niche wine bars in recent years,” notes Kate Tan, executive director of Grand Vin Pte Ltd. “with the most recent opening being Convivial, possibly Singapore’s first Champagne bar, helmed by Yeo Xi Yang, winner of Singapore National Sommelier Competition in 2022.”
4. Agave spirits set to bloom
While agave-based liquors have always been popular in the US (thanks to its proximity to Mexico), the world has finally started to catch up. “Tequila is hot in the UK right now,” shares Becky Davies, founder of climate-positive Pod Pea Vodka, “It highlights the agave category in general and puts a light on the small Mexican categories like Mezcal, Racilla, Sotol, and Bacanora.” In Singapore, guests have also been eagerly exploring the category. “I would say mezcal, in particular,” reveals Vida.
White Shades’ Bai agrees. He says: “Agave spirits are on the rise — we get a lot of requests from guests for mezcal cocktails and straight spirit pours.” He adds: “Consumers are getting savvy about agave, and a growing number of them really recognise the brilliance of quality agave spirits such as Volcan, Clase Azul, and Don Julio 1942.”
Yet, its increasing global popularity may not always be a positive thing. “I do know that our love for agave will continue to need regulation because, as we have seen, our love for imports doesn’t always benefit everyone,” cautions Nicolas Torres, bar director/owner of San Francisco’s acclaimed cocktail bar True Laurel. “Even our love for avocados is destroying communities and landscapes.”
5. Umami cocktails: drink what you eat
It seems that more bars are exploring savoury flavours in their cocktails that aren’t Gibsons or Bloody Marys. The Bell Blossom at Live Twice includes celery in the tequila-based drink and is garnished with a cracker seasoned with pink peppercorn, dried celery, and salt. “Tomato in cocktails has been a trend I’ve personally noticed,” says Vida. “It seems many cocktail bars are including it creatively on their menus.”
A prime example would be Jigger & Pony’s Ugly Tomatoes, which uses misshapen or blemished heirloom beefsteak tomatoes in a gin-based drink with a kummel backbone. Fura’s Make Local Tomatoes Great Again also features creative use of the beloved fruit, incorporating MSG-lacto fermented local tomato and parsley.
“While it’s uncertain if savoury cocktails will dominate the scene in 2024, they certainly made a mark last year and will likely remain a fascinating and sought-after option among cocktail aficionados. Their versatility and ability to offer diverse flavour profiles could keep them in the spotlight, even as new trends emerge,” reckons Hurrydoss.