Tuesday, January 01, 2013

11 favourite drinks of 2012

Scapa 16 years at The Macallan Whisky Bar & Lounge, The Galaxy Macau
As you can tell from the new "e_ting drinks" section on the blog, drinks have become an increasingly important part of my diet. This sounds crazy, because, everyone needs fluids, right? But around age 15, when I first started getting acne, I suddenly became obsessed with the idea of detoxification. Back then, we didn't have juice cleanses and the like (even if there were, they weren't easily accesible to teenage me) and the best and easiest way I knew was to drink gallons and gallons of water. For many years, probably half my schoolbag's weight came from my bottle of boiled, filtered, room temperature water.

As I grew up, I just kept on that path - first thing I do in the morning, even before coffee, is very warm water. When I went out, it would just be warm water, or warm tea, then maybe a glass of wine with a meal. I came to realise, however, that it was normal for people drink a whole range of things that were beyond my usual repetoire - juices, soft drinks, cocktails - and plus, my curious self drove me further down the paths of my mainstays coffee and wine, which saw me (and will still see me!) taking all sorts of lessons, classes, workshops and examinations.
Dandy at 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo
Dandy at 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo
My main discovery this year was probably cocktails. Hong Kong hasn't had a proper culture until recently - the "mixed drinks" of my youth came from sticky glasses filled with pink syrupy stuff and vodka.

Late last year, when going to 001 was still a joy, it was their whisky sours that I was always hankering for, but then it became too difficult and uncomfortable to go, what with their Nazi-like policies and general bad manners.

The return of good friend W to Hong Kong meant I had a more regular, cocktail-loving drinking buddy, and she put me onto the bar at Otto e Mezzo. I started going through their cocktail menu - a fine publication, actually, with recipes and tidbits of cocktail history as well as glossy pics - and have had quite a few of the items on it since. The one I keep going back to (as witnessed by its many appearances on my Instagram feed) is the Dandy.

At Otto, if I remember correctly, the Dandy consists of brandy, bitters, Dubonnet and Cointreau, and a twist of orange. When I had it later at Butler, they used bourbon rather than brandy, and the internet seems to agree with Butler. Anyway, the drink at Otto is full-bodied and packed with orangey, oily, fragrances, like an oilier Manhattan with less bitterness. I love the weight of it.

Shiso mojito at Butler
Shiso Mojito at Butler
Together with Otto, Butler is probably one of my most frequented bars - it's pretty much the only place on Kowloon side, bar hotels, where you can get a decent cocktail. I'd sort of been following Butler's bartender (or should I say, mixologist) Masayuki Uchida since his days at Yu-Zen in Causeway Bay. When a bunch of us, being mostly Kowloon-siders, got wind of his new place, we pretty much stopped everything else we were doing and marched over. One of their signature off-menu items is this shiso mojito. If you love the herbaceous, sweet qualities of shiso, imagine that, offset with a bit of lime. The "secret" ingredient here is the Dover shiso (perilla) liqueur.

Sociarita at Socialito
I had a few cocktails during an invited tasting at this Mexican restaurant-turned-nightclub, but unfortunately I had double-booked myself that night and didn't manage for stay for dinner. Due to the time constraint, I felt it necessary (since, I was here for a tasting, and I'm a professional, ahem) to try as many cocktails as possible pre-dinner. The two three that I had were all perfectly balanced, perfectly delicious and rather lethal. I tottered out of there and turned up to my next appointment rather giddy.

Makgeolli at Cheong Dam Dong
I've had quite a few bottles of these milky, slightly fizzy Korean rice wines this year. They have a bit of a sour twang, like Yakult, only less sweet. As someone who was given Yakult as a treat throughout her childhood years, this alcoholic version satisfies the 9 year-old in me. I first saw the beverage being drunk in a Korean TV series around 2000, and it was seen as a peasants' drink, but it seems that rustic is hip, and there are now copious hipster makgeolli bars in Seoul. Let's hope they don't drink out of Mason jars.

Infused shochu
Home infusions
Speaking of Mason jars, W just shared a couple of her homemade plum shochu with us over Christmas, and it was clean, only slightly sweet, full of plummy fragrance, and just delicious. I'm never buying stuff from a store again. As you can see, she also tried pineapple, peach and pear. Will report back on the progress (darn, I should have kept a diary on them).

Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz 2004
Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz 2004
You've heard me wax lyrical over this McLaren Vale shiraz, so I won't blab on any more here.

Hook & Ladder Gewurztraminer

Hook & Ladder Gewurztraminer with ChomChom's durian ice cream
Wine retailers Invinity Limited have been doing lots of pairings over at ChomChom, and after having tried this combo of durian ice cream and Gewurztraminer, I keep wanting to go to one of the pairing dinners but can never make the time, argh. I should say, that I don't even like durian. I really don't appreciate the taste, but when Peter of ChomChom suggested I try this combo, I was too curious not to give it a go. (Sadly, I forgot to note the vintage, from the pic it looks like 2010). The acidity of the Gewurz really helps with the creaminess and perceived weight of durian, although I must say, Peter's ice creams are amazing. He changes the flavours constantly according to what fruits etc. are in season. I reckon he needs to open a separate ice-cream counter in the summer (and buy about 50 more Pacojet containers to deal with the crowds!)

Geisha Cerro Azul by Te Aro
Geisha Cerro Azul by Te Aro
Never before had I felt such body and intense berries, florals, honey and oranges all in one little sip. Thank you generous coffee lovers for sharing this with me (brought all the way from Canada) and Knockbox for brewing it so deliciously.

Dirty Double at Cafe Deadend
Dirty Double at Cafe Deadend
I just wrote up my own coffee guide to Hong Kong (only wrote it last week but already seems out of date, I love that the coffee scene is expanding so quickly!), in which I mention this transcendent drink. I've since been told there are better versions elsewhere, but for 2012, this was one of my faves.

Caramelised lemon tea from Teakha / picture: Teakha's Facebook Page
Caramelised lemon tea at Teakha
The citrus and tannins of lemon in black tea, plus the caramelised sweetness of brown sugar, syrup and scorched citrus zest. Genius. Just genius. The pictures show an iced version, but since it's winter now (and I'm an old Chinese lady, remember?) I like it hot.

Gai laan and pineapple juice at The Genie Concept
Gai laan and pineapple juice at The Genie Concept
I know I mentioned "detox" at the beginning of the post, but I don't believe in programmes and cleanses that require me to only eat/drink a certain thing, or cut something out completely from my diet. The Genie Concept is known for their juice cleanses, and while I'm not about to embark on a cleanse, I enjoy their juices, purely for the sake of enjoyment. This gai laan (some call it Chinese kale) and pineapple juice that I first tried at the Table For Two veg food crawl is one thing I find myself craving, and I'd totally swing in for one, healthy or not.

Here's to more precious (non-bodily!) fluids in 2013. Cheers!

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