Personally, I was quite excited to be invited to a tasting at The Other Room, a cool, new bar that has only opened its doors only several weeks ago. Right now, it is only known to a select few. "Why?" you might ask. Well, even though it's located at the Marriott Hotel TANG Plaza, it's hidden behind a nondescript door even the most hipster of hipsters would have trouble finding.
To gain entry for the first time, it's probably best to ask hotel reception. Beyond the plain door and dark curtains hides an impeccably-styled and dimly lit lounge. Some say it's a speakeasy. Some call it a Prohibition-styled bar. To Master Bartender Dario Knox, the man behind The Other Room, he thinks of it as a "drinking house".
My first impression: "Woah." Having sat in the lobby for a few minutes, I had no idea it was sitting right in front of it. On this night, it was playing a good mix of electro swing and classic vocal music, straight from Dario Knox' personal playlist.
The menu takes inspiration from the Prohibition Era in the U.S.A., mainly the years 1920-1933, where the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol was banned. Ironically, this period influenced a generation of creativity in the spirit world. Spirit-makers went incognito and formulated concoctions with an exhaustive array of finishings and taste profiles.
Today, Dario Knox has recreated this concept with The Other Room. With ingredients and equipment sourced from all over the world, the charming 30-year old Italian mixologist has managed to create 150 different varieties of rums, whiskies, gins, vodkas, and mescals, all of them individually cask- and spice-finished.
You might find it hard to pinpoint a drink to suit your taste but fret not. The menu features taste profiles for each and every cocktail available. If you need more, simply look for one of the friendly staff members or Dario for assistance. Spirit lovers should strike up a conversation with Dario, who claims he can "speak for two whole weeks" about what he has done at The Other Room. I did not quite have the luxury of two weeks, but in the two hours I was there, I've certainly learnt a lot about alcohol. He screams enthusiasm and passion for booze! Aside from English, he also speaks his native tongue Italian, plus several other languages including Spanish, French, Portuguese, some Singlish (his lahs were well placed) and more. If you speak any of these tongues, he'll be quite happy to converse with you. I tried my Spanish and I must say, it was quite well received.
Now, let me tell you what I had.
To kick things off, I had the 1928 ($24++) first. This vintage cocktail packed quite a serious punch in terms of alcohol content and was sweet, dry and bitter. It came in a manner that was... quite gimmicky, yet hilarious. I was given a chilled, empty glass and a hardcover version of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Bewildering at first, the book was quickly revealed to be hollowed-out and hidden in it was a hipflask with my drink. One simply had to pour. According to Dario, that's probably one of the ways you would have hidden your booze during the Prohibition Era. I was pleasantly amused.
Because one drink is never enough, and the thirst got quite real speaking to Dario at length about alcohol (my favourite subject of all time), I ordered the Scotch and Tea ($19++, see below). I was very intrigued by its ingredients, which included bay leaves, celery and matcha tea. I didn't think it would work as well as it did. It was refreshing, sweet, sour and slightly savoury all at the same time. It could easily be one of my new go-to drinks.
To fully understand the concept of cask and spice-finished spirits, I was asked to pick a favourite gin. Hendrick's was my answer. A good 10 minutes later, three glasses of gin (also known as a flight) were brought out for me - original Hendrick's (for reference), Hendrick's Black Pepper Finished and Hendrick's Orange & Lemon Finished. A quick sniff and sip later, my mind was quite literally blown. The Orange and Lemon Finish was subtle but the Black Pepper Finish was quite spicy (and delicious). It was later topped off by tonic water to create G&Ts.
Flights (a.k.a. samples of spirits) are recommended to help you start your journey into cask- or spice-finished spirits.
I could not end the night without having another cocktail. For my third and final concoction, I decided to go with the Moonshine Sour ($19++). You'll find an eclectic mix of ingredients in this one - like curry leaves and egg white. Delicious, of course.
I'll certainly be back with fellow alcohol enthusiasts and with spirits like the ones here, it's incredibly hard not to return soon. I would stick with spirits and cocktails. Skip the beer, because, what would be the point, really?
By Joshua Tan, September 2016