Setting The Home Bar: Q&A with Ronan Keilthy, Head Bartender of 28 HongKong Street

Apart from actually making drinks, one of the most fun aspects of building your home bar is filling it with basically anything you want — there are no limits. Depending on your budget, preferences and what you plan on making, your stockpile could simply consist of a couple of spirits and a glass, or you could go all out and get everything you could possibly need to keep your spirits high and your glasses full.

As our second installment of our home bar series, we’ve spoken to Ronan Keilthy, the Head Bartender of 28 HongKong Street Singapore. If you haven’t already, check out these tips from Andrew Loudon, Head Bartender of Tippling Club in our first installment of the series.

Known for its inconspicuous location on the ground floor of an old shophouse, the mysterious speakeasy has steadily risen in the ranks and has been named as one of the best bars in Asia. Despite its lack of social media, 28 HongKong Street has continued to be one of the most celebrated cocktail bars in the country, undoubtedly due to its consistent delivery of chic signature cocktails and equally snazzy interior.

Ronan has a number of accolades under his belt, including his Clairin World Championship win at 22 years of age in 2019. He’s provided us with a comprehensive guide that all beginner home bartenders will find useful, from tools, spirits to the kind of ice you should be using.

A Helpful Guide: The 12 Bottle Bar

For your home bar, the most important thing would be to have a collection of what you enjoy. For beginners who don’t know where to start, Ronan has provided a multitude of options for the everyday bartender. One of the most useful aids — the 12 Bottle Bar by David Solmonson.

“If you are a generalist and you enjoy a wide variety of spirits and cocktails, I subscribe to the 12 Bottle Bar theory. It is a fantastic book for home bartenders that distils (pun very much intended) the expanse of the backbar into the 12 key bottles that you would need to make most classic cocktails. In the case of spirits, I would say to get whatever you enjoy drinking. If you are not a fan of gin, there is no need to get a bottle and have it collect dust on your shelf. Have a look at the cocktails you like drinking, do a bit of research into what ingredients they require, cross reference them with the spirits you like, and go from there.”

Here are the spirits recommended in The 12 Bottle Bar, with Ronan’s personal brand recommendations for entry-level bartenders.

– Gin: Ford’s, Widges, Beefeater, Tanqueray
– Whiskey: Rye Whiskey: Rittenhouse, Michter’s, High West
– Bourbon: Buffalo Trace, Michter’s, Evan Williams.
– Scotch: Monkey Shoulder, Johnnie Walker Black Label, Great King Street
– Rum: Plantation Original Dark, Diplomatico Mantuano, or Mount Gay Black Barrel are versatile bottles. If you prefer your rum light, I recommend Plantation 3 Star, Veritas/Probitas, or Havana Club 3 Year.
– Vodka: Tried & True, Stolichnaya, Ketel One.
– Tequila: Ocho, Arquitecto, Purasangre.
– Cognac: Pierre Ferrand 1840, Remy Martin VSOP, H by Hine.
– Orange Liqueur: Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, Cointreau
– Sweet Vermouth: Cocchi di Torino, Mancino, Carpano Antica.
– Dry Vermouth: Dolin, Noilly Prat, Mancino.
– Aromatic Bitters: Angostura is the industry standard, but many other companies like Scrappy’s, The Bitter Truth, and Fee Brothers have fantastic versions.
– Bitters: Regans, Fee Brothers (Orange), Peychaud’s, The Bitter Truth, (Creole), Scrappy’s (both)

“Wildcard: Here is where you can express yourself. All the other ingredients are very utilitarian amongst classic and modern cocktails; however, the wildcard is your opportunity to grab something you enjoy and have a play. The world is your oyster. Genever, Arrack, Pisco, Aquavit, Mezcal, Baijiu, Amaro, Sherry, Cachaça, and Apple Brandy are all fair game. Or just get another bottle of whiskey, it is up to you.”

Top Banana – Michael’s Rye Whiskey, Banana, Rhubarb Amaro, Angostura via @anjdrinkstothat

Don’t Have Equipment?

As a home bar, you don’t necessarily need to go out and search for the best bar equipment. Making good cocktails at home should be fun and simple, while plenty of household kitchen items that can be used as alternatives to get the job done. 

“Balance is the key to any good cocktail. A jigger is the standard measuring tool, but a shot glass that you can easily eyeball one third and one quarter measurements in is more than sufficient. A set of baker’s measuring spoons also come in handy. For mixing, you will need something to shake and stir in. A mason jar, thermos, or protein shaker are great to use to shake up a cocktail, whereas a measuring jug, pint glass, or pitcher make for fantastic stirring vessels.

A hawthorne strainer is something that you need to stop excess ice from falling into your drink. If you do not have one, a large slotted spoon does the job. A tea strainer is also a great investment overall, and a good way to keep small ice shards or bits of fresh herb and fruit out of your final cocktail. A tool to squeeze citrus is invaluable — whether it is an elbow style press, or a simple reamer, your citrus cocktails will thank you for using fresh juice. You will also need something to stir with. You can get a beautiful ornate Japanese barspoon, but a parfait spoon or even a chopstick gets the job done just as well!”

