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Meet the head bartender stirring up a storm at Asia’s best bar

Manhattan recently topped Asia’s 50 Best Bars list. We spoke to head bartender Philip Bischoff about his love of classic cocktails and the trend toward drinks with fewer ingredients

Head bartender Philip Bischoff

Manhattan in Singapore’s Regent hotel was recently named number one on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list. Renowned for its focus on the `golden age’ of cocktails, Manhattan aims to transplant a touch of old New York glamour to the region. We spoke to head bartender Philip Bischoff about his love of classic cocktails and why simple drinks stand the test of time. 

“When we talk about the ‘Golden Age’ of cocktails it means the New York grand hotel bar era, then prohibition, post-prohibition, the first bar books and how drinks that have become classics were developed at this time.
“Back then it was more about short drinks – martinis, manhattans – and variations of them. We’re talking about simple, elegant drinks. There were three or four ingredients. Back then there was no internet, limited shipping… people definitely looked more into the products they had around them. In the great American bar books you find
a lot of whiskey-based drinks, and there was certainly no sous vide machine or rotary evaporator for infusing. It was more about what people could get their hands on.
“Until a couple of years back, it was becoming ‘the more ingredients, the more spices, the more herbs, the better’. Now, I think we’re seeing a move back to the classic drinks – an old fashioned, a sazerac, a manhattan.
“Here in Singapore, and especially at Manhattan, we can see over time that there is a trend toward spirit-forward drinks [a cocktail made of a base spirit plus one or two modifiers such as fortified wines, liqueurs or syrups].
“I think people in general are becoming more educated, they’re travelling much more… We have lots of people coming in who enjoy researching drinks to a great degree.
“It’s very difficult to say which modern drinks will stand the test of time and become classics, but I think a good example of a recent cocktail that’s ‘made it’ is the gin basil smash, which was invented by my old boss, Jörg Meyer, at Le Lion in Hamburg. It’s gin, lemon, sugar and a healthy amount of fresh basil. It’s a simple drink but it already has its own legacy. Simplicity is key for a drink to become very successful, as it has to be possible to reproduce it in any corner of the world.”

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