The inaugural Diageo Reserve World Class Southeast Asia Finals wasn’t just any cocktail making competition — over two days, 26 of the region’s top bartenders were tested on their skills under the intense scrutiny of six renowned judges.
After creating 230 cocktails across four highly-intensive challenges, Singaporean contestant Peter Chua emerged with a double win as he was crowned both Singapore and SEA World Class Bartender of the Year 2014.
We managed to catch up with Peter amidst his busy schedule as he prepares for the global finals, which will take place from 28 July to 1 August 2014, as he speaks with us on all things tipple.
Lifestyle Asia (LSA): Firstly, congratulations on the win! What are your thoughts on that?
Peter Chua (PC): I’m a little pressurised actually (laughs). I’m the second Singaporean to win the same awards since six years ago. The Singapore cocktail scene has changed so much over the years, and we have many good bartenders who have come here to work.
It was already a tough battle to compete among the other bartenders in Singapore, and more so for the Southeast Asian competition. People now have higher expectations of me, and that amounts to more pressure — but that only makes me want to win even more, to do my country proud!
LSA: What was the competition like?
PC: There were many challenges to determine how good you are as an all-rounded bartender, not just your ability to work with a particular spirit. It was about creativity in working with different kinds of spirits, techniques, presentation skills and speed.
LSA: How did your foray into the world of cocktails and the working relationship with 28 Hong Kong Street begin?
PC: I started my career in cocktails when I found 28 Hong Kong Street (28 HKS). I was offered the chance to work at a house party, which happened to be organised by one of my bosses. What I didn’t know then, was that they were looking for bartenders for 28 HKS. That kickstarted my passion for cocktails.
LSA: Is there such a thing as the “perfect cocktail”?
PC: To me, the “perfect cocktail” doesn’t exist — it’s actually a matter of making a cocktail that’s perfect for the customer. If the guest wants something that’s as simple as a gin and tonic, then that’s the perfect drink for him or her then. Everybody has different palettes, and there’s no drink that will cater to everybody.
LSA: Terms like “mixologists” and “speakeasy bars” are the buzz words these days. What are your thoughts on that?
PC: I usually introduce myself as a bartender. Mixologists might have a more scientific approach to making drinks, but a bartender is more like a host — not just making good drinks, but ensures that guests have a good time. I don’t have anything against those terms as they are a necessary evil — they help to categorise things.
LSA: What do you enjoy most about cocktail making?
PC: I like making drinks, thinking of new ways and new ingredients to introduce different flavours into a cocktail. It’s the drive to constantly create something new that constantly keeps me going.
LSA: Which is more important in concocting a good cocktail, the bartender’s skills or the ingredients?
PC: Cocktail making is like cooking — there’s no similar dish in the world. There are similar ingredients and bases like rum and tequila, but it’s the supporting ingredients that make each cocktail unique.
Actually, neither the bartender’s skills or ingredients are perennial, it’s the flavour of the drink that matters the most. The ingredients denote what the drinks taste like, but it’s the intention of the bartender — what flavour does he hope to produce — that’s important. The bartender’s skills makes it easier, but his or her creativity plays a part in the end product.
LSA: Lastly, any words of advice to aspiring bartenders?
PC: Being a bartender is perceived as a glamorous job these days, but I’d advice people to put that idea aside. Learn, listen and experiment — never take things for granted. Instead of riding on the name of the bar, how about you creating a name for the bar?
28 Hong Kong Street, Singapore 059667, +65 6533 2001, www.28hks.com