Why Singapore may be the world's hottest cocktail city

Story highlights

  • In the last year-plus, more than 20 new bars have opened in Singapore
  • Local aficionados say Singapore is at the forefront of Asia's cocktail scene
  • Even restaurants and hotels are taking their cocktails seriously, says local expert

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Singapore (CNN)As the old story goes, a hundred years ago the world's first Singapore Sling was created at the city's famous Raffles Hotel.

Fast-forward a century and the Singapore Sling's birthplace is experiencing a cocktail renaissance.

    "The level of craftsmanship here has really skyrocketed," says Aun Koh, co-founder of the Singapore-based communications agency The Ate Group and an influential player in the city's F&B scene.

    "Ever since 28 Hong Kong Street opened in 2011 and Michael Callahan and other people like him who are world class mixologists moved here, they've created this very close knit community where they're supporting each other and not competing with each other."

    Koh says the influx of international mixologists has brought the level of cocktail craftmanship up to a global standard.

    "Australia has the showmanship, because they're just natural storytellers. But the taste of the cocktail and way they're made is much better here in this country."

    MORE: Mixologists: Drink masters or just pretentious bartenders?

    Barrel aged whiskeys, spirits infused with aromatic herbs -- in the last four years Singapore has experienced a rush of cocktail bar openings, all promising drinks with a difference.

    The boom isn't slowing.

    Nor are the levels of innovation.

    "Other Asian cities like Tokyo may have a longer reign at the top, but Singapore is taking the lead in pushing boundaries and drinking ideals, researching trends as well as exploring techniques," says Trong Young, a former bar manager of one of the city's top restaurants Waku Ghin.

    "One of the ways to gauge the progress of the beverage industry in a country is to look at the range of products available -- a bigger range and variety is generally driven by the volume of demand."

    More suppliers are indeed joining the spirits distribution game in Singapore, brandishing an alluring arsenal of artisan spirits by independent distilleries.

    "As consumer demand for artfully prepared cocktails has grown, the spirits industry has responded and is now going through its own renaissance," says Spencer Forhart of Proof & Company Spirits.

    MORE: Revolution and rum: 18 drinks inspired by the Philippines

    Jigger & Pony cocktail bar.

    "One of the best ways to judge the F&B trends in a city is to see what the hotels are doing," says Young.

    "Recently Anti:dote at Fairmont Hotel and Manhattan Bar at Regent Singapore hotel opened, while Four Seasons hired one of the greatest bartenders in history -- Javier de lad Muelas -- to consult on its beverage and cocktail list at One Ninety bar."

    In addition to adding a touch of glitz to the city's bibulous culture, hotel bars such as Anti:dote and Manhattan Bar have brought in talented craftsmen -- Tom Hogan and Ricky Paiva, respectively -- who are shaking up the craft cocktail movement started by stalwarts such as Aki Eguchi, bar manager of Jigger & Pony.

    Today, Eguchi, a 2011 and 2012 Diageo Reserve World Class Singapore champion, has about 30 types of infusions and syrups in stock at any one time.

    "Singapore is enjoying a cocktail boom that New York and London experienced over the last 15 years," concludes Forhart.

    "It started a bit later than those cities, but it's really developing at a much faster pace."

    Here's a roundup of Singapore's best new cocktail bars.

    MORE: Asia's best beer bars: 10 top pours


    Fairmont's latest F&B addition showcases inventive cocktails and a raft of tonics concocted by head craftsman, American-born Tom Hogan.

    He uses freshly plucked herbs from the hotel's garden and personally makes a clutch of bitters and liquors, like spiced orange bitters fortified with Cognac.

    Hogan cocktails such as Corpse Reviver #2 (made with gin, Absinthe and house-made orange liqueur) are best paired with the tapas by Spanish chef, Carlos Montobbio.

    Anti:dote, Level 1 Fairmont Singapore, 80 Bras Basah Road; +65 (0)6 431 5313

    Solera-aged Negroni at the Regent Singapore's Manhattan Bar.

    Manhattan Bar

    Former Rickhouse barman, Ricky Paiva, puts the spotlight on craft cocktails at the artful grand hotel bar at the Regent Singapore hotel, which features a menu of 25 seasonally rotating cocktails inspired by the neighborhoods of Manhattan.

    In addition to showcasing the world's first in-hotel "rickhouse," where the Sacramento native finishes whiskeys, ages cocktails and brews bitters, the bar offers cocktails mixed table-side via trolley.

    Manhattan Bar, Level 2 Regent Singapore, 1 Cuscaden Road; +65 (0)6 725 3377

    MORE: Singapore's 8 best new restaurants

    28 HongKong Street

    This isn't one of the city's newest bars, but it definitely deserves a write up, having recently been named by an academy of lauded drinks' industry experts as one of the best 50 bars in the world.

    That leaves the cozy, understated bar tucked behind a veil of thick curtains with a lot to live up to.

    But San Francisco's Michael Callahan consistently meets the challenge, creating an environment that his customers keep returning to.

    With a focus on spirits and American-style cocktails, drinks are packed with a punch and named with a sense of humor.

    Recommended are the Hulk Smash, 99 Problems But A Peach Ain't One, and the "voluptuous and bubbly, with a knowing smile" Miss America.

    Oh, there's not much point going to the bar's website for details. Without wanting to ruin the element of surprise, all you'll find is its address.

    28 HongKong Street, 28 Hong Kong St., Singapore +6533 2001

    The Library

    This secret bar located behind the recently re-branded The Study isn't spanking new, but it's worth the schlep for the new-to-Singapore barman Nicholas Quattroville.

    An Australian formerly of The Blind Pig (London), he prepares most of his cocktail ingredients in-house -- horseradish-infused vodka, walnut orgeat and burnt butter whiskey are favorites.

    The Library, 47 Keong Saik Road; +65 (0)6 221 8338

    Operation Dagger

    Located in an underground, window-less space near Oxwell & Co, this progressive speakeasy helmed by head bartender Luke Whearty makes its own infusions via sous vide cooking technique and bottle-aged carbonated cocktails with champagne yeast.

    It also grows its own herbs on a rooftop garden with a beehive where honey is harvested and fermented to make mead.

    Operation Dagger, 7 Ann Siang Hill, #B1-01; no telephone


    This grill restaurant that pairs flame-kissed fare with rum-based cocktails concocted by Aki Eguchi (bar manager of next door stablemate Jigger & Pony) has a lively atmosphere.

    Sugarhall, 102 Amoy St.; +65 (0)9 732 5607

    MORE: 12 of the world's most unusual cocktails

    Studio 1939 by Potato Head Folk

    Studio 1939 is located on the third floor of an art deco building on Keong Saik Road.

    This reservations-only bar serves small plates paired with cocktails made with artisan spirits, courtesy of Dre Masso, head mixologist for the Potato Head group.

    Studio 1939 by Potato Head Folk, 36 Keong Saik Road; +65 6327 1939

    Tess Bar

    Former Bitters & Love bartender Steven Leong calls the shots at the long bar of this eatery/bar near Raffles Hotel.

    He shakes classic and quirky cocktails to go with the menu of modern European fare served on small, medium and large plates.

    Tess Bar, 38 Seah St.; +65 6337 7355

    MORE: Club Street: Singapore's hottest new dining enclave

    Originally published July 2014. Updated March 31, 2015.