Let’s face it. Drinking cocktails can be expensive. A single drink at a decent cocktail bar in Kuala Lumpur will probably set you back at least RM30 to RM50, with prices going higher depending on the spirits used in the drink. the more premium a spirit, the higher the price, obviously.
With that in mind, keeping the drinks affordable was one of the priorities bartender Shawn Chong set when helping to set up new bar Los Flowerpecker in Damansara Utama (Uptown), Petaling Jaya.
At Los Flowerpecker, the drinks are currently priced at RM20 to RM25, and one of the reasons is that the bar puts much of its focus on low-ABV drinks. These are essentially drinks that use a base spirit with a lower alcohol base volume (usually less than 20% ABV) such as vermouth or wine, rather than the usual 40% ABV and above spirits.
Low ABV cocktails have been enjoying rising popularity around the world of late, so this was a good time to ask Chong for a crash course on this rising trend.
Los Flowerpecker began life in Bangsar as a specialised vermouth bar called The Flowerpecker, before moving to Damansara Uptown and rebranding itself into more of a Latin American theme rather than just a vermouth bar.
“Instead of limiting ourselves to just vermouth-based drinks, we also wanted to bring back old school rum and tequila classics like the mojito and frozen margarita, and put the focus on making our drinks affordable and fun,” said Chong, who is also the co-founder of cocktail bar Omakase + Appreciate.
An aromatised, fortified wine flavoured with botanicals, vermouth (pronounced “ver-mooth”) is better known as one of the essential ingredients of iconic cocktails like the Negroni, Manhattan, and the Martini.
Los Flowerpecker currently has three main ranges of vermouth on the menu – Dolin (a Vermouth de Chambéry only produced within France’s Savoy region that uses maceration of real plants rather than pre-prepared infusions), La Quintinye (a French artisanal vermouth made with 18 to 28 aromatics and a blend of white wines fortified with Pineau des Charentes, a fortified “wine” that is a mix of unfermented grape juice with cognac aged in oak barrels), and Carpano, an Italian brand that also produces the “king of vermouths”, Antica Formula.
While in Malaysia it is primarily used in cocktails, vermouth is actually an aperitif that can be drunk on its own. In fact, some of the best vermouths, like the Antica Formula, deserve to be tasted that way.
“Anything that seems rather premium or on the sweeter side, I would recommend having it neat, chilled, or on the rocks,” Chong said.
Other than that, some of the more common serving styles of vermouth is with a fizzy mixer. “In vermouth, whether it’s French, Italian or others, there’s usually a dry, a semi-sweet, and sweet vermouth in the range,” Chong said, adding that the three basic mixers that are used with vermouth are soda water, tonic water, and ginger ale.
“I usually serve the sweeter vermouth with soda, the bianco (Semi-sweet) with tonic, and the drier one with ginger ale.”
However, Chong stressed that is just a suggested serving stlye though. Personally, I preferred having all three with just soda water, as I could get the flavours of the vermouth a lot better, and still get to enjoy a nice refreshing drink at the same time.
An evolution of the Austrian spritzer drink (made with equal parts white wine and sparkling water), the Spritz is an Italian drink that is commonly served as an aperitif throughout the country.
One of the more popular variations of the Spritz is the Aperol Spritz. Aperol is an Italian aperitif made with an infusion of botanicals including gentian, rhubarb and cinchona, among others, Aperol is a slightly bitter, orange-y spirit that is commonly drunk on its own as an aperitif. A much more popular way to drink it, however, is in a low-ABV cocktail called the Aperol Spritz.
According to the official recipe on Aperol’s website, the drink is made with equal parts Aperol and prosecco (or sparkling wine), serve in a wine glass topped off with soda and garnished with an orange slice. The result is a refreshing, lightly fizzy drink that balances the orange bitterness of the Aperol and the sweet acidity of the wine perfectly.
Another popular variation is the Hugo Spritz, made with elderflower liqueur instead of Aperol, which produces a sweeter, more floral drink that is just as refreshing and pleasant.
Not to be mistaken for a caffe Americano (espresso + hot water), this long drink is actually the forefather of the hugely popular negroni cocktail (made with equal parts gin, Campari and vermouth). The Americano is made using equal parts sweet vermouth, Campari and soda water (the Negroni replaces the soda with gin), and if you like your negronis but want a longer (and cheaper) version of it, then this is for you.