Peter Chua, former head bartender at 28 Hong Kong St (10th in the World’s 50 Best Bars list in 2016) recently opened his own bar in Singapore, Crackerjack. In the November/December issue of BARS&clubs, we caught up with Chua for a chinwag.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR NEW BAR CRACKERJACK?
28 Hong Kong St was created to be a high energy, high volume cocktail bar that was dark, sexy and mysterious where you could do things and people would not speak about it the next day. So Crackerjack is yin to 28’s yang – a bar that is more like places in Sydney or San Francisco, a home away from home, serving quality food, drinks and coffee too. We’re open from 9am until midnight.
DOES THE BAR HAVE ANY SIGNATURE COCKTAILS?
The entire menu was created specifically for Crackerjack, and it revolves and rotates every two to three months – every time you come you might find something different, but it stays familiar. One of these things would be our highball section, basically defined as a drink with a base spirit and a lengthening agent, whether it’s tonic or soda or coke. We decided to inject some flavour into it by making a cordial that’s made up of flavouring agents, sugars and acids. So for example we have a drink called the Grape Jasmine which is a play on how people drink cognac in Singapore which is with green tea, it’s like a staple. So we took that as a base and turned it into a highball drink. It’s a cognac with soda water, fresh jasmine tea, fresh grapefruit juice, acid phosphate, citric acid and sugar.
WHY ARE SINGAPOREAN BARS ALWAYS SO HIGH ON TOP 50 LISTS AND THE LIKE?
It’s largely due to the fact that we’re so diverse as a country. Growing up in Singapore we have people from different races, cultures and backgrounds, and having that injection of foreign workers coming in bringing different skills and experience as well, we are able to take all the strong points of each culture and bring them together in one location. Also living in a city that’s so well connected around the world, we can get ingredients from pretty much anywhere around the globe, anytime we want.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR AMBITIOUS YOUNG BARTENDERS?
Learn how to walk before you try to fly. Always learn the basics – a carpenter has to learn how to hammer a nail before he can build a house. Take your craft seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s a bit of an ego complex going on with bartenders nowadays where they hit a bit of success and suddenly they’re like ‘oh, now I’m mixologist.’ At the end of the day it’s hospitality, we’re here to give people a good time.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD COCKTAIL GREAT?
Balance for sure. I like to use the analogy of a painting – imagine your base spirit being the canvas, and the flavours you’re using being the paint. Different canvases require different paint. But to me the real art of bartending is finding the perfect drink for each guest, reading between the lines and listening to them to give them what they want.
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