We caught up with William Drew (Group Editor, World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Asia’s 50 Best Bars) to find out what fuels his inspiration, and his passion to lead the development of the bar scene in the region.
1) Can you tell me a bit about where you’re from and how you started with Asia’s 50 Best Bars?
I’m from the UK and have been a journalist and editor for 25 years, working in everything from lifestyle magazines to national newspapers. Among other areas, I specialised in food, drink and travel. Around 8 years ago I became involved in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and helped to build the 50 Best brand worldwide, including taking on The World’s 50 Best Bars, In 2016, the first list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars was launched and this year we are delighted to host the first Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards ceremony in Singapore on May 3.
2) How has the bar scene evolved in Asia?
Fast, as it’s been exciting times! While people used to look to the large international cocktail cities such as London and New York as trend leaders, more are looking to Asia now, as bartenders are introducing local flavours; foraging for local ingredients; and are using state-of-the-art techniques involving equipment such as sonic homogenisers.
3) How do you explain your consistent success of the awards system?
The list is top-secret until the awards ceremony itself – no one knows the results, including the bartenders and sponsors, which keeps it exciting. The awards bring together leaders in the industry from across the region to toast each other’s success; it’s very much a celebration more than a competition. We also have a well-structured voting process. The list is created from the votes of the Asia’s 50 Best Bars Academy, an influential group of almost 200 leaders in the bar sector across Asia, each selected for his or her expert opinion of the drinking scene.
The panel comprises drinks journalists, bartenders and owners, and well-travelled cocktail aficionados. Members must list seven choices each in order of preference, based on their best bar experiences over the last 18 months. A minimum of three of the votes must go to bars located outside his or her country of residence. There is no pre-determined checklist of criteria but there are strict voting rules. All these factors help make it a highly respected list in Asia, which is recognised across the world.
4) Bars in Asia are also getting more and more well recognised and rewarded. It is also getting more vibrant (thanks to guest shifts and other events). What does the future hold in terms of bar trends in Asia?
There is a very dynamic cocktail scene in Asia, and with the skills and status of bartenders constantly on the rise, we have seen many confident top-notch players take on international bar trends and give them a localised twist or two to showcase their creativity, to let the world experience their local flavours, and to relate to their local audience.
With the scene getting so vibrant in Asia and people having more exposure to international bartenders, either through travelling or guest bartenders, consumers are more receptive to more sophisticated and also more adventurous concoctions. From picking less-common spirits to using avant garde techniques and equipment, as well as local ingredients in their cocktails, bartenders now have a wider arena to play with without having to worry so much if consumers can accept their more innovative creations.
At the same time, bars here are also increasingly conscious about the sustainability of the trade, not just in terms of sourcing and waste, but also in terms of social policy and human sustainability (looking after your staff and their career prospects properly to ensure the continuity of the bar industry). They have also been looking within this region for Asian sourcing, with an increasing focus on food to match the drinks, and food elements within the drinks and garnishes.
5) Do you have a favourite bar establishment within Asia?
I couldn’t possibly show any favourites! But I’m looking forward to experiencing more on each of my trips to Asia!
6) What’s next for Asia’s 50 Best Bars?
We hope to build on the first awards in future years by growing our profile in the region, especially among consumers looking for the ultimate list to the finest drinking destinations. We will look to increase our footprint through the development of our programme around the awards with events such as #50BestTalks as well as producing plenty of content across our 50 Best digital channels.
*All quotes to: William Drew, Group Editor, World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and Asia’s 50 Best Bars