I went for Shawn Chong's whisky cocktail workshop and here’s what happened
Mixing with the RAD crowd
Shawn Chong is a man who needs no introduction among booze enthusiasts. The 2015 Diageo Reserve World Class regional joint-winner and partner Karl Too own and run Omakase + Appreciate under the Ming Annexe, the critically acclaimed craft cocktail joint famously hidden behind a Dilarang Masuk-labelled door.
Today, instead of being behind the bar, Shawn is facing a quartet of cocktail amateurs who can't tell a cobbler from a Boston shaker. The class, organized by alcohol educators RAD Impressions as part of The Whisky Society event, is a simple one: learning the names and uses of basic bar tools and applying them to make three simple cocktails.
Of the three four-ingredient cocktails we were to learn to make, two were Shawn's own creations while the third is a crowd favourite dating back decades: the Whisky Sour. Shawn's originals were called the Strawberry Bubblegum and Ginger Snaps, both using specialty tea from Borneo Harvest Kuala Lumpur. The tipple of choice wasn't a whisky however, it was High West Bourbon. "You should try to use a whisky or bourbon that doesn't have too overpowering a taste," Shawn tells us.
What's interesting here, is that with exception of the Whisky Sour which requires egg whites, the other two can be somewhat pre-made to save time, then shaken with ice and served when needed. Besides the necessary chilling effect, it goes without saying that the shaking and pouring makes you look cool. Showmanship is a big part of bartending, of course.
Despite being a regular patron of alcohol-serving establishments, I had no idea what any of the bartender's essential tools and cutlery lined up next to him were called. And so I was introduced to the two shakers mentioned earlier, the bar spoon, the hawthorn strainer and the jigger, all by BevTools.
The jigger is the double-sided conical instrument used to measure out cocktail ingredients, it varies in size but typically has markings for different measurements. Where the required measurement doesn't match an available marking, Shawn tells us to estimate and taste later.
"It's better to put all the non-alcoholic ingredients in first, in case you make a mistake and have to start again," says Shawn. He expertly cracks open the top of an egg, the hole wide enough to allow the egg white to flow out while trapping the yolk within. This wasn't too much of a challenge, but try nailing this repeatedly when you have a bar full of thirsty customers.
The actual measuring and adding of ingredients isn't exactly difficult, although for the whisky sour there was a whole lot of stuck egg whites and shell bits flying about. "This is just a rough guide," says Shawn. "You can add whisky if you like your cocktail stronger." Well alright then, in goes more bourbon.
Once everything was sitting at the bottom of the Boston shaker, I fill it full of ice and try to emulate Shawn's manner of shaking it. Fine, except for the fact that the shaker was getting steadily colder and harder to hold as the ice flew around within. A knock on the shaker to loosen the two separate cup-like parts and with a pour through the strainer, I had made my first cocktail: a nice, strong Whisky Sour.
The Strawberry Bubblegum and Ginger Snaps were decidedly easier to make, just repeated measuring in the jigger, shaking and pouring over ice. For hosting a group of friends out in the open on a hot day, the Ginger Snaps seemed like exactly the kind of refreshing cocktail everyone would enjoy, even those who usually scorned whisky.
We then ended the session by consuming everything we had made. It was well-earned, after all.
For those of you who are interested in learning about cocktail making, or are super eager to open your own cocktail bar because you have the most creative theme in mind including access through a manhole cover, RAD Impressions conducts regular classes led by Shawn at the their office, the aptly named RAD Pad. In the meantime, feel free to try the recipes for the three drinks we learnt during the workshop.
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