I will be the first to admit that despite having covered Singapore’s flourishing bar scene for the last five years, I am not particularly adept at making cocktails.
Sure, I can make a fuss-free stirred drink, such as a negroni, old fashioned or boulevardier – all of which require a maximum of three ingredients and a simple garnish like a sliver of lemon or orange peel. But my repertoire ends there.
However, times have changed. Some of my favourite watering holes have shut in compliance with the Government’s latest Covid-19 measures, whereby all bars, clubs and entertainment venues have to be closed until April 30.
So it looks like I am going to have to level up my cocktail-making skills if I am to go beyond my three-drink menu. After all, I can still enjoy virtual happy hour with friends over Zoom and Skype.
This is where I need help from the professionals. I get bartender Mike Cheong, also a Bacardi-Martini trade ambassador, to teach me how to make four classic cocktails.
We meet at Ah Sam Cold Drink stall, located on the second floor of a shophouse in the now ghost town that is Boat Quay. It is one of the first bars I visited in 2013.
Do I need professional bar tools at home? Mr Cheong offers plenty of hacks using kitchen equipment and stuff you can find around the home.
For instance, you can use measuring spoons in place of a jigger, a double-coned measuring device used by bartenders to accurately pour out spirits.
No long-handled bar spoon? Use a chopstick. No shaker? Just use one of those free water bottles you get in goodie bags.
I quickly realise that making classic cocktails – such as a stiff vodka martini or negroni, or the refreshing, tropics-friendly gin fizz and daiquiri – is not as hard as I had thought.
All you need is a stash of booze and a few modifiers such as bitters and vermouth.
Measuring and pouring spirits into the mixing glass gets fiddly at times – as is the maths, and trying to figure out how many measuring spoons of gin you need to make 60ml. But a little extra gin can’t hurt, right?
I also pick up pro tips, such as the proper technique for stirring a cocktail in a mixing glass. The optimum is 10 to 15 seconds to chill and dilute the drink, but not too long.
The real pros do it almost soundlessly – where you can’t hear the ice clinking against the glass – but I still have a long way to go.
Now that I have a lesson under my belt, I look forward to doing a Friday night Zoom party with my Shanghai-based friends, Fabian and Scott, who made their own “quarantine cocktails” during the city’s lockdown.
Bars and bartenders in China were among the first to introduce takeaway cocktails and cocktail kits, and live-stream cocktail-making classes. Cities such as New York and London have followed suit, and Singapore bars are now doing so as well.
Having cocktails via video chat will not be the same as sitting at a marble bartop, watching a bartender in a smart white coat making me a martini with flourish. I will also miss the clinking of glasses.
But this will have to do for now. There will still be banter with friends, just that I might have to go offcamera for the occasional refill.
Now, I just have to shop for proper glassware in which to serve my homemade cocktails.