Keeping high spirits

Local ingredients make up the flavour profile of Malaysian cocktails, mixologist David Nathan tells Pooja Mahesh

David Nathan

The exciting thing about Malaysian cooking is all the ingredients and their flavours and aromas. This extends to the drinks that are currently being made by mixologists across Malaysia. With many now looking for newer ways to infuse freshness into their drinks, it is of little wonder that they begin to look at how local ingredients and flavours can be infused into a glass of cocktail. With many now looking to have a drink that matches their meal, cocktails are now slowly changing faces and it is mostly for the better. While the classics remain evergreen, many bartenders and mixologists are now looking towards local cuisine to enhance their creations.

With a lot happening in the cocktail world, it is of little wonder that the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurant’s fifth annual Culinary + Cocktail Trend Forecast for 2019 sees a lot of reimagined mocktails, mushroom-infused spirits and the rise of flavoured alcoholic seltzers rising. What’s more, according to the report, 88% of bartenders consider sustainability whenever they design a cocktail for their menu and are embracing new approaches to sustainability like using fewer local ingredients and creating cocktails with vegetable juices to create interesting flavour profiles. Many are also now creating their own syrups and tonics to make their kitchen cupboard-inspired cocktails. David Nathan, a mixologist who heads Malaysia-based 23aubergine, along with his wife, Jessica Nathan, has been creating such drinks as well. In an interaction, he shares some of his insights and how the world of cocktails is changing:

How differently are today’s cocktails made?

Today, many mixologists are taking a culinary approach to how they make their drinks. They have a great supply of ingredients and are using local herbs and spices, and are making their own syrups and other mix-ins to create drinks that are extremely Malaysian. As a result, a lot of chef-like precision has crept into the field.

For example, the flavours of a laksa are broken down and we decipher how it can be incorporated into a drink, and what may not work when such a dish is transformed into a drink. In fact, many international drinks have been reinvented with a local twist. These often work very well for people who are looking for something that is different and unique, and are open to trying them out.

What’s the planning process like?

A lot of research and development goes into making the right drink as the balance of flavours is key. We usually try it ourselves first and if it is not right, we usually nip it in the bud before it goes to the client. Much of it is trial and error. However, there are times when clients have been receptive and have let us showcase our cocktail creations at the events that we did through our company, 23aubergine.

How does one create the perfect drink? What do you look at?

We look at who will ultimately drink the cocktail, when they drink it, and where. These are some of the things that I focus on and try to avoid labelling drinks as a ‘Lady’s drink’ and a ‘Man’s drink’. For example, right now, Bengaluru is warm. So, for such weather, having a refreshing drink is suitable. Ingredients would include ochres and citrus among others. I would avoid heavy ones and also choose lighter spirits to complement these ingredients. Apart from knowing what to use to make a cocktail, it is also important to know where the diner would be drinking it. This would help one in creating the perfect cocktail. For instance, if you would be watching cricket with outdoor seating, a tall, refreshing drink would work for warm weather. Or if it is a dinner in a formal, indoor seating, perhaps something like wine would work. 

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