"There's something to be said about the elegance of offering your guests a well-made cocktail, as opposed to simply opening a bottle of wine." That's the mantra of Sven Almenning, the bartending entrepreneur behind Eau De Vie, Australia's most-awarded cocktail bar.
It's also the idea behind a new trend emerging at top-drawer resorts in Bali offering holidaymakers the chance to step behind the bar and learn the finer nuances of spirits, mixers and garnishes to build cocktails of their own. Here are three venues leading the charge.
Ombak at Alila Soori
In Indonesian, 'ombak' means wave – a fitting name for the beachfront bar of Alila Soori, a sleek, minimalist villa-only resort set on the lava black beaches of Bali's south-west coast.
Late in the afternoon, guests meander down to Ombak to sip on the alcohol-based creations of homegrown mixologist Nyoman Winata. "In Bali we are known for adding spice to cocktails," Winata says. "So I play around with ingredients like lemongrass, ginger and chilli to give ours a kick."
The som tam – a concoction inspired by Thailand's spicy papaya salad – is one of four cocktails Winata shows budding mixologists how to make at Ombak's daily cocktail-making workshop.
"Lemongrass is very coarse so you have to chop it finely first," he says. "But with the chilli, you can just cut one half-centimetre piece. Don't use tabasco as a replacement because it's not just about making the cocktail 'hot'. Chilli adds flavour."
Winata places the ingredients into a mixing glass along with 50ml of Hendrick's Gin, two basil leaves and one kaffir lime leaf before muddling it into a paste. He then adds ice, caps the mixing glass with a Boston shaker and jiggles vigorously before double straining the mixture into a chilled tumbler. Finally, he garnishes the drink with two lychees skewered on a stick of lemongrass.
"The garnish for this cocktail is very important," he says, "because if your guests are not used to chilli, they can eat the lychee to reduce the heat."
Akademi at Katamama
The first hotel of PTT Family, the Jakarta-based hospitality powerhouse behind Bali's insanely popular Potato Head Beach Club, Katamana is a new artesian hotel smack in the heart of Seminyak – Bali's answer to Miami Beach.
Katamama's lobby is home to the first overseas outpost of Movida, Melbourne's beloved haute tapas chain; and Akademi, a 'centre of mixology' anchored by an open-plan bar that was custom-made for the venue's root-to-flower masterclass.
"The philosophy behind the root-to-flower concept is to maximise the use of one single ingredient in a cocktail so that nothing is wasted," says bar educator Azwar Annas.
"This month our case study is the cacao fruit, so we put our heads together to create a cocktail called the xocolãtl – the Aztec word for chocolate. We use the cacao flesh to make chocolate, cacao nibs and seeds to infuse flavour into spirits, and cacao pods as glasses."
Under Annas' guidance, students build their own xocolãtl using 30ml of chocolate arak, a local spirit made from coconut; 30ml of el Jimador tequila infused with cacao and vanilla beans; 30ml of unfiltered dark wheat beer reduction made by boiling beer with vanilla beans; 20ml of citrus juice, a blend of freshly squeezed lemon and lime; 10ml of melted dark chocolate; 5ml of bitters and one egg yolk.
The ingredients are then shaken together in a Boston Shaker, poured over large pieces of ice, garnished with grated dark chocolate and served in a hollowed-out cocoa pod.
Sundara at Four Seasons
The Sanskrit word for 'beautiful', Sundara is the signature restaurant and bar of the resplendent Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay resort on Bali's south-west coast
Cocktail-making classes at Sundara are dispensed with aplomb by Wijana Nyoman, a mixologist who studied his craft for two years at the Singapore Regent before returning to his island home.
"At luxury hotels in Singapore the environment is very formal and I wore a tuxedo behind the bar," he says. "But in Bali people are on holidays so the vibe is much more relaxed."
Nyoman's 90-minute course comprises hands-on tutelage on how to build the ginger & honey, a combination of fresh mint and ginger ale; the Balinese beach bum; a mandarin-flavoured martini; the bloom of Sundara, a combination of vodka, lemon and passionfruit; and the red fruits caparinha, a local interpretation of Brazil's national cocktail.
"Cut a small lime into eight pieces, put in a mixing glass and mess it up with a muddler so the juice of the lime comes out," Nyoman says. "Then add one tablespoon of fresh blackberries, one tablespoon of fresh raspberries, 10ml of raspberry syrup, 20ml of sugar syrup, 20ml of lemon juice and 50ml of cachaça, a Brazilian spirit made from sugar-cane."
Nyoman then pours the ingredients into a mixing glass full of ice, caps it with a Boston shaker and shakes before pouring the mixture – ice and all – into a tumbler. "A good quality cocktail depends on good-quality ice," he says. "Big solid chunks, frozen like crystals."