Are plant-based cocktails a noteworthy emerging trend in Asia's cocktail bars?
Interest in plant-based libations in Asia has not only launched off exponentially — they seem poised to continue their upward trajectory. In conversation with Head Bartender Rohan Matmary of Bar Trigona at the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur.
27 September 2023
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Photo credit: Bar Trigona, Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur
“I believe plant-based cocktails are here to stay as a lasting trend, particularly in tier-two Asian countries. These regions have traditionally faced a scarcity of quality spirits, prompting bartenders to harness the local flora and fauna, resulting in a thriving plant-based cocktail culture.”
Rohan Matmary is one of a handful of proponents from the bars within Asia whose advocacy for the plant-based cocktail trend has become unshakeable. Helming the acclaimed Bar Trigona at the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Matmary prides himself on the innovative use of locally sourced ingredients, forming tight-knit relationships with the farmers there anchored in his dedication to sustainability. Bar Trigona is #36 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023 and has won numerous accolades for their innovative and sustainable cocktail menu.
“Countries such as Malaysia, Taiwan, and Japan, with their abundant agricultural traditions, tend to emphasise concepts rooted in locally sourced produce,” states Matmary.
This is slowly reshaping how the cocktail makers are crafting their drinks in these countries, and in turn, contributing to the emergence of plant-based cocktails in Asia.
In a report by Bloomberg Intelligence, it is expected that population growth causing a strain on resources will contribute to plant-based food growth, with the Asia-Pacific region particularly vulnerable to limited food supply with an expected population of 4.6 billion by 2030.
Head Bartender and Bar Manager Rohan Matmary of the acclaimed Bar Trigona at the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur | Photo credit: Bar Trigona, Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur
“Food-related consumer habits often come and go as fads, but plant-based alternatives are here to stay – and grow. The expanding set of product options in the plant-based industry is contributing to plant alternatives becoming a long-term option for consumers around the world,”
cites a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst as part of the report.
The rise of plant-based diets and sustainable living at the intersection of global food and beverage trends is definitely having an impact on the Asian cocktail scene.
With a growing demand for more diverse and health-conscious drink options, bartenders in Asia have started experimenting with plant-based ingredients or utilising vegan alternatives as part of a larger innovation trend in mixology. The more inclusive approach aims to cater to those who follow vegan diets or are seeking alternatives to libations that often contain dairy or other animal-derived products.
Exploring fresh herbs, fruits, spices, vegetables, botanicals and various plant-based milk alternatives to create unique and delicious plant-based cocktails has indeed been the name of the game.
These drinks often replace traditional non-vegan cocktail ingredients like honey, dairy, cream and egg white with plant-based alternatives, from almond milk, coconut cream, agave nectar, and maple syrup to aquafaba, also known as chickpea brine. Additionally, plant-based spirits or mixers too have been on the radar for these mixologists, as an alternative to non-vegan, cream-based liqueurs as well as products that include honey.
“Cocktail enthusiasts in Asia are unmistakably gravitating towards a preference for plant-based ingredients. They have a strong affinity for all-natural cocktails devoid of artificial sugars, with a preference for lighter textures and vegan alternatives like egg white substitutes,” adds Matmary.
Photo caption: Interior of Bar Trigona set within the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur | Photo credit: Bar Trigona, Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur
Besides Bar Trigona, bars in Asia pushing the boundaries in making the cocktail community a more inclusive space for those following a plant-based and sustainable lifestyle include Singapore’s Analogue Initiative which is fully plant-based, where they innovatively substitute custard apple reduction for honey and methyl-cellulose for egg white in cocktail foam, while their Smokey Jerky cocktail features king oyster mushroom “jerky” marinated in smoked hickory alongside smoked hickory-infused whisky, as a vegan alternative.
Other eco-conscious watering holes with a similar ethos is Fura in Singapore and Penicillin, which is Hong Kong’s first closed-loop sustainable bar, as well as Taipei’s Bar Mood with their focus on locally sourced and sustainable materials.
In fact, bartender Conor Bandall at New York-based Bosco, cites that many cocktails were vegan before the term even existed, with a majority of the classics as vegan without any alteration. He points to martinis and highballs as common vegan-friendly options.
Photo caption: Analogue Initiative’s Smoky Jerky is garnished with a king oyster mushroom “jerky” marinated in smoked hickory | Photo credit: Analogue
A classic whisky highball is vegan without any alteration | Photo Credit: Envato Elements
All of these movements are indeed pointing to one thing for sure – that plant-based libations in Asia are not only gaining the spotlight in an incremental way, supported by the larger global demand for plant-based and sustainable dining and drinking; it seems poised to continue gaining momentum for the long run.
“I believe that a thorough exploration of the cocktail choices we make and educating consumers about these choices is the correct path forward,” concludes Matmary, finalising his take on what it takes to support the plant-based cocktail trend beyond the current hot-topic obsession, and fashion it into one which is here to stay.
Author: Shasha Reen
Shasha Renee has been in the field of publishing, media, public relations and communications in the F&B industry in Singapore for the past decade. She is passionate about all things cocktails and wines.