When the 2016 list for The World’s 50 Best Bars was released earlier this month, Hong Kong had as many entries as Tokyo and Shanghai combined. Our city’s cocktail scene has never been better. But even if you know where to go, do you know what’s best to order? From modified old fashioneds to tweaked Tom Collins, we round up the city’s best cocktails.
Hong Kong's best cocktails
Created by 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana’s bar manager, Devender Kuma, The Optimist cocktail was the combo Kuma took with him to Sydney last year to represent Hong Kong in the Barcadi Legacy cocktail competition. A combination of Bacardi, lime juice, honey water and ginger, finished with a spray of yellow Chartreuse, The Optimist is as smooth and satisfying as it is fragrant. $150.
Skip the eponymous house speciality when you visit sharply decorated drinking den Amazake. Trust us, it’s nothing more than an unimaginative hotchpotch of Asian spirits. The Kingsway on the other hand is well worth your time. Blending whisky, honey, maple syrup, lemon juice, cinnamon and lemon oil, the sweet and sour flavours come served in perfect harmony. $135.
This drink is a well-established classic in the Hong Kong drinks scene, courtesy of Ham & Sherry's Backbar. It would be easy to dismiss its popularity as a gimmick, something that piggybacks the appeal of the Anchorman movie and the cute perfume bottle with a ‘sex panther’ label it comes served in. But this blend of rum, burgundy syrup and perfume bitters is an awesome nighttime sipper that goes down a treat every time. $130.
Helmed by Yuriko Naganuma, protégé of Hidetsugu Ueno, the man behind the decorated Bar High Five in Tokyo, Bar De Luxe's Hidden Gem is a winner. This blend of Nikka From The Barrel whisky, Japanese yomogi (mugwort) herb liqueur, Averna Amaro and sugarcane syrup is gloriously golden brown is medicinal at the front but rounded with spiced notes. The silkiness of the whisky is complemented by the caramel notes of the Averna Amaro, making for a smooth, incredible sip. $168
Time Out was disappointed when Backstage Live closed last year, but we’re feeling less melancholy now the excellent Bitters & Sweets has taken its place on Wellington Street. A purveyor of intriguingly different cocktails, the Marmalade features cognac, earl grey, vanilla and orange marmalade and orange bitters. The alcoholic punch is solid but mellowed by the citrus flavours and pleasantly rounded out by just a hint of Earl Grey. $150.
Beef & Liberty: Nuclear Banana Daiquiri
In these days where cocktails are taken oh-so very seriously and no-one without the requisite suspenders and facial hair can put their hands on a shaker, it’s nice to see Beef & Liberty keeping it fun. This concoction of rum, Chartreuse, Velvet Falernum and sugar syrup is the perfect way to kick-off proceedings when rolling up into Lan Kwai Fong. $120.
3/F, California Twr, 30-32 D’Aguilar St, Central, 2450 5778; beef-liberty.com.
Brought back into popular consciousness courtesy of Don Draper and Mad Men, the regular old fashioned’s simplicity makes it ideal for reinvention and experimentation. Brickhouse does one of the best reinterpretations in the city. Using mole bitters, inspired by the fiery sauces popular in Mexico, this version has an extra kick that sets it apart. $225.
A recent addition to Wan Chai’s burgeoning number of quality bars, Delegator is home to some awesome Cuban sandwiches. The drinks aren’t to be missed either, though. The Dark & Stormy here is made with Gosling Black Seal, lime and ginger beer. The flavours are intense and the lime showcases the dark, liquorice-y molasses notes of the rum. $110.
While we like our drinks to have a bit of bite, there’s a place for sweet libations too. And Swing With Erin will convert even those who didn’t know they had a sweet tooth in their body. Throwing together homemade fudge and Irish Teeling whisky, the cocktail is perfect for those ‘keen to skip dessert’, as the menu puts it. $145.
Unsurprisingly, this mix of Myers’ dark rum, homemade taro purée, coconut milk, fresh milk, syrup and coffee is inspired by Studio Ghibli’s classic anime My Neighbour Totoro. The rich creamy flavours evoke one’s childhood, especially the notes of taro that break through the alcohol. Surprisingly potent, this is in fact an adult-only affair. $128.
