Despite the high taxes on alcohol and the growing murmurs of discontent about it, there seems to be no end of bars and pubs serving up a good glass of grog—and no lack of devoted drinkers religiously imbibing them from dusk to dawn—thereby justifying a survey released by the World Health Organisation in May 2011 which placed Malaysia on the 'Top Ten' list of largest consumers of alcohol in the world.
But it’s not just the bottles of bourbon or cocktail concoctions that draw us out to the labyrinth of liquid luxuriation. Like everything else in cosmopolitan KL, variety is the spice of life and in this case it’s the life of the party. With a growing interest in different alcoholic beverages and access to information from the world over, consumers are no longer the complacent beings that hand over their dosh freely for whatever their favourite joint has to offer.
More often than not, they’re now asking for what their fellow bacchanalians are enjoying halfway round the world—and happily finding it available here. But trends are for those who can’t tell a port from a porter. To stay on top of your drinking game, the simple rule of thumb is to try them all to find your flavour and pick your poison.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to stay safe with the tried and tasted formulas, but remember; different people equal different palates, so be adventurous as you never know just what might tickle your taste buds. Still not sure if that beer should be served warm or that bottle of red chilled? We’ve roped in connoisseurs, entrepreneurs and professionals in the industry to give us some tips on how to enjoy your favourite tipple.
So, raise your glass if you want more!
They may not be the first in Malaysia to introduce craft beer to the masses but Taps Beer Bar has taken a resolute stride forward by becoming the first to serve only craft beers at their bar. “What we’re trying to show people here is that beer is unlimited when it comes to choice. Our concept concentrates on the styles rather than the brands,” explains Mili Lim (pictured) drawing attention to the absence of branding and logos in the outlet, except for those on the taps themselves.
Having travelled and lived overseas and being enthusiastic beer drinkers themselves, Mili together with her brother Alvin and cousins Aaron, Adrian and Brian were frustrated with the lack of variety available in Malaysia, so they decided to bring in the beers that they'd normally drink overseas.
“There are thousands of craft brewers all over the world and we only have about 10 that we serve on tap today. But we have what we call the rotating tap system. so when the barrels finish we’ll tap something else but of a similar style. For example, if we run out of an India Pale Ale (IPA), we’ll tap another IPA but from another brewery,” says Mili.
But bringing in a large variety of craft beer in such small quantities is the least of their challenges. As Mili points out, old habits die hard. “We are trying to change the way people perceive beer. In KL, we are very used to drinking beers ice cold but good beers are like wine. When you drink it at a slightly warmer temperature you get to taste all the flavours.”
As for those of you who are still trying to figure out this more sophisticated guise of the humble hops, our beer ambassadors have devised a simple albeit sensible method for customers to keep track of styles and flavours with a tasting-notes menu.
“We realised by the time we got to explaining number 14, they would have forgotten what the first one was. So we compiled them into a format that was easy for the customers to peruse and understand.”
And if you’re spoilt for choice or simply a craft beer novice, there is the popular beer paddle comprising three samplers of any three beers on tap to help acquaint your taste buds. “We would recommend having one of each style but if you’re not a beer drinker, we will start you off on the lighter styles. You’ll still have a variety so you can enjoy a range of different flavours.
Taps Beer Bar
One Residency, 1 Jalan Nagasari,
Off Jalan Raja Chulan, KL
Tel: 03–2110 1560
Born and raised in Lyon, the French capital of gastronomy and idyllically situated between two of France’s best known wine region—Burgundy and Côtes du Rhône—it’s only fitting that Stephane Roubin should wax lyrical about the charms of champagne.
Having travelled the world and worked in luxury properties across Europe and Asia, the Food & Beverage Manager at DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur, doesn’t believe that the cost of champagne should bear much influence in choice.
“I don’t think that the price has a real importance. A good white wine is expensive too. It’s just the common cliché that good champagne is expensive or that champagne is a celebratory drink reserved for special occasions or that champagne does not go with food.”
Dispelling these banal beliefs, he is quick to assure that it isn’t a crime to drink champagne at anytime, neither is it a sign of sophistication nor is the price a benchmark of quality. “That perception was perpetrated by the French (centuries ago) with clever marketing and branding. Nowadays, you can also find some high quality and affordable Prosecco available here.”
