Between pie, ham, turkey, eggnog and mulled wine, being in the throes of Christmas means that we often exist in a guilt-ridden cocoon of sweet satiation and uncomfortably tight elastic waistbands.
Thankfully, in preparation for the season, Belvedere has taken the health trend by the horns and brought Ryan Chetiyarwardana (aka Mr Lyan) – who was named International Bartender of the Year in 2015 – to create all-natural, low-sugar cocktails for party season with vodka as the central spirit. Naturally, we at Prestige jumped at the chance to pick his brains on all things liquor and cheekily requested a bespoke cocktail, too.
How does it feel to be awarded the Greatest Bartender in the World?
It’s an amazing award to be given because it’s bestowed upon you by your peers. It’s not a singular competition, where there’s one panel and you make one drink to do it. It’s cumulative. So, it’s really nice because it’s recognising not just what I do but everything within the team. So within the both bars, what they’re working on, the talks we do around the world, the collaborations we do, different trainings, coming out to speak to people in different parts of the world. And it’s a really beautiful recognition of that, so it’s a huge honour.
What trends have you seen in the cocktail industry?
I’ve seen people starting to embrace things like bitterness a lot more and I think that’s because people are starting to drink much more around their food. They’re also moving away from having very sweet, very sugary-led cocktails. Palettes have moved on. And alongside that, I think people are drinking lower ABV drinks. So having drinks that are lighter work in different scenarios. You know, people are still going to have your Manhattans and your martinis, but they are choosing the occasion to which to enjoy them. They’re going “right, I’m going to drink a glass of wine at this time, or have a beer at this point. I’ll have a gin and tonic then. And I’ll have a vodka martini here at a different point or I’ll have a spritz.” Understanding that bridge, where that cocktail works best, is something that we’ve seen a lot of.
What is the concept of a ‘healthy cocktail’ to you?
It’s obviously difficult to call a cocktail “healthy.” But it’s how it can fit into a healthy lifestyle. Alcohol’s been a part of civilisation for millennia, and if we treat it with respect and treat it like every other ingredient that we should have in our lives and use it in a balanced sense, then it could form a brilliant part of [life]. One of the major culprits around [alcohol’s poor reputation] I think, is a poor quality ingredient. So it’s having lots of artificially-created products, lots of sugar within the bad booze. Having a load of fructose alongside a lot of alcohol, it’s just a whack on your liver that your body doesn’t need. We’ve grown up to have fresh fruit, fresh herbs, so if you have them all together in a unison, in a balanced way, you get something that tastes amazing and also is much better for you.
What inspired the Prestige cocktail?
The cocktail today was really about finding things that had been inspired by the travels. So what I wanted to do was take the DNA of something easily replicable, something everybody can make at home so they could actually have a go at trying to make this cocktail. But also in a way this was a little nod to where we are in the world. I’ve been out to Hong Kong once and it was, again, very brief. So, it’s about trying to find things that have inspired me. It’s not things that I know about the culture specifically, but one of the things that really stuck out to me was the dragon fruit.
It’s a fruit we come across back home but it just doesn’t have the same vibrancy that it does over here. So the breakfasts I’ve had, both here and Singapore, they all have had dragon fruit as part of them. And it’s been a couple of the dinners. I’ve seen it crop up, and at first I was like “I don’t really see the point. Dragon fruit doesn’t taste of anything back home.” Trying it here, it had this lovely creaminess, this brightness like an apple but this acidity to it as well. So it’s all these combinations of flavours. That was a real kind of a showcase of what we’re talking about: looking to nature, trying to find things that are inspiring, things that are exciting. Particularly, it’s an absolutely striking fruit. It looks amazing. And just that connection between not quite knowing what it’s going to be like, the flavour being as unusual and combined as it is, and then just having some flavours surrounding it in a real way to showcase that alongside something harmonious and balanced was the main focus.
How would you suggest others recreate it at home?
I think, for making drinks at home, it’s all about having the best ingredients. That’s the simplest place to start. Good ingredients make it really easy to make a good drink. Having bad ingredients makes it really hard to make even a mediocre drink. So start with good ingredients. And that’s everything. It’s having the right glasses. It’s having the right ice. It’s about having good quality fruits and it’s also obviously, the quality of your spirits going into it. Any of those things, if they’re inferior, if they’re fake, if they’re not going to showcase in the right way means the whole drink falls down.
So if we’re serving wine in a wine glass, the stem keeps your hand away from warming it up too quickly, so it gives it a bit more time to open out. The shape of it channels the aromas but it traps some of those bubbles so it stays fresh. Some good, hard ice cubes mean the drink opens out. So the idea with this is that the first sip is really bright and it starts to dilute, but slowly. And you keep those bubbles, and it starts to evolve over time so you can spend some time chatting with friends, you can be outside in the heat, you can have it alongside food and it continues to open out. So again, the dragon fruit – here in Asia it works a lot better than it does in the U.K. so trying to get a good quality fruit that has ripeness. We are using Belvedere as the heart. It’s a rye-based vodka; it’s got a lot of character to it. It has a lot of flavour without having any added sugars, glycerin, anything that’s going to maul those flavours or give you a terrible hangover. None of that stuff is there. So it’s really, again, a very natural, pure ingredient.
How would you suggest we survive an event serving alcohol?
You don’t want to drink martinis or an old-fashioned all night because it’s just going to knock you out. That’s a real end of the evening, very early on. So the spritz is ideal. It’s perfect for being able to pace through a party. It’s elegant. It looks like you’re having a cocktail. It’s got that “wow” factor to it, but it gives you this lightness to it. It’s refreshing. It cleans your palette. It’s bright. It’s quenching your thirst, but it’s not so alcoholic that it’s going to tire out your palette or get you too drunk.