Hidden nine floors up in The Loop on Wellington Street, I Know John doesn’t go out of the way to advertise itself. But, courtesy of its excellent drinks and friendly service, it’s frequently rammed with punters. The Fog Cutter is another reason they come. Cognac, gin, Jamaican rum, sherry, amaretto, syrup, orange and pineapple and lime juice get thrown together and the result is surprisingly smooth and incredibly complex. $95.
Sister bar to the hugely impressive J Boroski (which doesn’t feature on this list simply because of the lack of a menu and its bespoke drinks), entering The Iron Fairies is like stepping into a storybook. The drinks are pretty out of this world, too. This beauty is a blend of house-infused blueberry vodka, elderflower, homemade sage cordial, lemon, crème de cassis and smoked cocao nibs. Drinking it is like imbibing a campfire. $120.
Mizunara’s post-9pm $400 minimum charge
won’t appeal to casual drinkers but bartender-in-chief Masahiko Endo’s award-winning cocktails are worth forking out for. The Cool Eyes, a reference to James Bond’s steely gaze, combines vodka, Earl Grey liqueur, grapefruit-flavoured liqueur, lemon juice and blue jasmine into a stunning turquoise tipple. Maybe just make sure you grab a seat before nine. $230.
The place to go for outstanding classic French cuisine, Maison Eight also serves a mean cocktail courtesy of legendary mixologist Salvatore Calabrese. The meanest of the lot is his creation Fair Enough. Bringing together rum, goji liqueur, red summer fruit cup tea, fresh lemon juice, pineapple syrup and egg white, this drink looks as good as it tastes. Just one sip and you’re transported from the city to the beach. $98.
Recently revamped, Neo returned this year even better than when it first opened in 2015. On its new cocktail menu it’s The Experience we find ourselves hollering for.Unlike the playful surrounds of the bar, this concoction is full-on – hence the name, perhaps. A mix of Fernet-Branca, gran classico bianco vermouth and lemon juice, it’s an intense tart and herbal sipper that’s challenging but thoroughly rewarding. $110.
A fixture on Peel Street for almost three years now, Nocturne is all about whisky. So it’s no surprise the staff here make a cracking old fashioned. Made with your choice of Japanese whisky, the result can vary. Still, whenever we’ve dropped in we’ve never been less than impressed by the deft flavours produced and the subtle intertwining of citrus and sugar. $125.
These days when you notice an Earl Grey cocktail on a menu you’re liable to roll your eyes at the lack of imagination. The concept may seem passé but back when Quinary opened, an Earl Grey martini could still raise eyebrows. Fortunately, this version has stood the test of time. The vodka, elderflower syrup, apple juice, Cointreau, lemon and lime and molecular Earl Grey caviar remains a potent and perfectly playful pairing, one still capable of blowing us away. $120.
Stockton may be hidden down a nondescript alley on the corner of Wyndham Street but the quality of bevvies meant it didn’t stay secret for long. Our go-to remains the Ribston Apple, a stunner that fashions spiced rum, amaretto, apple cider, honey and cinnamon into a dangerously addictive lipsmacker that can have you hitting the floor before you know it. $130.
With its old world ambience, Whiskey at Stables is a fine place to hunker down with a quality variation of an old fashioned. This version marries Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey with a house-made five spiced syrup. Not as fearsome as it sounds, the spices add a subtle extra oomph and deliciously complement the whisky’s notes of vanilla, toffee and candied fruit. $128.
Since day one, The Woods has established itself as the Hong Kong home of hardcore, experimental mixology. There are many great tipples to choose from but we still default to the Oak Whiskey Sour. French oak-infused Michter’s rye whiskey, Canadian maple syrup, fresh lemon juice and egg white – it’s simple but effective. The torched French oak chips open the olfactory senses and provide a lovely vanilla waft that we could bask in all night long. $120.
Antonio Lai is Hong Kong’s most renowned bartender and VEA Lounge is probably the best expression of his talents. The Cleopatra Formosa comes served in a dapper golden pineapple that contains mescal, Absolut Elyx shaken with clarified pineapple star anise syrup and a splash of fresh lime juice. Despite the smoky notes, the fruits help keep things grounded and refreshing. Hail Cleopatra! $150.