Everything happens for a reason.
This trip was totally unplanned. I was engaged in a big and life-changing project so going abroad to compete for The Big Match was not the first thing on my mind. However, something inside me insisted that I not miss this challenge.
I only booked my flight a few days before that week. I even had to rebook a flight so I won’t miss the briefing. I did not have second thoughts. I may have been both excited and distracted, but I really wanted to do this.
So I did. (YOLO, and all that.)
I prepared my recipes for both guest shifts and the competition. For the Barstylez competition the format was to make 2 different cocktails in 7 minutes. First is using 3 sponsor brands with Bols Genever as base and the second one was to create your own.
Hands down to Shahmil Lin: the judges for the competition were all legends in flair and mixology so I was definitely in for a treat.
As for the guest shift I was supposed to prepare three drinks using William Grants and Sons products like Sailor Jerry, Monkey Shoulder and Hendricks. I decided to have the same recipe in all three bars because I wanted to showcase local ingredients (kamias, macopa and cacao nibs).
I also had to make some very last-minute arrangements regarding where to stay while in Singapore. Big shoutout to my cousin-in-law for letting me crash his place for this journey.
2:30 AM – Left my house in Marikina. My flight was 5:10 AM. NOT A GOOD IDEA. The Grab Car I booked went straight to the gas station to put some air for the car tires.
3:15 AM – Arrived at Terminal 3. The queue was so long. I forgot to check in online. My heart was beating fast. I didn’t want to miss my flight. The ushers made it a bit worse since they had me switching from one line to another.
4:09 AM – Immigration. My luggage was over by 5 kilos but thankfully I was able to pack my excess luggage into my handcarry.
4:35 AM – Gate 102. I had barely 10 minutes til boarding time. Nevertheless I heaved a sigh of relief.
4:43 AM – Boarding time. I was seated in the plane by 5:01 AM.
5:22 AM – Lift off!
I arrived at Terminal 4 of the Changi Airport. Man, was it great! Big, clean and efficient. From there I rode a bus going to the MRT. Unfortunately, as I carried my big luggage on my way to the MRT, to my surprise, one of the wheels fell off! What a bummer! I had to ask Shahmil Lin where to buy a new luggage. He told me about this place called Mustafa (which I liked to call Mufasa).
Thing is the MRT is quite tricky for a first-timer. I had to ask people twice since I got off the wrong station twice. I was supposed to be headed to Botanical Gardens. As I arrived in Botanical Gardens I decided to take a Grab from there to Mustafa since my cousin (whose place I would be staying in) was not responding yet. I got off to look for Mustafa, headed to the second floor where the bag section was and bought a luggage that was almost similar to what I had but different in color (goodbye, purple luggage, you have served me well). I was kinda bummed because I haven’t even warmed up yet and I spent part of my budget right away.
My next mission was to buy sambal at a nearby supermarket that looked like it had EVERYTHING from perfume to ice cream to spices. But I had to ask five people from the supermarket where to find sambal. For some reason they were a bit clueless. But I wasn’t about to give up so I checked each aisle until finally I found it!
So now my question is, What’s next? My cousin hasn’t replied yet so I decided to go to Hardrock Cascaden since Shahmil was there already. (Also, I was already hungry and I wanted to eat.)
I had a nice chat with Shahmil and Pombar from Thailand. Pombar is also a flair competition organizer and legendary flairbartender. I helped in preparing some of the stuff since it was still early.
After an hour or so people started coming in. New faces and familiar faces. The briefing started and everything was clear. Finally my cousin replied and he fetched me. I was staying at the Bukit Timah area which was around 15-20 minutes from Hardrock which wasn’t bad at all.
So as you can tell, the first night was all about preparation.
Second day was competition day!
I must admit I wasn’t super prepared since I really had a lot of things on my plate. Nevertheless that wasn’t an excuse.
I was contestant number 7.
Before my turn I struggled to complete my stuff, especially the ice. For some reason, I thought there would be a bigger cube. (Lesson learned, have one on standby.)
In my bar I had Steve from Employees Only and Boo from Tess Bar and Din Hassan. It was pretty intense but of course I was pretty much used to holding a conversation with my guests. The thing was I was too eager to tell them about what inspired me to make my drinks the way they were that I had a tough time wrapping up. In fact, I went overtime for about 2 minutes which of course flustered me by then so I knew it would take a miracle for me to land in the top 6.
In general, though, all of us did well. I learned a lot just by looking at their presentation and final drinks on display. And so the top 6 were announced and everyone was relieved. Since there was no more pressure on my part now it was time to drink a few glasses with some of my friends.
Incidentally it was also the week of the much talked-about Singapore Cocktail Festival. Unfortunately, by 10 PM I was already in bed since it was a very tiring day.
Next day I decided to take a dip in the pool. I needed the exercise as well as a little bit of cardio which felt good.
May 7 was the finals for the Cocktail Competition and the qualifying and finals for the flair round. It was great to see old friends in the flair world and some who I finally saw in person.
It was pretty intense as each contestant had sick moves and I would always wait for the comments of Jeremie Tan and his infamous line, “One man, two hands, four bottles…”
It was also a tight competition for the Mixology part. A big congratulations to the winners!
• Mike Cheong Jit Hao, Singapore – Drinks Bar
• Linda Costa Rica, Singapore – Catchfly
• Amelia, Indonesia – Ismaya Group
• Toru Ariyoshi, Japan – Bee’s Knees
• Issyam As’ari, Singapore – Oxwell and Co
• Darren Lim, Singapore – Mythx and Myths Bar
For the flair competition, big thumbs up to Luca Valentin and the other winners. I didn’t take videos of the contestants since I was in the moment which was a better feeling than capturing it.
