Nutmeg and Clove is one of our favourite bars, not just because of its excellent cocktails, friendly service and superb location but because of something even more important.
A sense of Singaporean-ness, as far as there’s such a thing.
While they’re not the only bar to use local ingredients and techniques, there’s something very homegrown about their creations.
So, naturally, we expected that the folks there would be brewing up something for the upcoming 52nd National Day.
We’re happy to say we weren’t disappointed.
The First Resident
We remember reading about William Farquhar during our formative years in school (when we weren’t too busy throwing paper planes at each other). A British major born in Scotland, Farquahar was the first Resident and administrator of Singapore. Today, his legacy is eclipsed by that of Raffles’; Raffles lends his name to streets, buildings and businesses, while the only road named after Farquhar was removed in the name of urban planning.
Decades removed from the classroom, we found ourselves reading about Farquahar with no small amount of fascination. He spoke Malay fluently, married a Malaccan, and, like Raffles, maintained a keen interest in zoology and botany- particularly that of Malaya. While Raffles lent his name to many new species of animals and plants, Farquahar was no unschooled lout. He commissioned Chinese artists to illustrate 477 local flora and fauna.
Nearly two centuries later, Farquahar’s drawings were finally put together in Natural History Drawings: The Complete William Farquhar Collection, Malay Peninsula 1803-1818.
What does this have to do with alcoholic beverages, you ask?
Well, to celebrate our nation’s 52nd birthday, our friend at Nutmeg and Clove have unveiled four cocktails inspired by Farquahar’s work on local flora (unless we’re mistaken about the state of the local wildlife and their uses in cold drinks). We don’t see these herbs, shrubs and fruit as often as we should in the concrete jungle, but they’re still part of our natural history.
Same Same, but different
The Moscow Mule should be familiar to all of us by now; among the simplest of drinks, and a modern classic. With the addition of galangal ginger, the Galangal Beer($22++) was created. The classic mule has a vodka base, so what gives it its flavour is the interplay of lime and ginger beer.
Yet, the galangal is decidedly unlike its cousin the common ginger, which is used in making ginger beer. Galangal, while part of the ginger family, is more powerful in aroma and flavour, yet also softer. It has pine, citrus and pepper notes. Its cousin is fresher, lighter, spicier and drier in flavour.
To make the mule flavour truly that of Galangal, then one needs to make their own ginger beer, or rather, galangal beer, through fermentation. The cocktail itself contains galangal-infused vodka, galangal beer, fresh lime and a spiced pear syrup with nutmegs, cloves and black pepper.
The cocktail itself is remarkable. While the regular Mule is a refreshing drink, it is not complex. This spin on the other hand, has remarkable depth. To start, the brisk pine flavour of the galangal excites the palate. It then melds seamlessly into the sweet, mellow pear, then ends with a sweet, spicy note. Imagine a combination of spice, green mango and dried guava. Lovely.
The Southside is a classic drink of gin, mint, lime and sugar. It, too, is designed to be refreshing and light. The cleverly named Bay Side ($22++) uses bay leaf-infused gin, elderflower liqueur, spiced apple reduction, fresh lemon juice and egg white.
We were unaware that bay leaves could be grown in Singapore, and that, like the galangal, the local species is quite different indeed from the western varieties. While the two share some of the savoury aromas, the local varietals are spicier, woodier and stronger -much like cinnamon or cassia bark.
The drinks is full of earthy spice notes and savouriness on the initial sip. It swiftly transitions to a mild herbal sweetness in the midnotes and finishes with a mild, bracing bitterness. Quite interesting- a different kind of spiced cocktail- and quite rare. Think about it- how many cocktails have spices as a core flavour?
Oh My Jasmine ($22++) is a spin on a Scotch Sour. Clearly, the ingredient is jasmine, which Singaporeans are intimately familiar with. It is not unique to Singapore, and, like the orange and spice, eventually found its way to Europe through centuries of trade. Yet, only in Asia does it have a widespread culinary usage; the western world preferred using them in soaps, scents, and bouquets. Jasmine has been used to flavour green tea for centuries- at least as far back as the Ming Dynasty!
Following that theme, the cocktail itself uses Bruichladdich Unpeated, jasmine syrup, lemon juice, green tea liqueur, jasmine foam and matcha.
It turns out to be a brilliant combination of yin and yang. The sweet fragrance of jasmine rises like morning mist from the glass, but is never overpowering. While the drink is satisfyingly creamy, it never becomes leaden. Its sweetness comes immediately to the fore- but it isn’t cloying. The scotch and tea add some light green and savoury flavours to balance the drink, with the Laddie also contributing grain, honey and orange.
It is a testament to the bartenders’ skill that all the flavours somehow work in harmony, seamlessly layering over each other like ripples in a pond. Superb.
Singapore’s Blue Bloods
The Rum Milk Punch is made with rum, milk, cream, syrup, nutmeg, vanilla. As one might be excited to find out, the King and Queen ($22++) is made with Mount Gay Black Barrel, toasted malacca coffee bean, pandan, lemon, clarified milk…and the king and queen of fruits- durian and mangosteen.
There isn’t much to say about the royal couple that Singaporeans don’t know about- except why they’re usually served together. Popular wisdom suggests that the “heatiness” of the durian is balanced by the “cooling” properties of the mangosteen.
While no scientific evidence suggests this belief is true, many will swear that eating both together will keep the body in balance. We simply point out that both fruits are harvested in the same regions…at the same time.
There isn’t anything out of balance with the cocktail itself, however, though it does have a surprise of its own. Unexpectedly, the cocktail’s flavours are actually mainly that of coffee and caramel, with a bitter midnote, and the sweetness of mangosteen and the creamy flavour of durian emerging towards the finish. It is much more savoury than sweet, unlike what the ingredients suggest. It certainly defied our expectations. Complex and spirit forward, though we preferred the sweeter Oh My Jasmine.
In days to come
We enjoyed all these new drinks, and we highly recommend them no matter whether you’re Singaporean or just visiting.
What better way to celebrate Singapore’s 52nd National Day than with a few delicious cocktails? The four drinks have also been designated Cocktails of the Month for August, so each drink is 1-for-1 during Happy Hour.
If you can’t make it in August, the four drinks are a prelude to the bar’s menu revamp in October 2017. We’re waiting for that with bated breath.
Nutmeg and Clove