These were the bar stars of Asia in 2019
From global competition winners, to high achievers and bartenders trying to save the world, we recognise Asia’s bar stars of 2019. By Holly Graham.
Though we shouldn’t solely measure bartenders’ skills by their awards and competition achievements, hard work shouldn’t go unnoticed, and these Asia bartenders absolutely smashed 2019 when it came to competitions, awards, nominations and overall dedication to the bar industry – all while putting Asia on the map. Let’s hear it for 2019’s bar stars!
Ashish Sharma (Bar Trigona, Kuala Lumpur)
Ashish Sharma, head bartender of Bar Trigona at Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur, led the team to score a new entry on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2019, coming in hot at 40, while also winning the Sustainable Bar Award for its innovative bar programme, which supports local farms and celebrates local produce.
To craft their menu, Ashish and the team seek out small producers of Malaysian ingredients and support the local economy, most notably Dino Kalulut’s organic trigona honey farm – the honey from which the bar takes its name and concept. This later led Ashish to activate the bar’s brilliant hive-adopting scheme to save the bees – click the link to find out more and how to adopt.
Ashish then continued to lead his team to victory, finishing the year with a hattrick at The Bar Awards Kuala Lumpur and Penang 2019, winning Hotel Bar of the Year, Creative Cocktail Bar of the Year and Bar of the Year.
Bannie Kang (Mu, Taipei)
The ever-smiling Bannie Kang continued being an all-round badass, which saw her chalk up some mega achievements in 2019. In May, she joined Sasha Wijidessa (ex-Operation Dagger, Singapore), Victoria Chow (The Woods, Hong Kong) and Ann Pinsuda Pongprom (The Bamboo Bar, Bangkok) as a #50BestTalks panelist, with a discussion entitled The Female Spirit, flying the flag for women in the industry.
She then took on World Class, bulldozing her way to the top by winning over the judges as she aced challenge after challenge. Winning the coveted title of World Class Bartender of the Year 2019 makes her the only female representing an Asian nation to do so. If that wasn’t enough, a couple of days later she was crowned Bartender of the Year at The Bar Awards Singapore 2019, and then made the Top 4 for our very own DMBA 2019 Bartender of the Year (Asia).
On this wave of success, Bannie announced that she would be leaving her role at Anti:dote in Singapore to open a new bar called Mu in Taipei, where she’ll be serving up cocktails with Nick Wu, while her husband Tryson Quek will be cooking up refined tapas.
Jay Khan (COA, Hong Kong)
The king of agave blazed through 2019, starting by winning Patrón’s Margarita of the Year with his Dynasty Margarita of Patrón silver, Patrón Citrónge orange, St-Germain, lime juice, ginger syrup and lychee.
His bar COA then debuted as the Highest New Entry on Asia’s 50 Best Bars at number 12, a few months before sliding in as a new entry at 49 on World’s 50 Best Bars. He was then awarded Bartender of the Year at The Bar Awards Hong Kong and Macau 2019.
If that wasn’t enough, just two weeks ago, our own awarding body DMBA 2019 crowned him Bartender of the Year (Asia) and named COA as Bar of the Year (Asia). Tequila for everybody!
Lal Muan Puia (Gekko, Yangon)
Puia (left), bar manager for Gekko in Myanmar’s capital of Yangon, has come up trumps and is making sure he puts his developing cocktail market on the map. He was selected as the Wildcard Finalist (Asia Pacific) for Bacardi Legacy 2020, meaning he’ll be competing in the global finals in Miami. But before that, he’ll be heading to Milan next month, as he was the winner of the Campari Bartender Asia 2019 Myanmar finals, meaning he’ll be on yet another global stage.
These are huge achievements for a young gun coming out of a capital that isn’t known for its cocktail scene, but is definitely beginning to grow with some notable new openings this year – and Puia is set to spread the word as he travels for competitions.
Ronnaporn “Neung” Kanivichaporn
Ronnaporn, co-founder of Bangkok’s Backstage, #FindTheLockerRoom and #FindThePhotobooth, won Bacardi Legacy 2019 with his drink Pink Me Up – a blend of Bacardi Carta Blanca rum with fresh tomato, orgeat, lemon juice, olive brine and fresh basil – back in May.
Ronnaporn is the first ever Bacardi Legacy winner from Southeast Asia, and celebrated the win just a week after his Bangkok bar Backstage clocked in at 20 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2019. With his Legacy triumph and Bannie’s World Class win, Asia took two of the biggest competition titles in 2019.
Shingo Gokan (Speak Low and Sober Company, Shanghai and The SG Club, Tokyo)
Take a bow, Shingo Gokan. One of Asia’s industry icons kicked off the year with a monumentous number of wins at Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2019. He was named Bartenders’ Bartender and all three of his bars in the top 20 of the 2019 ranking as The SG Club came in as a new entry.
Just to make sure he wasn’t missing out on World’s 50 Best Bars 2019, all three made the cut again with Sober Company and The SG Club scoring new entries, and Speak Low retaining its place – meaning out of the 13 Asian bars on the list, three are Shingo’s and he is the only person to have three bars across both 50 Best lists.
Just recently at DMBA 2019, Sober Company took home two trophies winning Cocktail Program and the all-important Bar of the Year. For now, Shingo is working on a new bar in New York, so who knows…he may have four new bars on future World’s 50 Best lists!
Summer Lo (Blue Bar at Four Seasons Hong Kong)
Summer kick started her year by coming in second place to Shelley Tai at World Class Hong Kong 2019, who also slayed it in the global finals, making the top eight. As Summer was crowned Hong Kong’s “crowd favourite”, she bagged herself a trip to Glasgow to see the finals in action.
She also won the Hong Kong Monkey Shoulder Mixologists Competition 2019 Championship, but undoubtedly her big highlight of the year was being crowned Miss Speed Rack Asia 2019. Speed pouring her way to the top, Summer was the fastest female among 16 competitors from around Asia, going head to head with Polina Lee of Southside Parlor in Seoul in the grand final. Her win also saw her summoned to BBC News Asia at an ungodly hour for an interview screened to millions.
The Old Man team
The Old Man became the first bar in Hong Kong to top the Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2019 list, jumping up four places from 2018 and taking the number one spot from Manhattan, which had reigned on high for two consecutive years.
Fast forward to World’s 50 Best Bars 2019, and The Old Man became the first bar of the same name and concept to feature on both World’s and Asia’s 50 Best Bars with both The Old Man Hong Kong and Singapore.
Earlier in the year, The Old Man’s now-departed head bartender Yvonne Chan was recognised by The Bar Awards Hong Kong and Macau 2019 with the Rising Star award, and the team took home Bar of the Year, too. The year finished with a bang, with DMBA 2019 awarding The Old Man Hong Kong with our new award: Bar Team of the Year (Asia).
Have we missed one of your hospo heroes? To spread the love, let us know your bar stars of 2019 by commenting with their name and how they’ve made a difference this year!