It’s that time again, for that year-end party, that countdown to life ahead and new resolutions—or rehashed past ones. Regardless of the challenges that have dogged us in the year past, the new year is more often than not something to look forward to. It’s that unique opportunity to recraft your life, it’s when we can dream without agenda. Saying cheers to that with a memorable year-end party is imperative—as they are the doorways to that future, a celebration of things to come.
The coronavirus and its variants may have dampened the spirit in some ways, but parties don’t have to mean a house full of guests either. Whether it’s an intimate gathering of just you and your special someone, with five distinct visitors, or if you are having a virtual do with people across the globe, what matters is that everyone is pleasantly inebriated and pleased as punch (pun intended). So, it’s time to get your bartending act together so you and your guests can have a year-end party they will remember.
Kelvin Saquiliyan, head bartender of Manhattan at Regent Singapore knows more than a thing or two about that—in fact he confesses that working in a bar behind the bar counter has been a dream since a very young age. He honed his passion and armed himself with bartending skills through his associations with like-minded people in the Philippines—by being “an active member of a local flair group, which was what sparked an interest in joining cocktail competitions”.
He took the leap to go overseas and landed a job at the Regent Singapore. “It’s been seven years now, which is about how long Manhattan has been around. This wasn’t the outlet I started at though, I first had some pastry and barista experience in Dolcetto, the hotel’s gourmet Pasticceria and Tea Lounge. Experiences which have culminated into my overall style and which definitely proved invaluable,” shares the mixologist.
As we sit down for a chat, Saquiliyan shares his top tips on how you can up your game at this year’s party.
Tell us about Manhattan Bar’s cocktail range.
Our menu is highly researched and based on personalities of iconic Manhattanites. Each drink has a storied history and the more research we conduct into each personality, the more they come to life and that’s where we tweak our drinks to be the embodiment of these people. If you resonate with a particular actor, singer, or designer, you’ll find a drink rather easily.
What is a drink to order at the bar?
The eponymous Manhattan cocktail is a must, as is our Negroni, which is solera-aged over six weeks in our rickhouse (the world’s first in-hotel barrel-ageing room) and which combines old and new pulls for a perfectly balanced cocktail.
What’s your No. 1 tip for every home bartender?
The Internet is your best friend and don’t be afraid of experimenting. But really, it would be to master the classics which are the most straightforward in flavours. Then when you go further into experimenting, you’ll discover more complex techniques and cooking methods that will help build on what you already know.
Your quick tips on whipping up delicious cocktails and mocktails at home for a year-end party.
Establish what your preferred style of drink is. Is it sweet, sour or strong? If it is sweet, look away from simple syrups and play with honey, maple, jams and compotes for added complexity. If you like sour, of course there’s citrus and aside from lemon and lime you find fresh tartness in other acids that play beautifully against the spirits and sugars.
Forget the stuff out of the box—whether it’s grapefruit or oranges—they should always be freshly squeezed. If you like spirit-forward cocktails, really understand the character of your base spirit, it will define everything, and you can always elevate the associated flavour to your modifier.
For non-alcoholic cocktails, there are a host of zero-proof spirits you can stock your cocktail cabinet with: Seedlip, Lyre’s etc. These go well with freshly brewed chilled teas, jams and fruit, and you can always finish with soda for a sparkly, bubbly twist.
What is a must-have in every home bar?
Often overlooked, ice is actually an essential ingredient. Álways have lots of ice on hand! You can stir with any utensil and shake cocktails in a protein shaker or water bottle but you can’t do without a jigger. It’s a bartender’s trusty tool and will ensure accurate measurements for a consistent cocktail every time.
Costlier does not always mean it’s better. Neither is the most aged of spirits the most prized. It’s how they come together in a glass with other ingredients to form a perfect balance.
Which is the most underrated spirit when making cocktails?
Cachaca, the national spirit of Brazil is rather unappreciated as most people will only associate the one drink with it (the Caipirinha). It’s actually a very refreshing spirit that delivers sweetness from sugar and also mildly grassy notes from distilled raw sugar cane juice. Aged or unaged, it is such a beautiful spirit and has a distinct flavour that complements fruity flavours like strawberries and goose berries. Try substituting it with rum in your next cocktail and pair it with sweet vermouth, orange liqueur and grenadine for an El Presidente cocktail to impress.
What is one of the biggest myths about cocktails?
Costlier isn’t always the better. Neither is the most aged spirits the most prized. It’s how they come together in a glass with other ingredients to form a perfect balance.
What is your all-time favourite cocktail to drink?
A Dark & Stormy. It’s a simple mixture of my favourite spirit which is dark rum, freshness from lime and a hint of spice from ginger beer. An absolute thirst-quenching combination.