It certainly is an exciting time for the champagne industry as reports indicate a healthy interest in the Asian market, with more and more discerning drinkers finding Prosecco and Cava worthy alternatives. “I personally prefer the frizzante which I find is extremely refreshing in a hot country like Malaysia. Just try (as many as possible) and don’t base your choice on the price. You will have some pleasant surprises.”
At Cellar Door you’ll be regaled with selections from Bollinger to their signature Gosset which they offer by the glass. With such a wide variety available, the subject of champagne pairings becomes inevitable.
“Personally I have attended some exceptional champagne dinners. And once again you should forget the cliché that a glass of champagne is to compliment your dessert only. A Champagne Ultra Brut is simply a fantastic pairing with white fish such as a grilled sea bass. And I sincerely believe that champagne should be mandatory with sashimi.”
Doubletree by Hilton, Kuala Lumpur
348 Jalan Tun Razak, KL
Tel: 03–2172 7272
Modelled after a Prohibition-era drinking establishment, Tate at the Intermark adds a nostalgic charm to the modern drinking scene with its novelty speakeasy concept reminiscent of the fabulous Jazz age. And staying true to its historical influences, gin takes a prominent place on the menu.
“There’s a massive gin element in this bar because during prohibition time from the 1920s to the 1930s, alcohol was banned. So, cognac wasn’t being imported and whisky was illegal to make. Gin being less complex, you could literally create what they called ‘bath-tub gin’. So many people were making a lot of these gins which were obviously not very refined, so people were finding ways to make the gin taste better. That’s how you got a lot of gin mixers from that era,” explains the self-confessed history buff.
Being partial to rum himself, Josh admits that the sophisticated ambience of Tate allows for better appreciation of the spirits they serve at the bar.
“Our range of spirits here is in the medium to upper category. This venue is targeted at people who like to socialise; good conversations, good spirits and good cocktails. It’s a more mature environment, and you have to maintain this without being pretentious. It’s not just for the elite.”
And speaking of cocktails, Josh who has been working his magic behind the bar since he finished school insists that mixing premium labels with juices and mixers doesn’t compromise its quality.
“A good cocktail enhances the flavour of the spirits. A drink has to be balanced and I’m talking way deeper than just a balance of citrus and sweet. You’re not making a liquid to get drunk on; you’re making something that is balanced and beautiful, something that brings out flavours without overlapping or disguising anything else.”
Lot G–01 Ground Floor, The
182 Jalan Tun Razak, KL
Tel: 03–2163 5732
It’s a sentiment shared by fellow mixologist Christian Kinne who is currently at Paradiso, a newly opened cine-lounge with a bar on the side. “The moment you decide to drink a cocktail, you want to see the bartender crafting it, instead of just pouring it into a glass from a tap. That compromises the whole experience of having a cocktail.”
And being a stickler for using fresh ingredients such as fruits, herbs, spices and freshly squeezed juice it is an experience worth savouring. Having been a bartender from the rebellious age of 15, Christian honed his talent in mixing cocktails through stints with event agencies where he would put his skills on display for brands like Veuve Cliquote, Moet & Chandon, Absolut and Jaergermeister.
“The term ‘mixologist’ is definitely over-used here in Malaysia. You do need the basic, average knowledge of spirits and mixers, but you also have to have the balls to play around with the spirits and ingredients, and come up with new creations. Not just the universal favourites, but actually be able to come up with your own cocktail recipes and ideas.”
With Paradiso, Christian has found a new platform to display his talents and creativity. “Basically i try to introduce a new range of signature cocktails. Since the past year, I’ve noticed people are showing more interest in bar-tending and mixing cocktails. They want to have a proper drink and not just the usual margarita or martini.”
But with a space that is targeted at attracting the art crowd that frequent Publika, he admits that despite its growing popularity, cocktails are far from taking centre-stage with the KL crowd. “I think you’re still going to have the normal bottle crowd everywhere because it easy to organise that for a group of people. But especially with the younger crowd there’s more interest in experimenting with their drinks.”
