In case you haven't noticed, working behind a bar these days is about more than pouring a spirit in a glass and topping it up with a mixer. At Singapore's Tippling Club, www.tipplingclub.com, the new idea of barman as chemist is being given full play by Australian Matthew Bax. Standing behind an appropriately clinical stainless-steel-topped bar, Bax uses molecular mixology — the bartending equivalent of the culinary technique developed by El Bulli's Ferran Adrià — to fashion drinks like Clouds Clearing. This comprises cranberry sherbet frozen in liquid nitrogen, served in a champagne coupe and topped with lavender candy floss. When Bax presents the drink, he pours in caipirinha, dispersing the mist arising from the coupe. Finally, the concoction is folded with a spoon and consumed as a slushy drink. Or there's the Kopi O, named after the Malay term for black coffee. This version, however, uses dark Cuban rum with thermal-infused vanilla, roasted banana, maple syrup, coffee liqueur and an espresso shot.
Flavored smoke, air and dust are among other oddities used in the 15 cocktails on the menu, alongside more prosaic ingredients like hand-pressed fruit juices. But in the end it's not about the gimmicks. "Taste naturally is still the most important result," says Bax. "All the tricks in the world can't hide a bad flavor match or recipe."
Kitchen duties at the Tippling Club are handled by English-born chef Ryan Clift, whose lunch and dinner menus and ultra-contemporary bar snacks (think soft-boiled eggs with bacon foam and freeze-dried tomato powder, or stamp-sized pizzas filled with mozzarella foam and tomato fondue) are the perfect accompaniment to Bax's boozy bravura. In fact, food and cocktails come in degustation-style pairings. Options start at five courses paired with three cocktails and two wines (about $130), and go up to a 15-course extravaganza that includes a reckless nine cocktails and six wines (about $275). Do remember that while Bax is a dazzling cocktail wizard, no magic wand is going to cure the hangover you'll get after chugging that lot.