option 2.jpg (original size)Shawn Chong at his private bar in Rad Impressions.

We at Malaysia Tatler enjoy the occasional drink and a question popped up during a friendly discussion about cocktails: what do bartenders order to measure another bartender’s skill?

Also read: 5 bars to get your craft beer fix

Curious, we pose the question to bartender Shawn Chong, the co-founder of Omakase + Appreciate that ranked 10th on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list last year, during our visit to his new venture Rad Impressions, a bar and spirits education and consultancy company.

Many of us who enjoy a drink or two rarely hear stories that take place behind the bar. Here, Shawn enlightens us to some of the secrets of his trade.

What is the one drink to order to measure another bartender’s skill?

For me it would be two, simple cocktails. The first would be an old fashioned, reason being that the drink is the very definition of a cocktail and if you know how to make one it shows that you’ve done your groundwork.

The second would be a very simple daiquiri, which will show if you know where the cocktail comes from and if you know how to balance a simple sweet and sour cocktail.

Fun fact: Shawn tells me that a cocktail must have four ingredients – sugar, bitters, water and a spirit of any kind.

What is the difference between a bartender and a mixologist?

Technically, there isn’t any difference but the common school of thought is that there is. I would define it this way, a bartender, when you look at the name, generally tends the bar and has a wide range of responsibilities. A mixologist is an expert at making drinks. Till this day people are still debating on the two terms but I prefer to call myself a bartender for humility’s sake.

How are cocktails priced?

First and foremost, alcohol in Malaysia is expensive. In my bar, the average drink is RM40 nett. The cost of the spirit and its ingredients are obvious inclusions yet you must take business margins into consideration, such as manpower, utility and maintenance costs. There are also hidden costs that go into a cocktail, such as preparations that go into making our drinks (time, making fresh juices, the experience of the bartenders, etc.), that get factored in.

What is your favourite drink and why?

I have two favourites that are my go-to if I’m not working, a gin and tonic (Tanqueray London dry is my favourite) or a whisky highball. My drink choices are simple, I also enjoy a glass of wine.

What’s the most difficult thing about operating a bar?

It is definitely the administrative part of the business, from managing manpower to finances, sales and marketing. Owning your own business is not so easy because you have to do everything yourself.

What is the strangest order you’ve ever had?

I’ve gotten an order with only adjectives. It was from these two guys who were trying to be funny and one of them asked for something “deep and complex”. 

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Tags: Alcohol, Cocktails, Bar, Bartender, Omakase + Appreciate, Mixology, Shawn Chong