5 Minutes With: Famed Hong Kong Bartender John Ng

He’s known for his offbeat, unique cocktails, such as Wellington Treasure — a drink that uses “goose fat washed vermouth” to simulate the mouthfeel of Chinese roast goose — and regularly lands on best bartender lists. He made his name at Hong Kong’s Wyndham The 4th bar and has won awards including Diageo World Class Best Bartender, Hong Kong Asian Cocktail Champion, and Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition winner.

These days, he acts as brand ambassador for Louisville, Kentucky small-batch producer Michter’s American Whiskey, representing them at bars worldwide. That’s what he’s doing here now — guest bartending at Park Hyatt’s Penthouse bar for the Thailand launch of Michter’s. 

We met up with him there for a quick chat.

When asked how he deals with the travel, endless work-related parties, alcohol tasting, and, of course, bartending itself (and as a celeb bartender at that), Ng says he relies heavily on Vitamin C tablets: “You know, the fizzy ones that dissolve in water? I bring them everywhere.” And, of course, lots and lots of water.

He also tell us that drinking is an integral part of the gig, but that the constant boozing starts to affect him less than it would for the casual weekend warrior: “I think we get a bit immune to it, our bodies process it better.” Having traveled the world, he also believes that, in a hot climate like the kind we get in Southeast Asia, you just sweat the booze out faster — and thus cut the length of the hangover.

We also asked him where he likes to drink when he comes to town. He admitted that he hasn’t visited all the top spots in Bangkok, but named Thong Lor’s Backstage and Silom’s Vesper as his preferred watering holes.

And since Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2018 was released just last week, we also had to ask him what he thought of the list — who surprised him, and who got robbed of their rightful place. “Every year it changes and this year was no different, lots of surprises. I was happy to see more winners from Malaysia and Indonesia. We’re slowly starting to see the drinking culture in those places change — they are moving from massive whisky drinking to being able to appreciate a detailed cocktail.”

Next, we talked about Michter’s. Apparently the brand will be stocked in a few other venues around the city, including The 88 Surawong. (Surawong’s co-founding bartender Eric Stephenson was also on hand to take a shift at the Michter’s launch.)

We sampled Michter’s small batch whiskey, bourbon, and rye, and found them, in turn, fruity, smoky, and peppery — and surprisingly smooth, despite all of them containing alcohol content that hovers in the 45 percent zone.

The sour mash was especially memorable, with a cinnamon start. Ng explained that this choice is perfect for a whisky sour, a drink he believes is making a comeback in Asia.

He noted that, while the drink is always half whisky, a quarter lemon, and a quarter sugar, he changes how he makes it depending on the region. In Japan, says Ng, they prefer it more sour and barely sweet.

And, no surprise — in Southeast Asia, they want it sweeter.

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