Lifestyle / Alcohol

Mixologist Ethan Leslie Leong of Maison Ikkoku Shares About His Cocktail Journey

Mixology is a combination of flavour profiles using botanical or fresh fruits, and finding balance in the alcohol’s characteristics with that of the different people.

Jan 10, 2023 | By Joseph Low

You were originally a chef. Tell us about how you became one of Singapore’s most revered mixologists?

After cooking for so many years, I switched to being a bartender and quickly won many championships and gained the limelight by hosting a weekly cocktail show on local TV. From there onwards, I focused on building this as a “career”, taking management courses then climbing up the ranks from Bar Manager to Operations Manager, General Manager and Business Consultant. I ran most of the top clubs in Singapore until I opened my own cocktail bar. There, I keep creating new modernist cocktails that people love and I will never give up this passion.

“Making a bespoke cocktail is a lot like cooking. You have to understand the ingredients’ flavours and how well they pair with others”. This is a bold statement. Which ingredients do you favour the most working with?

Being equipped with a chef background helped me understand the techniques, ingredients and flavours; being a bartender enables me to understand people and alcohol characteristics. Mixology is a combination of flavour profiles using botanical or fresh fruits, and finding balance in the alcohol’s characteristics with that of the different people. For such mixing skills, you need a lot of understanding, experience and knowledge. I like using gin in cocktail mixing, it has many botanical flavours inside and when you mix it well with other fresh ingredients, you can bring all this taste alive and that’s the magic of it.

How has the cocktail scene evolved in Singapore over the past ten years?

Ten years ago people didn’t even know how to order a Negroni, and today Singapore became one of the world’s largest cocktail capitals. We saw many different cocktail concepts opened and it was interesting to see every concept offering a different style of cocktail. The scenes have evolved quickly and I am glad to be part of this cocktail culture from the very beginning.

What are your favourite cocktails bars in Singapore?

Flow by JAG Restaurant, Barbary Coast and Papa Doble, buy me a Vesper when you see me!

What has Maison Ikkoku brought to Singapore in terms of unique and bespoke experiences and tastes?

We customise the cocktail base on the individual guests by talking to them. We then generate the mixing recipe in our brains and create the flavour and taste in their drinks using fresh botanicals and fresh fruits. Balance is the key in this process, an experience you can only find in Maison Ikkoku. We are very glad that this mixing style has been appreciated by many visitors worldwide.

Do you see yourself as an influencer? What do you want clients of Maison Ikkoku to remember when leaving your establishment?

I dare not call myself an influencer, but our creativity in food and cocktails does attract many followers. We want our clients to feel satisfied with the food and drinks we crafted, have a good time and leave with happy memories. Overall, a place they feel confident to show their friends or bring clients the next time.

You stated, “Traditional cocktails are created using mainly cold methods, but I’ve invented techniques that use heat to extract the full flavour from herbs and such.” Can you elaborate further there?

Botanicals mostly contain essential oil, and fresh fruits contain good amounts of natural sugar. Applying the proper heat can extract unique flavours into your drinks or food. Techniques such as siphon, flambe, smoke, brew, distillation and even heat maceration (similar to perfume making in essential oil harvest) can alter the flavours as some heat will destroy, and some heat will harvest. I learned this in Grasse, the capital of perfumery.

Mezcal, for instance, is relatively new across Southeast Asia… are Singaporeans into trying new cocktails?

Oh yes, I love Mezcal. Singaporeans are always up for new things, and Mezcal is a versatile spirit that you can do it as a shot, sniff, on the rocks, cocktail or in dessert.

What is your favourite cocktail?

Vesper, a drink named after Vesper Lynd, is a fictional character featured in Ian Fleming’s 1953 James Bond novel Casino Royale, it is a drink that very few bars get right.

Maison Ikkoku’s concept has evolved over the year. Which achievement do you value the most?

We’ve won many awards including consecutive years of Best Cocktail Bar, Best Rooftop Bar, Best Modern Japanese Restaurant, Legendary Bar Awards, Etc. My biggest achievement still came from our guests finishing all the food and drinks we served, which is a big thing to us because we changed from an only-drink concept to a restaurant that offers a full dining menu. It shows that we achieve the flavour and taste in cocktails and in our food.

On a more generic level, what are the main qualities an entrepreneur should always have?

Persistency, Efficiency, Consistency.

What are your exciting plans for the coming three years?

We are very grateful to all our supportive customers from Singapore and people from all over the world. And to thank all your support, Maison Ikkoku will be launching a brand new concept soon, we will work hard to deliver more top-quality products for your indulgence.

What advice would you give to a young person dreaming of becoming a mixologist?

Mixology is a rewarding journey, do not give up easily.

Would you like to name a mentor inspiring you in your daily work?

Lionel Messi, I decided not to retire from food and beverage after Messi completed the World Cup title. I will continue to work hard and create more delicious food and drinks for all of you.

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