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Interview

At The Table With: Ivy Woo, Co-Founder of Singapore Cocktail Festival, Managing Director of Food News Integrated Marketing Agency

31 August 2021 by Food&HotelAsia

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Hi Ivy! Tell us how did you get involved in the cocktail scene?

I have always been in the food and beverage industry – for over 25 years now – so getting in touch with the cocktail scene was naturally part of the path.

But I really delved into the world of cocktails during its emerging years in Singapore, when Food News became the appointed marketing agency for Jigger & Pony (Best Bar in Singapore on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020 list) back in 2012. Our footprint within the cocktail scene further deepened with the birth of Singapore Cocktail Festival, which was co-founded by Food News in 2015.

Who or what inspires you?

My dad. He was a hard worker who never let anything get in his way. He didn’t get to spend a lot of time in school, but that never stopped him from learning and figuring out whatever he could on his own. He learnt to read and write English, speak Thai, became computer literate, experimented with carpentry etc (the diverse list goes on) all on his own.

Tell us about the Singapore Cocktail Festival and what to expect at the next edition.

Singapore Cocktail Festival is Asia’s biggest get-together for international drink makers and cocktail lovers. The festival which began as Singapore Cocktail Week in 2015, was always a vibrant celebration of the cocktail craft, and the calendar consisted of exclusive bartending shifts, pop-up events across cocktail destinations in the city, and a Festival Village where festival goers can indulge in a world of immersive experiences.

Despite the pandemic, Singapore Cocktail Festival has continued to find ways to conjure consumer interest for the world of cocktails, and initiate support for our local cocktail community. Its week-long programming has evolved to become a hybrid month-long cocktail parade aimed at driving consumers into bars.

#SGCF2021 will see participation from 35 of Singapore’s best cocktail bars, including the soon to be opened Stay Gold Flamingo, hot favourites such as Bar Stories, Lime House, Nutmeg & Clove, Origin Bar and more. Each bar will create a special cocktail inspired by music. Staying true to the festival’s DNA around “Taste, Learn and Play”, there will also be cocktail brunches, bar crawls, cocktail making workshops across the festival’s calendar from 1 to 31 October. More information will be available on our website at www.singaporecocktailfestival.com soon.

What is your all-time favourite cocktail, and just for kicks, what cocktail you think should be outlawed?

A Dirty Martini is always my go to. Somehow, sipping on a martini always gives me that clarity I need at the end of a very long day. I think that any cocktail that is created to knock someone out quick and easy should be outlawed!

Do you think (high) price of cocktails have any influence over consumers’ choice when ordering a drink?

Firstly, let’s understand why craft cocktails are priced the way they are. Craft cocktails are prepared with quality ingredients – aside from premium spirits, a lot of the ingredients from shrubs to tinctures are house-made fresh from scratch – to ensure consistency and enjoyment with every sip. The cocktail may take only five minutes to make in front of you, but the preparation work that happens behind closed doors is more extensive than most would know. Additionally, making a great cocktail requires the precise skills of a professional bartender, who would have spent years honing his craft. So why wouldn’t the price of craft cocktails reflect that exquisite drink promise and experience?

While price is a consideration, I do not think it deters passionate cocktail enthusiasts from paying for the experience that they want. Consumers today are savvy and mature enough to appreciate the quality and craft that goes behind each cocktail. The ever-expanding cocktail industry in Singapore is a testament of that consumer advocacy and acceptance.

Zero per cent alcohol – honest opinion?

I think it is great to have that zero per cent option. Zero per cent alcohol can allow for a more creative and interesting non-alcoholic cocktail repertoire. So why not?

How has the cocktail scene evolved throughout the years? The future – what would it look like?

Mindful drinking is a trend that will continue, and it pans out in three ways. (1) Consumers will drink better. Which means they expect top-notch drinking experiences and are willing to pay (reasonably) for them. (2) Consumers will drink less. The pandemic has hastened the need for selfcare, and while consumers will continue to sip on cocktails to enhance the social experience, they will be more mindful of how much they consume. (3) Low or non-alcoholic category will continue to grow and become a staple on cocktail menus. Imbibing low or non-alcoholic beverages at a bar will move from “sneers to cheers”.

What is the greatest challenge facing the bar/F&B industry right now and what needs to be done in order to get back on track?

The biggest challenge that our industry is facing today is manpower. With the government tightening policies on foreign labour, more needs to be done to attract and retain talents in the F&B industry. Sadly, the industry has always had a bad reputation because of the long working hours, perceived lack of growth potential, mediocre wages etc.. We need to advocate some fundamental improvements in these areas and tackle such “perceptions” at the root in order to shape a more positive, desirable image for the industry.

Singapore has the best drinking scene in Asia – do you agree? How do we measure up to wildly renowned bar scenes of other locations in Asia, such as Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand?

Maybe in terms of the variety of cocktail experiences and pace of growth, Singapore currently leads in Asia. But Japanese cocktail craft is one of the most respectable ones in the world, and Hong Kong has its fair share of innovative cocktail experiences; including Jay Khan’s COA, which is currently the No. 1 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list. So while I believe Singapore’s vibrant cocktail scene is deserving of its position as the cocktail capital in our region, Hong Kong and Japan are definitely formidable cocktail counterparts in Asia.

What is the coolest cocktail you’ve ever ordered, and where did you order it?

In all honesty, I am not a very adventurous drinker because I do not like being disappointed. So I tend to stick to my safe bets, like The Sun Also Rises (sweet vermouth prepared sous-vide with pandan leaves, curry leaf-infused gin, coconut oil-washed applejack, and kaffir lime.) from The Old Man Singapore, Mango PX (Southeast Asian version of a Pedro Ximenez sherry and features fermented mangoes with dark rum infused with charred French Oak) from Gibson and the Vesper at Live Twice.

Top tip for aspiring professionals looking make waves in Singapore’s cocktail bar space?

Become a member of Singapore Cocktail Bar Association! The Association gives immediate access to a network of well-established bars and a tight-knit cocktail community that is ever ready to share professional advice and expert tips.

Ivy will be moderating a panel session titled ‘The 0% Customer: Does the Pandemic Punch lead to Drier F&B Times in Asia?’ on 16 September, Day 2 of FHA Match: Drinks. Register free to catch this session: https://bit.ly/3kx49uC

 

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