“We are all creating liquid art” – Aki Wang
Even a self-proclaimed “educated alcoholic” such as myself (those who are offended with this term can take it up with Jonathan Pedley, MW, or are welcome to never again read my blog) doesn’t often get a chance to meet award-winning rockstar mixologists.
So when I met Aki Wang, legendary bartender and the brains (or artist, arguably) behind Indulge Experimental Bistro, I was naturally excited. After all, the industry veteran (23 years behind the bar!) and champion of 3 international bar competitions was not only going to show off his skills, but will be discussing what makes his bar successful.
PS, Indulge Experimental Bistro is the only bar in Asia that has a Michelin Star and has been awarded as one of the World’s Best 50 Bars, Asia’s Best 50 Bars, and recently, Tales of the Cocktail’s Best Restaurant and Bar in the Asia Pacific.
Wang explained that Indulge’s drinks are a reflection of Taiwan, mainly because he constantly gets inspiration from the country’s seasons and regions.
I’ve never been to Taiwan (it’s definitely on our must-visit places, though!), so it was a huge newsflash to me that they have 24 seasons in a year, and that the Taiwanese eat and drink according to the season. I also learned from Wang that there are 22 regions in Taiwan (one of which is symbolised by a turtle that Wang insists is constantly drunk because “he drinks a lot of Kavalan”) with multiple mountainous regions, each with its own characteristics that allow for a distinction in their tea.
Yes, Wang can also talk about Taiwan’s national drink, tea. He can also apply this knowledge to the cocktails he makes, but more on that later.
“Indulge’s Mixlosophy (is this): Create a drink, plan our future.” – Aki Wang
One of things that Wang believes in is that a “good bar, good bartender(s), and good premium spirits”, having good experience as a common denominator, always go hand-in-hand. This is the reason why he decided to partner with Martin Miller’s Gin to do Master Classes in Manila last 5-6 June, 2019.
After Wang brought us through a gin primer (from the five types of gin, namely Genever, London Dry, Old Tom, Plymouth*, and Distilled; the invention of the spirit by Dr. Sylvius in The Netherlands during the 1650’s; the proliferation of the “bathtub gin” during the prohibition, and current gin trends), he discussed the brand.
Martin Miller’s Gin (the most awarded gin in the past 10 years) was created as the first premium gin in 1999. There are three variants, all making use of the following botanicals (in varying proportions): Liquorice root, cassia, nutmeg, Florentine Iris, angelica, coriander seeds, bitter orange peel, dried lemon peel, dried lime peel, juniper (what Wang describes as “the soul of gin”), and the secret ingredient, cucumber.
Wang describes the three variants as follows:
- Martin Miller’s Gin (Original) – Mellow, delicate, and similar to the London Style gin
- Westbourne Gin – Made in 2003, it has more subtle flavours, primarily because it was made with industry practitioners and mixology experimentation in mind. He said that it is “what a classic (gin) should be like”, and is perfect for making classic drinks (like different martinis, particularly the Vesper, Dirty, or Classic martinis).
- 9 Moons – Named so because the variant was aged for 9 months in American oak barrels, it’s pretty distinctive because of its vanilla flavours. Wang said that he recommends this gin for people who usually prefer brown spirits (such as whisky), or for making Negronis.
After the Master Class, Wang created a few cocktails for us, which were also featured when he took over the Mistral in Raffles Makati that same evening (his use of tea in the cocktails was absolutely fascinating, BTW):
Purity Fizz – Martin Miller’s Original Gin, flavoured tea cordial (Pao Chung Oolong Tea, peach, yuzu, white pepper, and crystal sugar), and premium soda water
Graceful Blossom – Martin Miller’s Original Gin, pickled plum, Sakura incense salt, red grape, and dehydrated white egg powder
Element Wood N° 1 – Martin Miller’s Original Gin, Tung-Ting Oolong Tea (middle fermented and roasted, Longan Fruit (charcoal roasted), Osmanthus Tea, lychee, orange blossom extraction
Westbourne 43 – Martin Miller’s Westbourne Gin, Licor 43, fermented rice and Tokaji wine, and Sauvignon Blanc (this ended up my favourite of the afternoon)
People who missed out on Aki Wang’s Master Class can go to Indulge Experimental Bistro, located in No. 11, Lane 219, Section 1, Fuxing South Road, Da’an District, Taipei, Taiwan.
Those who would rather indulge at home can get their own bottles of Martin Miller’s Gin (I actually ended up liking the Westbourne variant the best) from the closest Wine Depot branch, or online through Boozy.ph.
Pro-tip: I feel that the best way to mimic an Aki Wang experience at home is to listen to their album on Spotify, searchable as Tea Party In The Mix.
*The thing that makes Plymouth gin special is that only 7 botanicals are allowed to be used in making it. Wang also mentioned that this is the “smoothest” style of gin.
Very special thanks to our friends in Apotheke Craft Spirits Co.