Creativity in the cocktail industry

In order to become a successful bartender at Hakkasan, it is essential to have an exceptionally creative imagination and a tenacious passion to succeed. Drew Mallins, Bars Manager in the Middle East, honed his skills at the original, Hakkasan Hanway Place in London, where many of Hakkasan’s bartenders begin their journey, before moving to Qatar to work as the Bar Manager at Hakkasan Doha and finally to Dubai, where he currently oversees all bar operations in the Middle East, including Hakkasan Dubai, Hakkasan Abu Dhabi and Hakkasan Doha.

His role includes a multitude of responsibilities, such as supervising the creation of the innovative cocktail list at each of the restaurants and advising the bartenders about new products and ingredients. While the majority of his role is to manage the bar managers and bartenders, he also acts as a mentor.

He describes the cocktail development process: “The bartenders are encouraged to come up with recipes and ideas for drinks whenever the menus are reviewed or updated. The cocktails are then tasted by the bar managers to ensure the balance of flavours is right and that it fits the profile of the Hakkasan cocktail offering. There are a lot of factors involved in choosing which cocktails are listed on the Hakkasan menu, from seasonality and availability of ingredients, as well as costs, market trends, and the individual style of each bar team.”

It is that individuality and creativity that is celebrated within the team.

“Every bartender works differently. Sometimes the bartender will start at the finish, with a certain flavour profile, a specific presentation, or even a garnish. It is then the bartender’s challenge to find the ingredients and methods that will achieve their imagined cocktail. Other times, the bartender may try a new product and instantly have an idea about what it will mix well with.”

With an international bar team, the influences for the cocktails come from far and wide.

“There is often a cultural influence in drinks creations. For example, the Don Java, a cocktail listed on Hakkasan Dubai’s menu, was created by an Indonesian bartender using tamarind and ginger rice, ingredients common in Javanese cuisine.”

An extensive knowledge of new ingredients and products is important, and research into these areas is vital.

“I spend a lot of time reading about products on websites such as Imbibe.com, as they are up to date with new releases.” It is also imperative to look within the business for inspiration. “I really enjoy seeing what pastry chefs are using in their desserts and trying to replicate that in a glass.”

Every bartender and bar manager has their favourite spirits to work with, and this changes on a regular basis.

“I go through phases, but at the moment I’m into whiskies, particularly single malts. For cocktails, however, gin is often my preference as it’s a great base, and you can never go wrong with a well-made gin and tonic.”

Working in the Middle East presents certain challenges, especially around the attainment of different spirits. In this case, it’s important to maintain good relationships with reliable suppliers, a skill nurtured by many in the bar industry.

“It’s all about relationships and effective communication. Maintaining rapport is key to a successful business relationship. Dubai can be very challenging, especially with wine and spirits, as there are only two suppliers.

Doha is an even more challenging market. There is only one alcohol supplier, but the relationship between them and Hakkasan is very strong, and whenever there are issues they are resolved quickly.  When we opened in 2012 there was a huge amount of stock and equipment imported, and this is still largely the case but it’s slowly getting better.”

Part of Drew’s job is making sure that the cocktails complement Hakkasan’s Cantonese cuisine.

“I wouldn’t say that there was one particular spirit category that pairs with Cantonese cuisine as it is quite broad: it offers spicy, savoury, sweet and aromatic flavours, so depending on the dish you can always find something to pair with it, either neat or mixed in a cocktail.

The Chinese Mule, with vodka, sake, ginger, coriander and lime, is a great pairing with our steamed dim sum. The cocktail is spicy, sweet and aromatic all at once.”

Drew is also responsible for the creation of some of Hakkasan’s most iconic cocktails.

“I am most proud of creating the Cucumber Collins, using Jensen’s Old Tom gin, triple sec, cucumber, celery bitters, lemon and Fever Tree soda. The gin was especially imported. I visited the distillery in Bermondsey, London, last year, which inspired me. It’s a very good Old Tom gin, and is highly rated amongst bartenders looking for an Old Tom that’s as authentic as possible.”

The imagination and invention of each of Hakkasan’s bartenders is encouraged and lauded, with regular competitions resulting in cocktail listings and events dedicated solely to the efforts of the bar.

Hakkatini Nights celebrates the originality and innovation of the cocktail list with a menu focused on Hakkasan’s signature cocktails paired with dim sum.

This menu is available at selected times at Hakkasan Dubai, Hakkasan Doha and Hakkasan Abu Dhabi.

Dim Sum Sundays at Hakkasan Hanway Place celebrates seasonality in both the food and the cocktails on offer, with a regularly changing menu of cocktails focused on unusual and unique cocktails created by the bar team.