“Fortunately, there is gin, the sole glimmer in this darkness,” the author, Albert Camus, once said. And, this year, Gin Festival Saigon 2023, will be lighting up spooky season with a Halloween-themed event on Saturday October 28th, held at the InterContinental Saigon between 3pm and 10pm.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
This year, Gin Festival Saigon 2023 presents a head-spinning 13 gin brands – a globetrotting list that includes groovy new gins like Brookies, founded in 2016, from the Cape Byron Distillery in New South Wales, and the spicy Indian gin, Stranger & Sons, that’s made in Goa, on the county’s west coast.
Plus, there’s some prestigious names, like the historic Henkes Gin from Holland that’s 180 years old. And, of course, Vietnam is well-represented too, with Saigon Baigur Gin and Lady Triệu Gin.
And, at Gin Festival Saigon 2023, as has become customary since the first Gin Festival Saigon in 2018, each gin will be turned into a cocktail by a specially selected bartender. Adding to the interactivity, and some friendly competition, will be an online public vote for the best drink and the best gin.
Balancing out the event, like some craftily curated botanicals, will be drag queen Tien Ngoc Nguyen manning the microphone as event MC, and a series of masterclasses: the Global Brand Ambassador of Bruichladdich Distillery, Abi Clephane, will be introducing The Botanist Gin, and Elia Marchetti, the master mixologist of Cheers Distillery, and Adam Westbrook, master distiller at Lady Triệu, will present their brands.
So, we spoke to four bartenders hoping to win people’s hearts (and, even more importantly, the precious tokens they drop for their favorite bartender), about their genuine appreciation for the juniper-infused, botanically rich beverage.
Pham Mai Lan, or Lan Pham for short, is bar captain at 86 Proof Whiskey Bar, the popular Thao Dien cocktail bar with its expansive terrace. Khang is a bartender at The Triệu Institute, the refined, folk-hero inspired gin bar on District 1’s Mac Thi Buoi. Tin is the head bartender at the breezy Thao Dien urban beachclub, The Brix, and also at the Nikkei cuisine concept TINTO, and Heni Ahuenny is brand ambassador of Cheers Distillery, the made-in-Saigon spirits brand.
First off, by way of introduction, can you describe your bar to someone who’s never been?
Lan Pham: I tend to describe 86 Proof Whiskey Bar as home. And I don’t just mean my home – it’s home to our customers who come through and spend their night with us.
Khang: The Triệu Institute is driven by a story about our eponymous heroine, Lady Trieu, or Bà Triệu. This formidable lady is our figurehead, both for the bar and the gin brand. If you come to visit, I’ll tell you the full story, while we try out some of our cocktails.
Tin: The Brix is a kind of tropical oasis, but right in the heart of Thao Dien. And TINTO, for me, is a rich exploration of cuisine that’s a mix of Japanese and Peruvian.
Heni Ahuenny: OK, maybe I’m the odd one out. I don’t actually work in a bar. However, if anyone wants to try our products, they can come to our showroom at 202 Dien Bien Phu for a glass…or two.
Why is gin the greatest of all spirits?
Lan Pham: I love the history of gin. And I love how each gin is unique, with the possibility of choosing between 100s of botanicals.
Heni Ahuenny: Me too. It’s such a rich history to dive into. With a spirit like this, you imagine all the traditions and secrets passed down from generation to generation.
It’s the base for many classic cocktails too. There’s Martinis, Negronis, Gin and Tonics, and lots more. I feel that its unique taste and aroma – thanks to botanicals like juniper, coriander, angelica, citrus and many more – allow you to create so many variations, whether combining alcoholic or nonalcoholic ingredients with it.
Tin: I do feel like everyone loves gin. Personally, I think that its diversity means there’s a gin for everyone. And a gin to connect with everyone. Plus, we can combine gin easily – with fruit, herbs, and citrus.
Khang: Yeah, and, I think, most people know about the botanicals in gin — there’s always juniper and then other spices, maybe something floral, or citrus, like lemon or grapefruit. But the thing that truly elevates gin is the stories behind it.
If you were a gin, what kind of botanicals would it contain?
Khang: Laksa leaf. It’s fresh, spicy, and outgoing…just like me.
Tin: Something complex. There’d be angelica root, cilantro, green anise, star anise and lemon zest.