So after the competition we all decided to go to Skinny’s where we had the NightCap which was also a term for industry night. We played pool and went to this other bar upstairs where some of the guys chilled and played darts. I believe I got home by 4 or 5 AM. What a night it was.
After breakfast I decided to go to one of the masterclasses about the sustainable bartender sponsored by Monkey shoulder and organized by Proof and Co which started 1 PM. It was a good and insightful session.
After that I headed on to my first guest shift to do my prep which was at Fat Prince at Peck Seah. Thomas Sobota was there to help me out in my set up. Of course my kababayan Shallum Recto was also working there so that made it quite fun as well.
For this first shift I was introduced to using the sous vide since I haven’t bought my toy yet. I am a follower of Dave Arnold so I was used to using my cream whipper for infusions. But let me tell you that sous vide is pretty neat but time is your main concern although I will definitely try and get a sous vide machine for myself this year.
Their ice program was pretty on point to think that it is generally a Turkish/ Mediterranean-inspired theme restaurant. Their tea selection as well as jars were pretty dope to pair with their ibriks. For this shift I was happy to attend to new guests and was happy to see old friends.
Off the top of my head, I remember Jeremy, Andrew, Kino Soh, Sam Kuan, Charlie, Tako Chang, Steve and Symphony, Jeremy and Linda.
The nightcap for this evening was at Smoke and Mirrors which was actually located in a pretty cool place. We were on top of an art gallery! How neat was that? That night if I remember correctly was gin-and-tonic night. I had the chance to meet madam Chacha again of Rabbit Hole in Thailand. It was a great night as well meeting all these people from the bartending and beverage industry.
For this day I started a bit late since I wouldn’t start til 8 but since I had a feel of how my shift would go from last night, I would say it was steady.
Radici Restaurant was located at Tanjung Pagar and managed by Siva and headbartender Ruben. The only challenge with my recipe was the infusion but all was taken cared of.
My guest shift also happened to be Trivia Night. The place was actually packed and people were having my drinks in groups which was really making me hustle but I liked the feeling. I even started the day with three ladies sitting in my bar who were all teachers from different countries! How cool is that? Later, two love birds whom I had met earlier in the week joined me.
I decided to call it early since it was a busy night.
An early day for me since I did sleep early he previous night. I prepared what I can of my stuff so in case I stayed late I can pack right away. By 5 PM, I went to The Wall, left my stuff and had very late lunch first in the nearby foodhall.
At The Wall, it was actually a light shift since I think everybody was spread out since there were also a lot of guest shifts going on. But I did manage to make my drinks which were: Airport, Pinoy in Singapura and Marinero.
I finished about 10-ish I think. I decided to go home first and start packing. Took a shower and brought my cousin to hang out for one last time.
Our first stop was Employees Only where I met Captain Michael Callahan finally as well as Benedict Poh. This joint was packed and rocking. After that we went to Shangrila Origin bar where I met Adonis aka Tanggero. We had a very relaxing stop. After that we went to The Other Room where I finally met Bob Louison of Pussyfoot Saloon who is such a gentleman. We then we went to get a nightcap at Ipanema. It was definitely rocking with industry people.
As predicted I wasn’t able to sleep since right after the nightcap so I started packing my stuff and left the house at 6 AM. I arrived at the airport early, had a quick breakfast and was even able to take a nap. The flight was on time and by 3 PM I was back in good old Manila.
Transportation in Singapore is not cheap. The standard fare from my place to everywhere else is between 12-15 SGD one way so do the math.
Enjoy the good food. I wasn’t that keen on food tripping but I did enjoy eating what I can especially this lumpia roll worth 1.80 SGD.
Take your supplements. If you will be going on a drinking adventure like me, better bring supplements like Milk Thistle, Berocca, and Olive Leaf Extract. Better yet just drink plenty of water and drink IN MODERATION.
Get your own SIM. It would be better to buy a local SIM if you are going to stay for a week otherwise be prepared for expensive roaming charges.
Drinks in Singapore are also not cheap. This is where it really gets tough. A standard cocktail costs between 12-22 SGD. The cocktails are indeed properly done and are tasty and well-balanced.
Changi Airport is world-class. I did arrive and flew thru Terminal 4 which was the newest airport. I would say it is the cleanest and most efficient airport I’ve ever been in so far so cheers to Singapore.
Learn from diverse nationalities. This is actually one of the reasons I came here. I learned a lot by talking with and observing all the bartenders I saw and hung out with. Learning their techniques and insights was what I valued the most.
Singapore is big yet small. Singapore is so small that you can reach a destination for a maximum of 20 minutes. But as small as it is, the 5 days I spent there was not enough to explore all the bars. In fact I think I only visited 10 in a 5-day trip. I know of some who really went to more bars. This only means I need to come back next year. 🙂
I probably spent more than I should, but it was all worth it. Total spending was around P25,000 plus P18,000 for the fare plus my roaming charge which probably reached P7,000. At first one would say that it’s expensive but with all the things I learned and brought back home to share, it was well worth the trip. Plus the fact that I saved on lodging made it extra sweet.
So again, thank you Singapore, thank you to all those who made this trip memorable, to those who gave me a guest shift and to Barstylez who organized a worthwhile competition. Sakalapingpong!