Going 10 Rounds With Top Bartender Bannie Kang

Noah Rothbaum
Courtesy Fairmont Hotels

What do you like to drink after a shift? “A Johnnie Walker Black Highball or mug of ice-cold beer are my usual go-to choices. Both are simple, easy to drink and the best for unwinding after a busy day at work.”

What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “I enjoy electro swing. It’s a classic music genre that is energetic with the right amount of beats.”

After all these years bartending and creating drinks, do you still enjoy going out to bars? “Yes, I definitely enjoy going out to bars! I love to have conversations with fellow bartenders, many of whom have become friends. Learning is a lifelong journey and I’m always intrigued at what other bartenders are doing, and it’s good to learn from them. We have a close-knit bartending community here, who inspire and encourage each other.”

Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “Pisco Sour. It is a combination of pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, egg white and bitters. It is refreshing and I love the texture of the foam, which is made of egg white. It is the first cocktail that I concocted when I started at the then City Space Bar in the Swissotel Stamford, so it is especially memorable.”

What book on cocktails or spirits is your go-to resource? “There is no particular book that I go to for inspiration. It is a combination of exchanges with other bartenders, online research and cooking books. Cooking books are good for ideas as I get to be acquainted with different cooking methods, which bring out the best in each ingredient. I will then experiment if I can apply the same for my cocktails.”

What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “Johnnie Walker Black Whisky Highball for sure! I love to pair it with Korean fried chicken, Korean BBQ or my husband’s grilled short ribs with Korean-inspired soy sauce.”

What drink are you most proud of creating? “The Mellow Shallow is a twist on a classic Paloma cocktail. It has a smoky taste, is not so boozy and is very refreshing. I’ve always preferred refreshing cocktails.”

Is there one person (dead or alive) you’d like to make a cocktail for? “My grandmother. She is the inspiration behind many of the drinks that I have concocted. For example, the Song Du Rae is inspired by my grandmother as she enjoys drinking tea. It is a combination of rum, omija tea, salted pineapple juice, sesame and Solomon’s seal syrup (which tastes like roasted barley tea). I’ve previously presented this at a competition.”

What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “Soju. It’s not only because I am Korean, but Soju is easy to drink and is one of the most popular spirits in Korea.”

What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “I will always pack my jigger. There are different jiggers with varying measurements, so I still feel most comfortable using my own.”

Bannie Kang is the head craftsman at the Anti:dote bar in the Fairmont Singapore Hotel. She just won Diageo’s World Class Bartender of the Year cocktail competition.

Interview has been condensed and edited.

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