Ask anyone what reminds them of spring, and the usual answers will be along the lines of flowers blooming, the winter spell dissipating or a few consecutive days of sunshine. Further probing might elicit memories of a first love, the joy of a bountiful garden harvest or basking under the beauty of cherry blossom trees. The same question was posed to five bartenders across the Klang Valley who had been tasked by Roku Gin to create three cocktails inspired by the season.
Fans of the renowned Japanese gin will know that the botanical spirit is crafted from a blend of the finest ingredients harvested from the best growing areas in Japan.
“In spring, we harvest the sakura flower and leaf; in summer, sencha and gyokuro tea; in autumn, sansho pepper; and in winter, yuzu,” says Alaric Ng, brand manager for Southeast Asia at The House of Suntory. “The botanicals are only harvested in shun, or the peak of season, for maximum flavour and freshness. These botanicals come together to create a perfectly balanced, multi-layered gin.”
Beta KL, Bar Trigona, Three X Co, Concubine KL, Pahit, PS150, Jann KL, BAC, Reka: Bar and Sip Society were selected to share Roku Gin’s story of craftsmanship and celebrate the season. “These Roku Gin cocktails are the respective bartenders’ interpretation of spring,” Ng says about the collaboration, on until May 31. “They each tell a story or are an expression of a springtime memory. You can find more classic-style cocktails while some are truly pushing the frontier with innovative highball-styles. Shaken, stirred or muddled, guests can sample a whole gamut of different Roku Gin expressions at these partner bars.”
Head bartender David Hans thinks bartending is about crafting a balanced drink served with great hospitality. His creations for Roku Gin reflect the different stages of a lush garden coming to life.
“Harusaki-tini reminds me of the harvesting season of fruits and plants. We use Asian pear and rhubarb to reveal the sweet and rich flavour of spring. This cocktail is the perfect start for the season. Marigold HaiBoRu [Hans’ personal favourite] is akin to drinking a highball in a garden. The mild fragrance of marigold soda enhances the flavour and brings out the freshness of springtime. Hana Harmony is inspired by flowers and blossoms and the happiness they bring. I use strawberry sous vide aperol for the sweetness, jasmine flower for the aroma and white grapes for acidity. All three drinks deliver a taste profile Malaysians are familiar with. We hope that through drinking the whole series our customers are able to feel the happiness and hope that spring brings.”
Hoong Seong Kwok, more popularly known as Marcus, is often described as a natural storyteller by the Trigona team. A constant since the award-winning bar’s opening (it was crowned the Best Bar in Malaysia for three consecutive years), the bartender has crafted three drinks that revolve around love for the season of romance.
“The story behind the drinks is inspired by being in a relationship. Love at First Sight is when you first meet the person of your dreams. Therefore, it is bubbly, sweet and refreshing. It is my personal favourite of the three because it brings back memories of my first love. Love Letter is being in a relationship but when you’re unable to see your partner every day, you write letters (though in this modern day and age, we use WhatsApp and Instagram!). La Vie en Rose represents the final part where we profess our love and want it to be strong, therefore it is a very strong and straightforward type of cocktail.”
“At Jann KL, our cocktails are inspired by the ingredients, flavours and places in and around Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown,” says head bartender Darwin Ng, and this collaboration is no exception.
“Bloom celebrates the rising hospitality scene in Chinatown and Malaysia. Consisting of floral components — including Roku Gin, butterfly pea flower tea, rose flower tea, rose vermouth, citrus, ginger spice and soda — this cocktail is made with the blooming of a flower in mind. While spring is often seen as a season of flowers blooming and fruit setting, often overlooked are the roots of a plant where it all begins. Cherish, which comprises Roku Gin, licorice root, cherry and white vermouth, is a spirit-forward cocktail that is bittersweet and punchy. Its story and inspiration also make it my preference. Hong Hua Jiao is made with two well-known ingredients in Malaysia — roselle flower and Sichuan red peppercorn. This is a sweet and sour cocktail with a hint of spice.”
Roku Gin launched its spring campaign over dinner at Beta KL. Hence, the bar’s drinks were made to complement dishes from its Tour of Malaysia tasting menu. Co-founder and bartender Alex Cheah shares how sustainable cooking methods in the kitchen are also reflected behind the bar.
“Whatever item we use in the kitchen, we try to maximise its usage. For example, the shiitake mushrooms on the menu are also used in Blossom, a cocktail similar to a whisky sour using homemade peach syrup and shiitake bitters. It is my favourite because it represents our core philosophy. The Roku Spring Tonic is an elevated version of the gin and tonic. Adding Midori and honey gives the drink a fruitiness and sweetness that opens up the palate. Umeshutini is a strong cocktail inspired by one of the six botanicals of Roku Gin: sencha tea. The sweet and sour taste of Shin Brandy Umeshu complements the main course’s robust flavours.”
Known for its inventive menus that instigate “a chain reaction of flavour”, Reka: Bar also does a good job of highlighting local ingredients. As part of its Hanami menu, it is presenting three complex cocktails that are beautifully layered yet look deceptively simple. Bartender and floor manager Karen Yeun recommends Whispers of Sunshine as a good drink to start, with Tokyo No Haru to follow and Hinomaru to end the Hanami experience at Reka.
She expounds on a particular drink that represents a special memory. “Tokyo No Haru means Spring over Tokyo in Japanese. It was inspired by a personal experience of mine during the cherry blossom season at the Cherry Hill Farm in Australia. My mum was visiting me at the time and it happened to be her first-ever trip abroad. As a treat, I brought her to the Blossom Festival at the Cherry Hill Farm. Together, we witnessed the blooming sakura in person for the first time and marvelled at their beauty. We also drank cherry cider and ate cherry ice cream. It was a memorable experience and I told my mum that I would take her to Tokyo one day!”
This article first appeared on May 23, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.