Hong Kong’s bar scene continues to go from strength to strength. There are an increasing number of top drawer craft beer joints and a wide array of great cocktails bars. But even if you know the best or newest spots to visit, it’s not always obvious what you ought to order. So let us help. From modified old fashioneds to tweaked Tom Collins, here are Hong Kong’s best cocktails and where to get them.
Hong Kong’s best cocktails
Created by 8½’s bar manager, Devender Kuma, The Optimist cocktail was the combo Kuma took with him to Sydney in 2015 when he represented 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.
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.
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 and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Paying homage to Poland, Polish My Candy combines Zubrowka vodka, apple, salted caramel, cinnamon and walnut bitters. It’s a perfect balance of sweet and savoury with a spiced edge courtesy of the vodka and cinnamon. A sip of Eastern Europe in a glass.
This Ernest Hemmingway-themed bar has a number of intriguing signatures on its menu. Our recommendation is to go for The Snows of Kilimanjaro, a mix of marshmallow gin, lacto-fermented raspberry and citrus topped with grated gruyere. The dainty drink boasts a fluffy, cloud-like egg white foam atop an extremely well-balanced beverage. The sharp tang of the raspberries and citrus gets smoothed out by the gruyere’s saltiness, making the cocktail seem like a liquid cheesecake. It’s practically perfect.
When PDT arrived here from New York, its master mixologists crafted a number of cocktails unique to the menu in Hong Kong. Best of the lot is this one, the Bad Hunter ($158). Made up of Chivas Regal 12 whisky, Fernet Hunter, lemon juice, longan berries and Moët Brut Imperial Champagne, it’s anything but bad. Rather, it’s a tremendous creation with fruity, tart and bitter flavours working in tandem and perfectly balanced.
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.
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.
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.
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 mezcal, 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!