This post is sponsored by East Imperial Gin Jubilee

Meet the six bartenders competing to win this year’s Asia’s Best Gin & Tonic prize at the Gin Jubilee finale.

One of the highlights of this year’s grand finale of the East Imperial Gin Jubilee will be the crowning of Asia’s Best Gin & Tonic. This year, a record-breaking six bartenders from Auckland, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore have each wowed their local audiences and judges with their creative G&T cocktails to earn a spot at the regional finals in Singapore. But before the grand prize winner is announced on Saturday, they’ll each have to impress a panel of judges with their cocktails, and earn public favour at the Gin Lane party. Meet the bartenders who’ll be jousting for the honour.

Taste their cocktails at this year’s Gin Lane party, held in the alleyway behind Amoy Street from 6 to 11.30pm on December 2.

Kazi Tanbir, HYDE

Winner of the Best Gin & Tonic in Kuala Lumpur
Kazi began his career in bartending at the Lust Club and Bar in 2011, as a captain. He’d hang around the bar after his shifts to watch the bartenders stirring and shaking, and that got him interested in the life of drink-making. Three years later, he landed his dream job at the multi-concept Nagabar, working hard to master the classics. “It was not a smooth ride for me, but now, three years later, I’m able to craft my own cocktails, signature drinks and even make drinks to suit my customers tastes and mood at Hyde at 53M!”

Jardin Epice (click here for the recipe)

“When I was little, I bit on a piece of star anise and it literally tore me apart – it was horrible. My entire meal was over. But later, I began to love to work with different herbs and spices and incorporating them into my drinks. You won’t find them in a typically refreshing drink, but it definitely gives a G&T like mine character.”

Why he won
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d win a cocktail competition, especially one like the Gin Jubilee! There is no secret – it might have been the piece of dark chocolate I had a few hours before Gin Lane. Maybe it helped me stay focused. I just knew to try my best as I was up against some of the best bartenders in KL – my friends! But I sold 800 cups of G&Ts in three hours, and the best part of it all was everyone talking about the Jardin Epice the day after. It made me very happy to see all the Instagram posts and feedback on the cocktail on social media the day after.”

Chhuon Udom, Elephant Bar at Raffles Hotel Le Royal

Winner of the Best Gin & Tonic in Phnom Penh
26-year-old Phnom Penh local, Chhuon Udom, first joined the team at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal as a poolside attendant two years ago, before working his way up to bartender, and now head bartender at the Elephant Bar. He’s taken part in competitions like the Monin Cup in 2014 and 2016, but considers his achievement at this year’s East Imperial Gin Jubilee his proudest achievement yet. “I love working here, especially because it gives me the opportunity to learn about new ingredients and flavour trends, and gin’s my favourite spirit to work with.” Now the hotel’s head mixologist, he oversees all bar operations in the hotel, as well as creating new and exciting cocktails and mocktails for guests and the hotel’s events.

Kaf Kaf & Tonic (click here for the recipe)

“We took inspiration for the drink from Khmer flavours and tried to pay homage to our culture and traditions as one of the most iconic and the oldest hotel in Phnom Penh. As a base, we used the Raffles Sipsmith 1915 Gin, crafted for Raffles Hotels around the world. The unique botanicals – jasmine, lemongrass and kaffir lime – are also used in traditional Cambodian cuisine, and as an added touch, we made our own bitters using lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, and a syrup of fresh jasmine flowers to enhance those flavours. Presentation is key, so we selected a traditional Cambodian tile, which matches the design of the Elephant Bar, and serve the cocktail with the featured botanicals around the glass.”

Why he won
“Firstly, this was a team effort. Everyone in the bar talked to the guests about Gin Jubilee and how they could support us – in the end, we received so many votes because we were able to create and sell so many of our Kaf Kaf & Tonics. I think we also scored highly with the judges because our drink was pretty traditional, with no addition of liqueurs, colours or flavours not already present in the gin – the gin still had to be a central flavour in the G&T, and we achieved that. Guests were also encouraged to take photos of the cocktail because of the presentation, and we offered a dark chocolate and kaffir lime truffle to pair with the cocktail, and I think that, and the other factors, all contributed to the positive feedback from the guests and judges.”

