Words by Julia Chan
Three Blind Pigs’ bar supervisor offers her two cents on creating delicious tipples.
With Singapore’s bar scene heating up across the island and more bartenders experimenting with unique cocktail creations, how can a bartender stay ahead of the game?
According to a Bartender 4.0 survey conducted by NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and the Association of Bartenders and Sommeliers Singapore (ABSS), ‘familiarity of cocktail components’ is a key technical skill in demand for bartenders.
To understand the art of creating beautiful cocktails by being familiar with cocktail components, a Thirsty Thursday group of bartenders visited Mei Lian who is the bar supervisor of Three Blind Pigs, a Tex-Mex fusion restaurant.
Mei Lian has nine years of bartending experience and two awards under her belt — The Minister Award (Ryukyu Awamori Spirits Cocktail Challenge Asia Cup 2017), and First Place in the Dilmah Tea Cocktail category (National Cocktail Competition hosted by ABSS).
Here are some tips for bartenders to up their game in being familiar with cocktail components when doing R&D for new cocktails using the ‘four whites and two browns’.
The ‘four whites and two browns’
Visiting bartender Thae shared what bartenders should know about the ‘four whites and two browns’, saying, “There are many distilled spirits available today. Among them, six base liquors are the foundation of the majority of cocktails and liqueurs. Gin, Rum, Tequila, Vodka which are white spirits, and Brandy and Whiskey which are brown spirits. Each spirit is unique and all have distinct styles within themselves.”
“Bartenders must know the basic spirits to prepare classic delicious cocktails to more complex cocktails and also should be familiar with the products they work with. Additionally, learning about whiskies, beer styles, wine varietals, and cocktails are essential. A bartender will often be asked for recommendations, create cocktails on the fly, or offer food pairing choices with drinks,” she explained.
Knowing the ingredients inside each spirit and deciding whether you wish to mask or enhance its flavours
Mei Lian said, “Spirits bottles contain a lot of information! Hence, do try to find out what the ingredients used to make those spirits are, as well as tasting them.”
“After knowing what each spirit tastes like, the next step would be deciding what/how you want to mix your drink with other ingredients. Sometimes it is to mask the taste of the spirits and other times to enhance,” Mei Lian shared.
At Three Blind Pigs, Mei Lian demonstrated how to create a balanced cocktail using the ‘four whites and two browns’. As these are high-alcohol spirits, they should be accompanied with weak ingredients like juices for a citrus taste, and soda for a refreshing taste of a balanced drink.
Thae described a good cocktail as having ‘tension’. “Tension exists in the balance between the elements: alcoholic strength, sweetness, sourness, temperature and texture. Flavour alone is not enough to make a good drink great. I believe a good cocktail can be like a journey the bartender brings you through — it has a beginning, middle, and an end.”
Being innovative and learning different techniques
“Personally, I feel a Bartender 4.0 should be innovative. When it comes to technical skills, they can try to incorporate different methods like the smoke gun or liquid clarifying technique,” Mei Lian explained.
On avenues to learn new skills, she said, “There are plenty of courses available like the Elite Bartender course run by ABSS and platforms supported by e2i* to learn skills from. Tapping into the wide reserve of the Internet can also be a great way to start.”.
*Bartenders and F&B establishments who wish to learn how e2i can support their training and manpower needs can contact e2i at www.e2i.com.sg
She highlighted that spirit distributors also conduct regular sessions with bartenders to introduce them to different spirits and how to use the spirits for innovative creations.
On a technical skill she hopes to learn in the future, she said, “If given the opportunity and time, I would love to learn how to flair. I find flaring spectacular and it spices up the experience for the guest. If the chance arises, I would love to attend classes like WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) and alcohol tasting sessions that would beef up my knowledge and become a better bartender. There are plenty of things for bartenders to learn from and we can never stop learning unless we stop bartending.”
Thae encouraged bartenders to practice their craft and know that they need to always be learning and be aware of current trends and developments in the bar and restaurant world.
“Knowing your drinks is important, and there are countless resources you can utilise to do so, such as cocktail books to wine guides, classes and seminars. The most fun part is tasting drinks and there are nearly endless resources to find online as well,” she said.
Being positive and cultivating good habits
“A good bartender should possess a positive mindset. They should always have a passion in them to produce a good tasting drink as well as having the mindset to keep learning and perfecting their existing concoctions,” Mei Lian said.
She also emphasised that it would be good for bartenders to always put on a smile, keep good personal hygiene and ensure good cleanliness of the bar.
Thae values hygiene, efficiency, and professionalism when a bartender prepares the cocktail. “Technical skills are a very important part for a good bartender. Because even simple cocktails need the right technique to have a perfect taste. When the bartender is shaking, stirring and muddling, it might look cool and easy but the bartender must use the correct methods to create flavour while shaking or stirring. Every drink has a unique way of preparing and has its own style. Technical skills play a big role to get their original flavour,” she explained.
Thae shared her experience as a Thirsty Thursday guest, praising Three Blind Pigs for its warm ambience and the Jerry’s Ship cocktail.
“Once inside the restaurant, you are greeted first by the warmly-lit bar, before seeing a restaurant floor complete with cozy booths. The most outstanding cocktail for me is Jerry’s Ship which is a twist of classic mojito cocktail. While a mojito tastes fine by itself with soda, the Jerry’s Ship is topped up with cider which causes effervescence and makes the drink more refreshing. Besides enhancing the standards of the taste, attention to the details of presentation shows the level of care given by the bartender,” she said.
Here are some selections from Three Blind Pig’s cocktail menu:
- Bee-Key — Monkey Shoulder whiskey, Yellow Chartreuse, Cointreau, honey, slice of passion fruit
- Bubble and Dream — Hendrick’s Gin, elderflower, lemon juice, syrup, prosecco
- Winey Peach — Reyka vodka, Cabernet Sauvignon, Peach schnapps, lime juice, syrup
- Jerry’s Ship — Sailor Jerry spiced rum, lime juice, brown sugar, cider, mint
- Salted Paloma — Milagro silver, Agava nectar, lemon juice, pink grapefruit juice, soda, salt
- Sazerac — Martell VSOP, Absinthe, Angostura Bitters
For more information on Three Blind Pigs, please visit www.threeblindpigs.sg
About Bartender 4.0
In 2019, a survey of over 100 professionals by e2i and ABSS revealed the key skills that bartenders ready for the Industry 4.0 should possess, among which were:
- Adaptive: customer interaction, inventory management, cost and quality management
- Technology: digital technologies and automation
- Technical: molecular mixology beverages, food and beverage pairing, familiarity of cocktail components, and cuisines and cultures of the world
Hence Bartender 4.0 was launched as an initiative by e2i with ABSS to upgrade bartenders’ adaptive, technical and technological skills to be prepared for Industry 4.0.
About Thirsty Thursday
Thirsty Thursday is a series of visits to Singapore bars which exemplify skills in Bartender 4.0.
These visits, customised for visiting bartenders from various backgrounds, are arranged by Mr David Chan, Honorary Secretary (General) of the Association of Bartenders and Sommeliers Singapore (ABSS), and NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i).
The aim of Thirsty Thursday is to expose Singapore’s bartenders to skills under the Bartender 4.0 initiative, and build a network of bartenders across Singapore.