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Bangkok's barman of the hour on the city's growing craze for cocktail competitions

Hideyuki Saito is the latest winner of the Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition.

By BK staff | Mar 17, 2017

  • Bangkok's barman of the hour on the city's growing craze for cocktail competitions
    Hideyuki Saito

Japan-native Hideyuki Saito is the newly crowned winner of Thailand’s Bacardi Legacy Cocktail Competition 2017, set to represent Thailand in the world finals in Berlin. One of a slew of cocktail comps that now run every year in Bangkok, this one bills itself on the same level as booze-behemoth Diageo’s World Class event, its only stipulation being that bartenders must feature Bacardi in their drink. Formerly head-man at the always on-point Vogue Lounge, Hide fixed cocktails at London’s swanky Soho House before arriving in Bangkok in 2014. Now he runs his own bar, Bronx Liquid Parlour, down on Thonglor, where he and barman Krit Pragobdee dole out rich, often strangely savory, drinks that are some of the most creative in town. Here, he discusses Bangkok’s booming cocktail scene—and whether there can ever be too much competition.

What does winning this kind of competition mean for your business?

It means a lot. It’s definitely big. Winning competitions brings you so much media exposure—it’s not something that happens in everyone’s life. Of course, I just won so I can’t say exactly what impact it’s going to have at Bronx but I’m hoping it will be big. I was very focused on winning this competition, I’ve been trying for many years. It’s something every bartender wants to achieve in his lifetime. There has been a big boom in the number of cocktail competitions in Bangkok recently.

Why do you think that is?

Yeah there are a lot more competitions right now. It’s certainly coming up in Thailand. When I was in London there was always a lot of competitions. It’s good marketing for these liquor companies and also exciting for the bartenders—a good opportunity to really achieve something. Then for brands like Diageo and Bacardi, it’s really their biggest marketing tool. That’s why we’re seeing more and more—all the other brands are following.

Does brand involvement prevent these competitions from being truly impartial?

It’s competition. It doesn’t prevent impartiality but you have to represent the brand. Each brand has its rules you have to follow but really we can do whatever we want. Every competition has its own rules and different style, but at the end of the day it comes down to technique, personality, skill, presentation, and of course, taste.

What other competitions do you enter and how did this one compare?

I just entered Bacardi Legacy last year. This is my second time. There are not many competitions in Thailand which expats can enter. Diageo, for example, is just for Thai people.

What are your favorite bars in Bangkok?

Bamboo Bar and Q&A—I love their cocktails. They have an approach which is very similar to my own—boozy and spirit-forward. Every drink I have had at those bars is really well prepared.

What’s missing in Bangkok’s bar scene?

I would say it’s all about the market. The bar scene here has really been picking up fast but the market is maybe not always there. Now it’s growing, but as bartenders we still can’t go really crazy like in Singapore. There, if you create a totally unique bar then people will come for it. In Bangkok the market is not always ready for that—we have to approach things in a way that people are more able to understand. That’s how I feel about where we’re at right now.

Bronx Liquid Parlour, Thonglor Soi 25, 02-036-6071. Open Tue-Sun 7pm-2am

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