Kerning cocktails requires a great deal of skill, especially when it comes to blending flavourful ingredients. We may be awed by the acrobatics behind the bar, which involve elegant pours and precise measurements as well as vigorous movements with cocktail shakers. Now that we are stuck at home, many of us are probably missing artfully mixed cocktails at our favourite establishments. In comes our favourite pewter company to save the day.
As part of its Spark initiative, which aims to encourage people to pick up new interests or learn something new, Royal Selangor has launched Raising the Bar, a campaign that focuses on the art of mixology. The pewter manufacturer has made this craft a little easier to learn with its similarly named cocktail kits, which come with an exclusive guide on mixology tips and tricks, as well as delicious recipes by four talented mixologists.
Options had the opportunity to interview one of the collaborating mixologists, Jack Jamieson, who is behind famed Instagram page @scottishmixology. Born and raised in Glasgow, Jamieson began his mixology journey as a pasttime, with the intention of showcasing cocktails with a Scottish twist.
“It’s a hobby that brings people together and allows me to indulge in my creative side,” he says. “Being able to take ingredients that people like and turn them into a drink they love is a great feeling, especially if it’s in a way that challenges their perceptions. People love to talk about what flavours they enjoy, and being able to enjoy them in a drink, the same way they do in a good meal, is a wholesome experience.” Jamieson’s endeavour has flourished and his skill is now more impressive as he has learnt from and connected with distillers and other mixologists from all over the world.
While his go-to classic cocktail for a relaxing weekend is a mojito, Jamieson also enjoys working with fruity and berry flavours. “Raspberries, in particular. I love the zing and brightness they add to a drink and their versatility lends itselves to a wide range of drink styles. Their acidity can work as a substitute for citrus too, and they make super tasty cocktails that both look and sound appealing to the drinker,” he explains, adding that he has yet to find a spirit that does not pair well with raspberries.
Jamieson has quite a deft touch when it comes to blending different flavour profiles, evident from the more than 700 cocktail creations he has posted on Instagram. While he does not have a signature cocktail, people often request for his butterscotch mojito, raspberry amaretto sour, and Irish coffee.
When it comes to formulating individual recipes, each mixologist has his own method. For Jamieson, it varies. “Often, I’ll come up with a name and build a drink around it. Other times, I’ll see a recipe that provides a bolt of inspiration. TV shows like MasterChef, particularly MasterChef Australia, have been instrumental in building my knowledge of other cuisines and the ingredients available. I love watching cooking shows generally and have learnt so much from them. My syrup creations are normally what comes first in a drink and the recipes are built around [them]. It’s a strange week for me if I haven’t made several different syrups,” he explains.
The four mixologists involved in the Raising the Bar campaign were challenged to think up creative cocktail recipes that include Malaysian or Asian ingredients. Jamieson began formulating his recipe with a little research on popular dishes and ingredients in the country. “Tropical and Asian ingredients already feature regularly in my drinks-making process but I wanted to seek out new flavours I hadn’t previously considered or used. I wanted to take the chance to learn about Malaysian food but leverage the cuisine in a way I was familiar with,” he says.
For his three Raising the Bar cocktails, Jamieson was keen to create recipes that were sophisticated but still easy enough for beginners to make at home. The first is a refreshing Lemongrass and Caramelised Pineapple Daiquiri. “It was a drink I’d been working on for some time. The lemongrass was not initially included, but I felt the drink missed a certain grassiness. I’d tried changing the rum but with little success. When I tried a lemongrass infusion, however, the whole drink was elevated to something rather special.”
Having first sampled spiced chai in Mauritius, Jamieson wanted his Miso Chai Manhattan to be a well-balanced and serious sipping drink. “The tannic flavours in the tea when infused in the vermouth and the salinity of the miso balance out the sweetness of the syrup, and the combination with chocolate bitters rounds the whole drink off nicely,” he explains.
His final cocktail, the Sarawak Strawberry Margarita, features Sarawakian pepper. “Strawberries are known to go nicely with black pepper, but I wanted to experiment with white Malaysian Sarawak pepper for its musky anise notes. A margarita felt like a good platform to combine these two as tequila and mezcal are both ideal pairings with pepper. The overall result was a fiery and tangy drink that balanced all flavours well,” he says.
The other mixologists Royal Selangor has collaborated with — and whose cocktail recipes also feature in the booklets — are C K Kho, owner of Coley cocktail bar; Natasha Mesa, manager of Bit House Collective in the US; and Dean Buchanan, the 2018 Western Australian Bartender of the Year.
When asked what advice he would give those foraying into mixology for the first time at home, Jamieson says you need not buy many ingredients. “Figure out what flavours you like, mix them with the spirits you like and experiment. Not every drink will be a success but that’s the fun of mixing. Learning how to make syrups will really improve your mixing experience too. Mash up a fruit you like with an equal weight of sugar and leave it for a few days. You’ll practically want to drink the syrup that forms,” he says.
Of course, starting with the basics and known recipes is a great way to have a feel for cocktail making. “The first drinks I enjoyed were simple sours — 40ml of spirit, 1 teaspoon of jam (raspberry for instance), 15ml of syrup and the juice of half a lime or lemon (depending on the base spirit). You can lengthen these with tonic, soda or other mixers and end up with a very tasty and quick-to-make drink,” Jamieson adds.
The Raising the Bar sets are a good way to kick-start a new hobby in mixology. They also make the perfect gift for someone near and dear. Cocktail Kit 1 includes Royal Selangor’s Bar collection’s Hexagon whisky tumbler pair, muddler, bar measure and bottle opener, and also features the V&A William Morris foil cutter, for RM880. Cocktail Kit 2 has all of the above, as well as the Hexagon cocktail shaker and the Diamond Martini Glass pair, and is priced at RM1,450. Top this off with an exclusive book of recipes and tips, and your path to amateur mixology has begun on a high note.
As the saying goes, we eat (and drink) with our eyes first. So it is only natural that for Jamieson, presentation is key to a positive drinking experience. The intricate and stunning pewter drinkware in Royal Selangor’s cocktail kits certainly add a touch of class and an overall decadence. “They look good both with and without a cocktail in them. They are serious pieces of art that wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery. Storage space is often at a premium in many people’s homes, so it’s great to have something that I am proud to show off outside of a cabinet,” he says.
This article first appeared on Aug 16, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.