Heni Ahuenny: It would have a base of grain alcohol. To that, there’d be some spices; juniper berries, of course, coriander, angelica root, orris root, some almonds, and some cardamom.
Lan Pham: Hmm. All spice, caraway seeds, and cumin!
And tell us about the gin you’ll be making your cocktail with at Gin Festival Saigon 2023.
Lan Pham: I’ll be using The Botanist. It’s a classic Scottish gin. And it has citrus, herbal and vanilla notes, with some cooling mint flavor.
Heni Ahuenny: I represent Cheers Distillery. It’s a young, ambitious alcohol brand that produces delicious, high-quality drinks. The labels and branding are kind of fashionable. And I like the hedonistic Cheers Distillery tagline: ‘A little party never killed nobody.’
Khang: Lady Triệu! I’m proud to represent this gin brand. It compels me to learn more about history and it inspires me to transmit those stories to guests.
Tin: I’ll be using Stranger & Sons. It’s a gin from India with some strong botanicals. It really encapsulates India’s colorfulness. They even describe it as “a tribute to Indian culture.”
And how about the cocktail you’ll make?
Lan Pham: So, I’m going to make a strawberry yogurt punch cocktail. But I don’t want to reveal too much…
Heni Ahuenny: My favorite gin cocktail has always been a Clover Club – a divine combination of gin and raspberry.
Then, when I moved to Asia, I discovered so many different kinds of fruit. The biggest revelation was passion fruit. It totally captivated me – the sweetness and sourness. I began to experiment with it. And Cheers Distillery produces a passion liqueur, which makes experimenting with it as a flavor even easier. My Passion Kiss cocktail, that I’ll be making at Gin Festival Saigon 2023 combines my love of Clover Clubs with my passion for passion fruit.
Khang: Our bar and gin brand are very respectful of Vietnamese culture so I wanted to make a drink that is the same.
My cocktail is called ‘The Gratitude’ and when I created it I had in mind the way, during Vietnam’s festivals – like Vu Lan Festival and Lunar New Year – different generations within a family pay tribute to their descendents.
Vietnam also has flowers that symbolize respect and gratitude – flowers like sunflowers or chrysanthemums – and we give gifts like fruit baskets with tangerines and other fruit inside. So, ‘The Gratitude’ has Lady Triệu’s Contemporary Gin and lots of those flavors I mentioned, that remind me of the holidays and my family.
Tin: As the name of the gin I’m using – Stranger & Sons – suggests, India is famous for its strange things. One of those lesser known strange things is the culture of pickle making.
So, with a gin with some pronounced botanicals like Stranger & Sons, I was inspired to create a Dirty Martini that incorporates a very unique Vietnamese pickle and its juice. Drinking it, you get this very refreshing feeling on the tip of the tongue. Then there’s sweet, sour and umami flavors from the pickle juice that mix with the Stranger & Sons botanicals.
All this relates to a personal story of mine too.
When I was a kid, my mother would often make pickles from lotus root for the Tet holiday instead of the usual pickles people would make. I could never wait for the first day of the year to eat it and I’d beg her to let me try before then. She’d refuse. And I wondered why. Is it tradition? Is it for good luck? Or is it for other reasons?
Honestly, I still don’t know the answer. All I know is that I wanted that pickle more than anything else in the world! It felt like a ‘kho báu dưa chua’ or something like a pickled treasure. And that’s what I want guests at Gin Festival Saigon 2023 to feel too.
What should guests bring with them to get the most out of Gin Festival Saigon 2023?
Heni Ahuenny: Guests to Gin Festival Saigon 2023 only need to prepare one thing…their best mood!
Tin: Exactly. Guests to Gin Festival Saigon 2023 should bring their smiles! Oh and grab lots of water to drink for some ‘fire fighting’ because it’s going to be a long day. Remember. Always drink responsibly.
Lan Pham: And dress up! The Halloween theme is not compulsory but there is a prize.
Khang: And bring a friend or two. Gin Festival Saigon 2023 is an event worth sharing…
Gin Festival Saigon 2023, will be lighting up spooky season with a Halloween-themed event on Saturday October 28th, held at the InterContinental Saigon between 3pm and 10pm, learn more about Gin Festival 2023 here. Or vote for your favorite bartender here.