Early last month, Pailin “Milk” Sajjanit, 28, the bartender at Vesper and Il Fumo, was named Southeast Asia Bartender of the Year 2016 at the Diageo World Class awards in Bali. Next up, she’ll represent the region at the global final in Miami this September. BK chatted to Milk about her bartending journey so far.
What inspired you to be a bartender?
I studied hospitality management at Bangkok University, where there is a restaurant lab that allowed us to learn the ropes. I knew I couldn’t cook, but my friends suggested I try managing the bar. That’s where I started picking up the basics of bartending. Before I graduated, I undertook more training at Witoon’s Cocktail & Wine School at Fortune Town. Then I got a job at Sofitel So Bangkok before moving to W Bangkok and eventually Vesper, because I really liked their concept of reintroducing forgotten classic cocktails. The journey has taken around four years, but time has flown.
What have you learned along the way?
The world of cocktails is fascinating. It’s like food or wine. People will go out of their way to visit Michelin-starred restaurants or try the best wines. It’s their passion. Cocktails are becoming this way, too. Bangkok has come a long way.
What’s your favorite spirit?
Right now I really love single malt. It’s taken years to get to know my palate, but I really love a smokey single malt as I also love to smoke cigars. Oban, Talisker, Lagavulin—I will choose a different one to match the mood.
How did you prepare for the Diageo World Class competition in Bali?
After we got the brief, we had three weeks to prepare everything. The first challenge was to create cocktails made from local ingredients that best represent your country. I decided to create the “Thai Thai” cocktail, which I made from khao mak (sweet jasmine rice) infused with sweet olive flowers and mixed with coconut oil, kaffir lime syrup, grapefruit bitters and Ketel One Vodka. It won the first challenge. The second brief was to create a new “classic twist.” I took the classic winter cocktail hot toddy and made a cold version you can enjoy anytime. The third brief was a speed challenge, in which we had to create four cocktails in eight minutes. After they announced I was Southeast Asia Bartender of the Year, I was completely shocked. I just wanted to do my best to help the Thailand team win. It was totally unexpected.
Apart from Miami, what’s next for you?
I plan to go to London to explore the world of cocktails there. The bar scene there is really creative with everyone driven to create new trends. I also want to explore Australia, Amsterdam and Prague, where I’ve seen a lot of cool bars on YouTube.
How do you see the bar scene in Bangkok right now?
Four years ago, we only had classic cocktails made in big martini glasses. Now we’re sort of going back to basics and we have lots of great bars opening up. I hope we can establish a culture of bar-hopping in Bangkok, which will help drinkers try a greater variety of drinks. I love that bartenders in the region are really helpful to each other and are driven to make our bars recognized globally on lists like World’s 50 Best Bars. Interview by Monruedee Januttipan
You can find Pailin behind the bar at Vesper (Convent Rd., Silom) from Thu-Sat, and Il Fumo (Rama 4 Rd.) from Mon-Wed.