If you love gin, then last week’s East Imperial Gin Jubilee would have been the perfect event for you.
The three-day festival, held from Aug 22-25, consisted of several events happening across Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, including masterclasses and bartender guest shifts and the hugely popular Gin Lane party at Plaza Batai, KL, which attracted more than 2,000 gin lovers.
Presented by premium beverage producers East Imperial and organised locally by Malaysian craft spirits distributor Wholly Spirits, the East Imperial Gin Jubilee is an annual regional gin celebration that visits several cities across the Asia-Pacific region.
KL was its first stop this year, followed by Beijing (Sept 12-15), Shanghai (Oct 18-20), Hong Kong (Oct 27), Shenzhen (Nov 8-10), and ending with the grand finale in Singapore (Nov 30-Dec 8).
This year, 20 bars participated in the “KL’s Best Gin And Tonic” competition, with the winner chosen through a selection process based on a combination of points given by a judging panel and voting by the public via Instagram posts.
What I found most interesting about this year’s entries was how the bartenders paired uniquely local flavours with the gins they were assigned.
For instance, JungleBird used curry leaves to complement the uniquely Australian wattleseed botanical in the West Winds Sabre gin; Pahit came up with the asam laksa-inspired Laksamana, emphasising the cucumber notes in Hendrick’s Gin; and PS150 infused the versatile Fords Gin with jackfruit for its Hit The Road Jack.
All in all, there were some really interesting cocktails this time around, which really highlights the creativity of the bartenders in Malaysia these days.
If you want to try them, the bars may still be serving the drinks, even though the competition period is over.
Here are five of my personal favourites, in no particular order:
Love In June, by Sam Yap of Three X Co
Presenting KL’s Best Gin And Tonic for East Imperial Gin Jubilee 2018 winning gin and tonic!
Made using French artisanal gin G’Vine Floraison, East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic, olive juice, and Giffard Elderflower Liqueur, Love In June was inspired by Yap’s first love (who is born in June), as well as the floral notes of the gin, which he used to represent femininity, and the Grapefruit Tonic, which he considered the masculine side of the “relationship”.
The real star of the drink for me, however, was the olive juice, which gave a slight saltiness to the drink, balancing out the sweet, fruity and floral notes from the other ingredients.
Yap and his winning cocktail will be representing Malaysia at the East Imperial Gin Jubilee grand finale in Singapore.
Fleur De Vie, by Giri Pancha of Bar Zhen
This was arguably my favourite, thanks to the sheer simplicity of the drink.
Made using the wonderfully complex St George Botanivore Gin, East Imperial Old World Tonic, and a homemade butterfly pea flower syrup (which gave the drink a beautiful purple hue), Giri said his drink was very much influenced by the gin.
“Botanivore is such a complex gin that I wanted to make sure that the other ingredients didn’t cover it,” he explained.
The subtle and milder Old World Tonic certainly complements the gin, but it was the butterfly pea flower syrup that really elevated this drink from good to great for me.
Its sweet, floral notes accentuated the botanicals in the gin, and coupled with the gentle bitterness of the tonic water, made for a wonderfully balanced and refreshing drink.
Champ D’or, by Caden Chua of Coley Cocktail Bar
Citadelle No Mistake Old Tom Gin is a recreation of a classic gin style that is slightly sweeter than the usual gins we have these days.
For her drink, Chua added a chrysanthemum flower tincture with longan syrup and topped it up with East Imperial Old World Tonic before garnishing it with edible flowers, longan fruit and fresh sugarcane.
The result is a lovely, refreshing drink, balancing the sweet, citrusy notes of the gin with the floral fragrance from the tincture. My favourite touch, however, has to be the sugarcane stick, which can be used as a stirrer, a spoon to scoop up the longans, and can be chewed on at the end!
Pillar’s Pepper, by Josh Chew of Claret @ Troika Sky Dining
When I first heard the ingredients of this drink, I was a little apprehensive. Not only does Chew use homemade black pepper syrup, he also adds the incredibly spicy Scrappy’s Firewater Tincture.
But mixed into the drink with Australia’s Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin and East Imperial Yuzu Tonic, the spicy notes of the syrup and tincture actually mellow down to a more manageable level and adds a nice layer of spiciness that doesn’t overpower the gin nor the yuzu tonic.
All this makes for surprisingly balanced and quite original drink.
Green Hornet, by Ashish Sharma, of Bar Trigona @ Four Seasons Hotel
Bar Trigona has been gaining a reputation for being one of the best new bars of late, and its drinks really do live up to expectations.
Ashish’s Gin Jubilee drink mixes the Finnish 100% rye Napue Gin with St Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, homemade torched ginger flower syrup, and East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic Water for a perfectly balanced gin and tonic that incorporates local flavours while bringing out the unique rye notes of the Napue Gin.
And to top it all off, there’s even a honeycomb of Trigona honey that is apparently sourced from a small farm in Negri Sembilan, which adds a lovely sweet finish to the drink.