How a bar in Asia will make it to the top of the World’s 50 Best Bars list

One of the most closely-watched awards on the annual drink calendar in this part of the world is Asia’s 50 Best Bars.

It happened for the first time in Singapore last year, making our city a focal point for much of the buzz that inadvertently got generated.

And the man behind much of it all? William Drew, Director of Content of the 50 Best brand.

With Singapore enjoying such a lively cocktail scene and ahead of the upcoming Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2019 awards on May 9, we find out from him what makes a great bar in his eyes, what he thinks about drink trends, and just what it’ll take for a bar in Asia to clinch the top spot on the World’s 50 Best Bars list.

The interview below has been edited for clarity.

, How a bar in Asia will make it to the top of the World’s 50 Best Bars list

Easy first question. Can you reveal to me the names of the expert judges who vote on which bars make it onto the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list?

The panel is made up of bartenders, drinks writers and cocktail aficionados from across the regions but the names of the voters has to be kept anonymous, to ensure fairness in the voting process and that voters’ decisions are not influenced. Having said that, the public can be assured that it is of utmost importance to the 50 Best brand to be impartial in the face of so many excellent bars in the region, as well as to reflect the diversity of the bar scene in Asia.

Any new awards at this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars event in Singapore?

The current series of special prizes were only introduced last year and covers a lot of ground, giving well-deserved recognition to bars and individuals, either for their great, consistent performance, sustainable practices or for having risen impressively from the previous year’s list. So we feel it is not yet time to introduce new accolades at this year’s awards ceremony.

What is one bar trend you wish never existed, and one you personally enjoy and advocate.

I don’t think it’s a trend so much as a by-product. But any bar where it takes too long to take an order and make the drink can be very frustrating. We understand it’s a craft, but customers should not expect to wait for drinks in the same way that they are prepared to wait for food in a restaurant! A bar trend I personally enjoy and advocate is the shift towards sustainability. As the world ramps up the conversation on sustainability, bars are also going down the same route by carefully selecting their suppliers, putting greater emphasis on minimal or zero waste behind the bar, and making sure that the entire process to create drinks and put it in front of a guest has as little impact on the environment as possible.

Where can I find you drinking at when you are not drinking for work?

My local village pub in the countryside in Kent, United Kingdom. The nearest they get to a cocktail list is a range of gins for their, admittedly rather good, gin and tonics.

And when you’re not drinking or eating, what else are you usually doing?

I didn’t know there was anything else?! I have three teenage kids, so I spend a lot of time taxiing them around to sporting and social activities. I try to squeeze in a little sport, like running, cricket, or squash, and social activity of my own in-between the eating and drinking.

What is your favourite way to stay abreast of the cocktail scene around the world?

Whenever I am in a different country, I make a point to experience more of the local bar scene, and not necessarily just the big names. Speaking to bar owners and bartenders also keeps me informed of any upcoming trends and conversations in the industry.

Singapore has obviously risen to become a cocktail capital of the world in just a few short years. What is the secret concoction here, you think?

Singapore, along with the rest of Asia, is challenging the traditional major cocktail destinations in Europe and the United States in terms of quality and diversity. As for a secret concoction, there are no hard and fast formulas, but I would say that Singapore has increasingly discerning drinkers who are supportive of the bar scene; a phenomena that sits alongside the explosion of the premium restaurant scene in Singapore over the last decade. Bartenders and bar owners in Singapore and around Asia are hungry to prove themselves, bringing to the table intriguing and impressive cocktail experiences with the introduction of more local flavours and ingredients, and through the use of its state-of-the-art techniques and equipment in various aspects of cocktail-making.

An all-female panel is being featured on the #50BestTalks event this year in Singapore. Why now?

Across the 50 Best brands, we have always aimed to provide a platform for greater inclusivity and an opportunity for greater discovery and diversity. The decision to feature an all-female panellists is an initiative that has been in the pipeline for a while now, and it is timely as we see an increasing number of women taking on leading roles in the bar scene. The conversation will be an exciting and inspirational one, as the industry comes together to champion greater balance in the workspace. This is a trend that 50 Best is determined to help drive forward.

In your opinion, when and how will we see a bar in Asia clinch the top spot on The World’s 50 Best Bars list?

To clinch the top spot, a bar must bring across a memorable experience based on a combination of factors. What immediately comes to mind is the story behind the bar. A bar with a great story to tell and that is able to communicate this story effectively through their drinks and the bar experience will be able to hook and mesmerise guests. The bar and its staff should also possess a flair for service. It comes, for example, through a bartender who can identify what a customer is seeking just through small talk and deliver an experience that’s so flawless that the customer isn’t able to simply pinpoint how the bartender got it down pat. And of course, the drinks at top bars are able to hit the palate in all the right ways and leave guests feeling satisfied and happy every single time with an unforgettable and well-executed experience. When all these factors align, the bar is in the right place to make a bid for the top spot on The World’s 50 Best Bars list. Let’s see what happens later this year!

Side-lining from just bar talk, but related, we’ve seen a trend in the restaurant world of award winners rejecting their awards. Are you watching this closely or actively making sure the 50 Best brand doesn’t become an imposition?

The 50 Best list is a celebration and showcase of the best bars and restaurants of the region and the world, as well as the innovative talents behind them. When it comes down to it, we never want this accolade to become an imposition. The bars and restaurants are still free to react how they like, although we, of course, hope that any 50 Best award presented to them is taken positively as encouragement and motivation.

Personally, what are your top three classic cocktails of all time?

Daiquiri, Old Fashioned, and Pisco Sour. Possibly predictable, but pretty unbeatable.

Asia’s 50 Best Bars is set to happen May 9 at Capitol Theatre while The World’s 50 Best Restaurants event will make its Singapore debut June 25 at Marina Bay Sands.