Brett Bayly: Singapore's Bartending Scene is a Lighthouse for the Region

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Is there more to a bartender than whipping up drinks behind a counter and making classic cocktails? Yes, there is and here's a competition to prove it.

Helmed by Glenfiddich, the Worlds Most Experimental Bartender competition is here to push the creative boundaries of five bartenders based in Singapore and to switch up the locals' perception of what bartenders can do. This competition pairs bartenders with creatives from an illustrator to an embroidery artist to invent new delicious serves. Are you ready to be surprised by cocktails inspired by pineapples or drinks in the form of instant cup noodles?

B-Side learns more about the WMEB competition by speaking with Brett Bayly, the Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich in Southeast Asia. From competitor to organising team, he shares more about his perception of Singapore's bartending scene and some nuggets of wisdom.

If you can describe Singapore's bartending scene with a drink, what would it be and why?

That’s a tough question. I’d maybe go with a clarified milk punch, for a few reasons. First off, if you haven’t had a clarified milk punch before, it’s very surprising, in that there is so much going on.

Not perfectly clear, but close enough with bursting flavours, complexity, and a highly refined sophistication.

Singapore’s bar scene is exactly like this for me, in that it’s always a surprise, and I’m always impressed whenever I head out to venues here. Milk punch is a classic, and the clarified version is a modern twist that really shows how far the industry has come in Singapore, becoming a lighthouse for the region, and gaining momentum as a beacon for the global industry also.

Is there anything you'd like to see more of in Singapore?

I guess that my personal preference when I’m not out for work events or trade visits, would be to see some really good dive bars open. I miss this from Australia, where we have venues like Frankie’s Pizza in Sydney that sling amazing cocktails and service, as well as an ‘everyone is welcome’ attitude of service, and a decent late night slice. Oh! They also have bands playing their main room, and as of yet I haven’t found any really music driven venues, at least not for my taste in music, haha.

In your opinion, why is such a platform important in experimentation and creativity for bartenders in particular?

The WMEB competition is really something unique in comparison to the other cocktail competitions out there, because it stretches the competitors to find and work with collaborators from alternative industries. From the two years I’ve been involved with the competition, initially as a competitor and now on the organising team, I’ve seen just how many avenues have opened up for those who are getting involved. We have seen Astrophysicists, painters, writers, tattoo artists, all sorts! Seeing someone incorporate the notion of space into a drink blew my mind! It’s really trying to remind bartenders to step out of their comfort zone, and to push them beyond the safety of learning just classic cocktail serves.

List us three cocktails that taste absolutely delicious with Glenfiddich.

Oh ok, so I love playing with Glenfiddich in cocktails, and I try to do guest shifts when I’m on the road with the brand so this is up my alley! First, I love GF15 year old in a classic Daiquiri, the 15 year old also works really nicely in a boulevardier twist, using Lilet Blanc instead of Rosso vermouth. For the 12 year old, a classic Highball works, and can be tweaked with fruit syrups sparingly, or mix it with fresh pressed apple juice, amontillado sherry, lemon and sugar!

What is one drink every bartender should master?

I think everyone as sort of earning their stripes in the industry, should be able to master a simple negroni. Bartenders have always cherished this drink, and it’s simple to make being only three ingredients. It’s also a great base point for younger bartenders to play with experimentation. I often will interchange ingredients on a negroni just to see what else I can do with only three ingredients. It’s really a test in balance which is the critical element of cocktail bartending.

Share more with us on the finalists and creatives taking part in the upcoming finals, in terms of their uniqueness and skills.

I have to be careful considering we haven’t been through the finals yet, but we have five competitive teams, all of whom have really brought some amazing serves to the competition. The teams include a chef, a photographer, a visual artist, an embroidery artist, and a healthy and lifestyle guru of sorts.

It’s really exciting because each field is so vastly different, and each of the bartenders have really stretched their creativity, to show why they deserve to win the national final, and to represent Singapore in Scotland this coming November.

What are some qualities that will help a bartender stand out in this competition?

I think from seeing how strong each of the serves they’re putting forward are, it now comes down to the charisma and connection they have with their collaborator. I’ve seen some really great bartenders when I was just in Manila put together some amazing drinks, but they didn’t polish their presentation quite to the same level as the other competitors and this cost them the win!

Looking back at your decade of experience, what are some nuggets of wisdom you'd like to share with us?

Never stop learning, stay humble and recognise that every six months in the industry is a long time.

I think something significantly overlooked in the industry is health, both physical and mental. Make a point to take care of yourself, as we work in an industry filled with temptations, hit the gym, have coffee with a friend, get regular check-ups, and call your parents when you can, they worry!

Wash your hands constantly, a sharp knife is a safe knife, and when it comes to rude customers, just kill ‘em with kindness.

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