Imelda Ng, Blue Bar at Four Seasons

Winner of the Best Gin & Tonic in Hong Kong

Imelda joined the Four Seasons Hong Kong in 2015 as a server at Blue Bar, after completing her studies in fashion design. As an aspiring designer and a passionate cook, she channels her creativity into crafting cocktails to great success. In 2015, she won the Tag No5 vodka competition with the Som O, inspired by her favourite Thai pomelo salad. Then in 2017, she won the Diplomatico World Tournament in Hong Kong and was shortlisted in Asia’s Top 10, before picking up this honour of Best Gin & Tonic in Hong Kong. Her efforts have since been recognised by the hotel, and Imelda now holds the position of head bartender at the hotel’s Caprice Bar. She’s responsible for the cocktail menu design and customising cocktails for guests.

Ferien (click here for the recipe)

Imelda joined Gin Jubilee because she wanted to represent the women of the Hong Kong bar industry. Ferien, German for holiday, was so named as she wanted guests to feel relaxed after having a few of her cocktails. Monkey 47 gives it a refreshing taste, the mulled spice tea-infused vermouth – made with orange, lemon, juniper berries, cinnamon and cloves – exudes a festive scent, and caramel and East Imperial Burma Tonic also adds warmth to the cocktail.

Why she won
“Hong Kong is a bustling and fast-paced city and I think many people liked finding an escape in a cocktail like Ferien. There was a guest who ordered my drink – he didn’t react too much to it and was extremely quiet, so I was concerned he didn’t like my drink. But right after, he ordered a second one. I felt relieved. I think my cocktail serves its purpose, to help guests rejuvenate and disconnect from work.”

Thomas Ke, The Cannery

Winner of the Best Gin & Tonic in Shanghai
Thomas moved to Shanghai from Henan in 2010, first to work in a kitchen at an Italian restaurant, before stumbling into bartending by chance. On a busy night, he was asked to help make a drink, and that first Dry Martini set him on a career path behind the bar. In the seven years since, he’s taken a two-year break to set up a business with family, before following his heart back to stints at clubs, hotel bars, British pubs, Japanese bars and American restaurant bars. He’s now bartender at The Cannery, and Shanghai’s first ever East Imperial Gin Jubilee Best Gin & Tonic winner.

Purple Aura (click here for the recipe)

A cross between an Aviation and a G&T, he substitutes violet liqueur with a blueberry-sage cordial for a herbaceous bite.

Why he won
“I won thanks to the support of my friends and customers, and I’m confident that my drink was popular because it looked beautiful and was truly tasty. At the Gin Lane party, my stand was next to the DJ booth, so I ended up really enjoying the music and atmosphere – that probably helped with keeping pace and with interaction with my customers. I think they felt relaxed and happy when they came to me for drinks, and that probably helped them like my drink more.

I was also very heartened when a foreign bar owner came to get a neat pour of St George Botanivore Gin – which I used in my cocktail – and chat with me about its origin and flavour first, then ordered my G&T with his friend. After trying the G&Ts by a few other bartenders, he returned to me to tell me mine was genuinely delicious. I felt so recognised!”

Haans Mayer, The Golden Dawn

At a young age of just 22, Haans has only ever worked in one bar, but has been growing in the hospitality industry for four years now. The Golden Dawn in Auckland, the tavern where he works, is well-known and loved by locals for its great wine, cocktails and live music in the city.

Resplendent Rogue (click here for the recipe)

“The idea for my cocktail came from the seasons. We were right in between Summer and Autumn when the competition was beginning in Auckland, which made me think of the beautiful fresh and bright fruits in seasons, which is why I decided to go with a G&T with a twist of apricot and orange. I would consider the secret weapon for my beverage to be the addition of dry sherry, which gives the fruit a richer and slightly woodsy characteristic, and adds the cherry on top of the drink, figuratively speaking.”

Why he won
“I think I won in Auckland because I made a delicious G&T. Plus, I’m also great at connecting and engaging with people over things I’m passionate about, and this style of competition where the public votes worked in my favour.”

David Kim, Chihuly Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore

Winner of the Best Gin & Tonic in Singapore

High Five (click here for the recipe)

“I am using Sipsmith Gin and East Imperial Burma Tonic for my cocktail, with the addition of omija berries (also known as five flavours berry). Omija is usually used to create home made soju in Korea, and it packs five distinct flavours – sweet, spicy, salty, bitter and sour – in one berry. I infuse them in soju and Sipsmith Sloe Gin to enhance the flavours of my G&T, which gives it more depth and intensity, while not overpowering the flavours of the classic cocktail.”

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