In this edition of Bar Banter, we get to know the inspirational Kino Soh (formerly from Hopscotch and FRESH!) and the concept behind her all-female highball bar at Kampong Bahru
Local bartender, Kino Soh, has made quite a buzz in the bartending scene, thanks to her stint at FRESH! and for co-founding the playful, local-influenced Hopscotch. But the Diageo World Class finalist of 2016 is hardly resting on her laurels, having recently founded a brand new highball-focused cocktail bar with some sweet happy hour deals. And, as if that wasn’t enough girl power for you, she’s even put together a very talented all-female team of bartenders for Highball. Our curiosity piqued, we decided to interview the woman herself in this edition of Bar Banter.
Hi Kino, congratulations on starting up Highball! After helming the bars at FRESH! and Hopscotch, what do you think are some of the more valuable lessons you’ve learnt in your career?
One thing I have learnt is that bartending isn’t just about drinks. We’re providing an experience – a place for people to socialise, celebrate or unwind. A bar is anything the guest wants it to be. If a bar can do that, than it’s a bar for everyone – a true watering hole.
Could you tell us a little bit about Highball? What inspired you to kick-start this new concept?
When I first fell for cocktails, it was the dessert-y apricot and peach ones that stole my heart. Then I ventured into bitter and complex negronis, the tart and herbal, and finally back to basics – highballs. The simple, fizzy alcoholic beverage became my go-to and, seeing its popularity in Japan, I embarked on the journey to make highballs a thing in Singapore. And so, I opened the first highball bar in Singapore.
In this day and age, do you still struggle with any stereotypes as a female bartender?
Yes. Stereotypes don’t go away overnight. The older and more conservative generation still believe that a lady working in a bar just means constantly getting hit on in a sleazy place. But as an evolved and knowledgeable food nation, the general perspective of female bartenders here is definitely getting closer to where we want it to be.
The whole bartending team at Highball is female too; was that a conscious decision?
Yes, it is a conscious decision. During my visits to the Thailand and Hong Kong, I realised that there are a lot more female bartenders than in Singapore. I wanted to create an avenue to kick-start a career in bartending for the ladies back at home. I wanted to create a place that feels safe and assure them that bartending is a respectable career to pursue.
Are there any up-and-coming female bartenders we should watch out for?
Marie Tashphyll Nakazawa from Highball. Jayden Ong from Sugarhall. Charmaine Ann Theo From 28HKS. Watch out for these rising stars.
The Gua & Plum highball
Do you have a simple highball recipe to share? Perhaps, something we can try at home?
For sure! Try a Moscow mule. This gingery and fresh concoction can’t go wrong for movie nights or house parties. The simple version is as follows.
5ml Fresh Lime Juice
Add cubed ice
Top up with Ginger Ale or Ginger Beer
*Optional: Add a splash of soda to cut the sweetness
The Version at Highball has just one extra step: clean and skin young ginger; cut it into strips and infuse the vodka for a couple of days in a cool dark place. The result is brilliant. A warm, rich gingery drink not unlike the ‘ah boling’ that our grandmas make.
On the flipside, what’s the hardest thing about mixing a highball?
For highballs with carbonated mixers, it’s all about the fizz. The carbonation can uplift and freshen a drink. But there’s nothing worse than taking a big gulp of gin & tonic only to realise its flat and “meh”. Some simple tips: Chill your mixers or cap them before next use. Also, pour away from the ice to let it mix well with the spirit and not fizz up too much.
What’s one cocktail that’s usually a challenge for you?
The Gin Fizz is a challenge because the ratio of soda to cocktail is quite low, so it‘s tricky to present the perfect mixture.
Could you tell us a bit about what goes into the creation of your highballs?
Highballs are classic drinks and have been around for a long time. Our original highballs are bits and pieces of what I’ve learnet and loved throughout the years of bartending combined with my Asian heritage. The Kyoho Fizz, for example, uses the preserved sour plum mixed with a fruity and intense kyoho grape liqueur. Other Asian influences can be found in our Salted Egg Snowball, which includes a salted egg liqueur.
Was there a particular incident in your life, or a person, that inspired your decision to take up bartending?
A particular drink tipped me over the fence. It was a beautiful one – a strawberry and rum Caipirissima. Freshly muddled strawberries, light rum, crunchy bits of caster sugar, fresh limes with crushed ice. Imagine the freshness! I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t taste at all like the cough syrupy cocktails I’ve had before. I thought to myself, “I want to be making this for people!”.
Where do you go when you need a good drink?
Hmm, I don’t have a particular go-to bar, but I recently tried a fantastic “El Diablo” and “The last word” at Skinny’s Lounge. Must try!
And what about go-to supper spots?
Go-to Supper spots for me are The Ramen Stall (Japanese food ’til late) and Old House for white prawn noodles and salted egg squid.
If you could make a highball for anyone, who would it be and what would you make?
I’d make one for Daniel Craig. Bond is always seen having a strong martini, and in the latest movie, he had a Heineken. I think that if he has a highball on screen, it would definitely pique the interest of viewers and make it a more popular option. It would be a rum highball, ’cos rum is a happy spirit and I think Bond needs to lighten up.
You always seem to be switching up with one bar concept after another! What do you hope to accomplish in the next year or so?
Yes. I think that is part and parcel of my learning process. Understanding all kinds of guests in different kind of environments. I wish to focus on Highball and evolve it into a long-lasting and popular establishment.
And lastly, what else do you like to do around Singapore when you’re not behind the counter?
I enjoy skating and eating. On my off days, I like to sleep in and then go hunting for the latest cafes and concepts. Eating out exposes me to more flavours and food combinations that I can use in cocktails. It also helps me unwind when I sit down for a nice slow meal, as I practically inhale my meals during shifts.
Highball, 79 Kampong Bahru, Singapore 169377. p. 6222 0179.