Game-Changing Ingredients

Cocktails are comprised of a variety of mixers, and some contribute to flavour more than others. Smell, flavour, and even texture are all important elements of differentiating a good cocktail from a great one. As a home bartender, you can explore flavour possibilities and elevate the entire experience with the help of a few specific but simple ingredients — some of these are interchangeable, so you can use whatever you already have in your pantry.

Citrus Fruits: Lemon, Lime, Orange and Grapefruit.

“All of these are invaluable, not just for their juice, but for their peel as well, which can add a fantastic dimension of aroma when expressed over a drink. Fresh juice is one of the easiest ways to take your cocktails from average to amazing. Cutting a lemon and squeezing it takes little to no time and will elevate your drink more than a fancy bottle of booze.”

Simple Syrup

“Sugar acts as seasoning in many drinks, not purely making them taste sweet, but to allow you to taste more of the flavours that are going on in the cocktail. I prefer a 2:1 simple syrup, which is made by combining 2 parts (by weight) white sugar with 1 part of water and stirring until the sugar is dissolved. This allows you to add sweetness and texture to a cocktail without having to worry about dissolving sugar crystals or thick sweeteners like honey.

Tip: Instead of using white sugar, try Demerara, Gula Melaka, honey, or cane sugar. You can also leave some herbs or spices to infuse in your warm simple syrup to add a vanilla, rosemary, or cinnamon note to your drinks.”

Two Drinks For Beginners

To start with, Ronan suggests two types of cocktails, a Fix and a Buck style cocktail. Both are easy, minimal ingredient cocktails that can be adjusted and customised for all to enjoy. A Fix is a shaken cocktail that is comprised of any spirit, citrus, and sweetener, while a Buck is a stirred drink characterised by a any spirit, a dash of citrus, and being lengthened with ginger beer — all with as much ice as possible.

A Simple Fix Recipe

Ingredients: 2 parts Spirit (your choice), ¾ part fresh Lemon or Lime juice, ½ part sweetener

1. Combine in a shaking vessel
2. Add as much ice as possible
3. Shake it like it owes you money
4. Strain into a glass neat or over ice (your choice)

A Simple Buck Recipe

Ingredients: 1 part Spirit (your choice), ¼ part fresh Lemon or Lime juice, 1 dash of Bitters (aromatic or Creole work the best here)

1. Add all ingredients to a tall glass
2. Fill with as much ice as possible
3. Top with 3 parts ginger beer
4. Mix to combine
5. Garnish with a slice of fresh citrus

What Does He Make At Home?

“Cocktail wise, I tend to go for a 50:50 Martini, as I usually have a pre-batched bottle in my freezer, and if not, they are quite easy to make on the fly. Daiquiris and Tommy’s Margaritas are also not uncommon, but as far as a drink overall, I am a sucker for a Highball. Simply a measure of spirit lengthened with soda in a tall glass with maybe a bit of citrus is my go-to at home any day of the week.”

A Few Things To Keep In Mind While Bartending At Home

Ice Is Key

“A mistake that people often make is underestimating the power of ice in cocktails. Ice adds chill and dilution, two “secret” ingredients that turn a glass full of liquids into a harmonious cocktail that is greater than the sum of their parts. A good supply of ice is invaluable when making cocktails at the bar or at home. Ice is to bartenders as fire is to chefs. You could use the finest spirits and the freshest ingredients, but if you use bad ice or not enough, your drink will not be the best it could be. Always use fresh ice in your cocktails, and if you can, stock up so it is always on hand.”

Learn From Each Other

“I do have preferences on how certain cocktails are made, but I enjoy seeing how different people put their own spin on them or how they feel it is balanced to their liking. It opens the door to learning something new about a drink that you may take for granted. A lot of my tweaks to recipes have come from seeing friend’s additions and variations and subsequently using them in my own drinks.”

Most importantly, have fun!

“Have fun and do not stress! These cocktails are being made by you for you and your closest. Recipes are not set in stone. Adjust them, play with them, swap things out, get creative. If it tastes good to you, then it is a great drink, and nobody can argue with that!”

 

28 HongKong Street is currently open for takeaway and delivery, for both food and beverages. Signature cocktails are available in 100ml bottles for yourself or 300ml bottles to share. Spoiled for choice? Try the Cocktail 6 Pack ($115) — a variety pack of 6 signature cocktails, all of which you’re bound to love. Included in the pack are The Fess, a rich cocktail consisting of Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum, Italian Bitter, dark chocolate and sea salt, and Wake Up Call, an 80’s classic featuring Tried & True Straight Wheat Vodka, Mr. Black Coffee Amaro, Coconut and Made Cold Coffee Demerara.

You can also enjoy drinks with your friends while social distancing with the help of the 28 HongKong Street House Party — everything is delivered straight to you and your friends, and you’ll be guided through the experience online, through Zoom or House Party.


For more information on 28 HongKong Street, visit www.28hks.com.

Check out our first installment of the series with Andrew Loudon, Head Bartender of Tippling Club, here.

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