Lot 28 & 29 Level G3, Block C5,
Publika Shopping Gallery,
Solaris Dutamas, KL
Tel: 03-6211 3344
Whisky is without a doubt the most consumed spirit in Malaysia, spawning establishments like The Whisky Bar that—as the name suggests—pays homage to a drink that American columnist and editor John L. O’Sullivan once described as “a torchlight procession marching down your throat”.
According to outlet manager Andreas König, the progression from full blends to single malts was the result of the growing popularity of white spirits in America. “95–99 per cent of the whisky producing distillers in Scotland was producing full blends like Johnnie Walker or Chivas until vodka and gin became the rage. Blended whisky lost out. So, the first person to acknowledge and realise that were Glenfiddich, who decided to focus on single malt whiskies.”
The movement spread like wildfire and pretty soon hundreds of distillers in Scotland followed suit. Though Scotland remains the largest producers of whisky, Japanese distillers have been proving quite adept at giving their highlands brethren a run for their malt.
“Japanese whisky is a big seller now. On one hand we could say it’s a fashion thing on the other we must say they are really good at what they’re doing,” he professes.
And if you fancy a taste of the award-winning Japanese labels and others, the Whisky Bar boasts a collection of over 400 bottles with a projected increase to 600 over the next couple of years. “Our selection covers everything that is available in Malaysia right now,” says Andreas as he proudly displays the impressive line-ups behind the bar.
As to the general perception that whisky is a gentleman’s drink, Andreas concedes that the ladies are not always fans. “But with the right direction, there are whiskies that you can offer that might give even the woman a pleasant surprise. The Glenmorangie Nectar D’or for instance has very sweet components; you can drink it on its own or create a very nice whisky cocktail out of it.”
Serving their whiskies in a tasting glass, with a carafe of water and their signature ice ball on the side, the Whisky Bar is attempting to resolve righteous debates on the ‘correct’ way to drink whisky. “We give you the option to drink it straight out of the dram or you can add a splash of water or pour it over the ice ball. Even master distillers from Scotland who came down here will tell you there is no proper way to drink whisky. It’s a personal taste.”
The Whisky Bar
44 & 46 Changkat Bukit Bintang, KL
Tel: 03–2143 2268
A lawyer by training, Wong Yin-How founded Vintry Cellars Sdn Bhd in 2005 and as Managing Director, oversees the operations of the Vintry Group of Wine Bars and restaurants in Malaysia and Singapore. With over 1000 wines labels, it can be rather daunting if you’re not well-versed in wine speak but Yin- How offers a solution.
“One regular and popular event that I started more than five years ago is something called the Wine Chats. It’s normally held on one Sunday every month and I lead my customers on a guided tasting of six or seven wines. It’s very informal, interactive and educational.” With numerous wine qualifications under his belt, Yin-How is an exemplification of the burgeoning fondness for the fermented fruit here in Malaysia.
Although he attributes the interest to accessibility and availability, Yin-How admits that the status symbol associated with wine-drinking is still a motivation. “The fact that wine is seen as trendy yet with lower alcohol levels than spirits makes it more acceptable to a larger spectrum of drinkers too.”
In fact this growing appreciation has seen wine making its appearances at restaurants serving local cuisine further highlighting its pliant nature as the best food accompaniment.
“Wines are already paired a lot with local food and are gaining in popularity, though I find white wines and lighter red wines pair best. One of the best combinations would be a dry, crisp and lemon zest infused German Riesling with spicy food or a delicate pinot Noir with steamed Chinese seafood. Sparkling wines are one of the most versatile wines to pair with most cuisine in Malaysia.”
As to the proper way to take your wine, yin-How agrees that wine appreciation should not be too rigid but there are some guidelines which are best adhered to.
“Never add ice or water to wine, be it red or white and most certainly not soft drinks or green tea. Wine should be enjoyed as it is." Another tip for us in Malaysia is to lightly chill our red wines before we drink it.
"Five to 10 minutes in the ice bucket or fridge will reduce the pungent alcoholic lift on the nose and palate where all you smell and taste is the alcohol, masking the fruit that lies beneath.”
130 Jalan Kasah,
Medan Damansara, KL
Tel: 03–2094 8262
Vintry Jaya 33
Lot PG–02C Ground floor,
Jaya 33, Jalan Semangat,
Section 13, PJ
Tel: 03–7960 6737