What do you get when you get nine of the country’s bartenders, hook them up with other creative luminaries, and give them free rein to experiment with the world’s best-selling single malt whisky? Apparently, a lot of cocktails with tapioca pearls in them. But that was just the tip of the iceberg for Glenfiddich’s Philippine leg of their World’s Most Experimental Bartender program, which gave us nine experiences that expanded on the typical bar experience.
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But yes: tapioca pearls. Three of the pairs delivered drinks that used sago. The most straightforward of these came from Miguel Salamilao of Three Little Pigs, who with the help of Tea Master Ralph Tan, concocted a pair of milk tea cocktails: a chai with black pearl, and a jasmine milk tea with a whisky jelly. The chai was the one that seemed to work better with the flavors of the whisky, the heat and spice playing well with the single malt’s honey warmth. But it’s the jasmine milk tea one that feels more apt in this experimental setting, the floral bloom of the tea rising above the alcoholic heat, ending with a lightness that one generally doesn’t expect from cocktails.
Lawrence Gabriel from Solaire mixed up what was being called a “clarified taho” cocktail. In the glass, it’s a bed of dark tapioca pearls inside a viscous, translucent brown liquid. It drinks like a syrup, and does in fact deliver flavors that recall the popular street treat. Gabriel collaborated with photographer Tristan Tamayo, and they served every drink with a printed photo of the drinker, taken while waiting for the cocktail to be prepared. Because we all want to be reminded what we look like while we’re waiting for alcohol.
And then there’s The Cove’s Faye Fernando, working with EDSA BDG’s James Llamera, who offered up a more direct approach to replicating taho in a cocktail. The taho itself has the whisky in it, the spirit added to the soymilk before it’s solidified in a silken semi-solid curd. It’s pretty ingenious, though one doesn’t necessarily detect the whisky in it anymore. The stuff they ended up serving was pretty great, though. There’s the old fashioned: a serving of the taho with arnibal and sago, with a dash of angostura bitters. For all its strangeness, it does actually taste like the classic cocktail. And then they added the taho to a couple of kombuchas: one, a mango tea kombucha, and the other, a coffee kombucha. Those kombuchas alone make for great drinks, and with the taho added, they get just a little more fun.
Three of the bartenders were hooked up with culinary professionals, and this naturally resulted in experiences that involved food. These made for some really elaborate spreads. Run Rabbit Run’s Enzo Luna and pastry chef Don Carpio laid out a table filled up with malt bread and whisky jam and a whisky butter. The jam and the butter were also components of the cocktail, which is a hot drink that’s meant to be a take on batirol. It isn’t much like batirol, but it is very tasty: the butter and the jam give it body, and the touch of bittersweet chocolate coats the palate as the drink builds to a stinging heat.
Kathrin Osmillo of Oto teamed up with Fonso Sotero of Lampara to deliver a trio of pastries that have a very Modernist Cuisine bent. A roasted malt ball filled with marzipan and tofu, a doughnut hole soaked in whisky filled with a sauce made from raspberries, samipinit, and vanilla, and what essentially amounts to a frozen chunk of baking soda flavored with green apple and then sprayed with Glenfiddich. This all served with a classic Boulevardier, which is meant to be sipped between bites of the malt ball. It’s all very good, but like a lot of modernist cuisine, also a little exhausting.
John Silva and Ruther Sandico, both representing the Bistronomia group, did a more straightforward pairing. They served a whisky-cured salmon dusted in burnt coconut with what appeared to be a whisky sour with coconut in it. There’s not a lot to say here: the salmon is tasty, the cocktail is tasty, everything is tasty. It did end up feeling a little conservative given what this event was supposed to be all about, but it’s hard to knock people for offering up something that just plain tastes good.
Silvester Samonte of Shrine of Satisfaction and Kayo Cosio of Honeycomb Communities went pretty crazy with their creation. The most interesting component is a “whisky scotch tape,” which is Glenfiddich solidified into a jelly strip using agar agar. This is dissolved into a drink along with a cotton candy made with Fox’s candies and a ginger-turmeric soda. It’s a fun visual, but the drink itself ends up just tasting like Fox’s candies, with just a slight tinge of a salabat burn.
The other two drinks in the lineup feel like they struggled a bit to integrate the collaborators. The Corner’s Eric Miro took as inspiration the work of tattoo artist Denzio Hilapo, and we ended up with a whisky cocktail tinted with various “inks” made up of matcha and coconut and mango. It’s served with a quill, which you then use to mix everything up with an unappealing gray substance. It tasted okay, if a little muddled.
Then, Glenn Talavera of the cocktail pop-up DBWY teamed with professional groomer Shandman Fontanilla to mix up what felt like a really heavy, really complicated whisky sour. It’s a nice enough drink, but it really struggles to stand out in a lineup that includes milk tea cocktails and whisky taho.
Photographs courtesy of Glenfiddich