Acclaimed Mixologist Jay Khan Talks Winning Bartender Of the Year And His Must Have Items For An Impressive Home Bar
The mixologist opened Mexican cocktail bar Coa in 2017 as part of his mission to bring agave spirits to the forefront of artisanal cocktail-making in Asia. This year, the bar earned a number three ranking on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list. He talks to Tatler about strange brews, hard graft and winning bartender of the year
This has been a great month for you: you’ve been awarded Altos Bartenders’ Bartender Award 2020 and Coa has been named the third best bar in Asia. How does it feel to be recognised like this?
It is beyond belief. When I first heard the news, I was totally speechless. It encourages me to continue pursuing what I believe in. It makes me want to work even harder. I’m extremely humbled. Nothing feels better than being acknowledged by your own peers for all the hard work that has gone into a project. As a team, we feel proud and at the same time honoured to have received such a prestigious accolade.
Tell us about your journey from a young, drinks-obsessed kid to becoming an industry leader?
I have been in the industry for 14 years now. I started as a busboy in a local dim sum restaurant. I worked in restaurants, karaoke bars, nightclubs, hotels and eventually, cocktail bars. I have done a lot of self-learning by reading, researching, travelling and just being very observant. It can be 60 to 70 hours of work in a week. I have come a long way. It has been a tough journey but I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.
What is your go-to cocktail to make? And what is the wackiest one you’ve ever been asked to create?
I love making a margarita. It’s only a few ingredients and the margin for error is so small. It’s easy to screw up but a delicious cocktail when it is made right. As for wackiest—Baileys with coke. Yuck!
What is the best bar that you’ve ever been to and why?
It’s a hard one. There are so many great bars. I tend to like simple bars with simple décor and simple drinks done right. One example would be a mezcaleria in Oaxaca by the name of Mezcaloteca. It’s very simple and all about engaging with the bartender and talking everything agave.
How important is the presentation of a drink?
If something looks bad, it will most likely taste bad—it’s how our minds work. A drink doesn’t need to be over-decorated; it can be simple and elegant-looking. I am actually not a fan of excessive garnishing. My drinks look simple and clean. Also, the garnish always has to serve a purpose.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
We launched a cocktail in a can (La Paloma de Oaxaca) with Young Master Brewery recently. And we are launching a Tepache beer early next month. I’m super excited.
Khan’s 10 must-have items for an impressive home bar
1. A tin on tin shaker. It won’t break and you can use the smaller tin to mix stirred drinks.
2. A bar spoon, or any long spoon which you can use to mix stirred cocktails.
3. A jigger or any form of small measuring device.
4. Ice. It’s crucial to always have ice ready in your freezer. Don’t ever leave an empty ice tray in the freezer.
5. A citrus press or a small manual juicer (as most cocktails required freshly pressed juices).
6. Lemons and limes, at all times.
7. A bottle of your favourite tequila, gin, bourbon, scotch, rum or vodka. You don’t need to own them all.
8. Cointreau. You can’t make margaritas, sidecars and many other classics without an orange liqueur.
9. Angostura bitters (if you’re a fan of old fashioneds, a bottle will last a long time as it’s used in dashes).
10. Finally, learn to make a rich simple syrup (weigh two parts of sugar to one part of hot water and mix it until the sugar is dissolved). A little sugar is required to balance the cocktail with acidity.
See also: 6 Easy Mocktails To Make At Home
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