Thailand's best bartender has been announced. The Diageo World Class Thailand National Final 2017, recently awarded Ronnaporn “Neung” Kanivichaporn, bartender and co-owner of popular Thonglor joint, Backstage Cocktail Bar. This is the second time the young barman has secured the title (he first won the award in 2014), which will probably be a boon when he goes on to represent the country in the global final in Mexico City later in the year.
Time Out Bangkok talks to Ronnaporn about his journey into world of mixology, World Class Thailand 2017 and his thoughts on Thailand’s bar scene.
How did your interest in cocktails begin?
I started to become interested in cocktails when I was a teenager. I never approved of what my friends would order each time we would hit the club—always whiskey and soda. Then I had an opportunity to visit Syn Bar, the then famous cocktail den at Swissotel Nai Lert Park Hotel. It was one of few places in Bangkok where Thai ingredients were incorporated into cocktails. That’s when I discovered my passion. After that, I co-launched and became a bartender at Roof Hideaway on top of Muse club in Thonglor. I also had the chance to represent the bar in the World Class Thailand competition in 2014. That’s when I got to know more people in the industry and met five other mixologists, who later became my friends and partners in launching Backstage Cocktail Bar.
How do you describe your mixology style?
I like to give classic cocktails a twist by injecting interesting ingredients. Here, we mostly use homemade components that make our cocktails unique.
Tell us about the cocktails you created for World Class Thailand 2017.
World Class Thailand required bartenders in the running to come up with a variety of cocktails throughout a series of rounds. There was one challenge called Brand of the World, where we had to create a cocktail that could best represent a brand. La Boutique, a Thai fashion label, was chosen for me. I looked into the brand’s new summer collection, which gave me an impression of a confident American woman in the ’80s. As a result, I came up with This Girl is on Fire, a concoction that mixes bourbon (to represent the spirit of America) with rose lemonade, allspice and pink peppercorn ginger. It’s a fun and refreshing cocktail that’s perfect for a pool party, but is also full of complexity because of the bourbon and spices. For the Thailand Shakedown round, which was sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, we had to come up with a creation that showcased the best of our country. My cocktail, Sawasdee, was inspired by Thai inhalers, and combined Bulleit rye whiskey, Thai herbal cordial and passionfruit. The whiskey is dry and spicy, and is a perfect balance to the tangy and fruity components. They both are on offer now at Backstage Cocktail Bar.
How was this experience different from the first time you joined in 2014?
I was very inexperienced when I competed in 2014 as I was very new to the bar industry. I couldn’t even tell what a good Old-Fashioned was. I think the taste of my cocktails and my presentation helped bag me the award. This year, I was a lot more ready.
How are you preparing for the global finals?
The tasks will only be revealed to me later in the year, so I am trying not to get too stressed about it. I am trying to find new inspirations outside the bar, going to new restaurants and other cocktail bars to see what’s going on out there.
How would you describe the cocktail scene in Thailand right now?
It’s doing really well. Many people have started to recognize bartending as a cool profession, not an undesirable career as it was perceived in the past. I have been meeting young bartenders with great passion for the art of cocktails. It’s a great start.