Spirit Drink with Jerrold Khoo

Unpretentious and approachable Jerrold Khoo charms guests with his warm demeanour. Nightly, he works his magic at Jigger & Pony where he offers rewards for the determined seekers of a good drink.

Jerrold Khoo first discovered his love for making drinks in the unlikeliest of places –Starbucks. He was only 17 when he first started working part-time as he needed money to pay for his studies at Singapore Polytechnic. Life as a design student was a costly affair. He was constantly in need of money to pay for printing, materials and notes. 10 months later, he left Starbucks and took a break. His official foray into the hospitality industry started at the age of 19 as a floor staff at Loof. Long admiring the craft, the hands-on aspect of bartending, and the magical charisma behind the bar, Jerrold strived hard in his tasks and finally became a part-time bartender there. Jerrold soon became enamoured of the Japanese techniques of bartending and discovered Jigger & Pony; a bar with a strong focus on craft executed in a convivial atmosphere. He had found his calling. It was this same tenacity, coupled with a competitive spirit, that allowed Jerrold to hone his bartending skills to emerge 4th in the prestigious Diageo World Class Competition Singapore 2017, and champion in 2018. His personal mantra? Every customer must leave the bar happier than before they walked through. This unwavering passion for hospitality and dedication to improving his craft has made Jerrold a respected mover and shaker in the industry.

From Music to Drinks

Jerrold and his friends played in a heavy metal band called Gutter Bones during their school days. They jammed to heavy metal and 80s rock music. They did several covers as well as originals; releasing a couple of Eps and even committing to several live shows. He likens the idea of being in a bar to being on stage. The excitement he derives from being a bartender is the same excitement he feels behind the drums on stage. That incredible pulsating energy he gives out on stage has now been transformed to an effervescent vitality on his new stage-the bar. A performance of considerable virtuosity. Jerrold reckons that the creative energy behind his music is largely similar to the artistry that
goes behind the bar. Always the eternal artist, he connects and resonates with the delicate craftsmanship of bartending.

An Impossible Dream

"I love drinking. While I was working, I learnt many things about drinks. Got me excited about becoming a bartender. All bartenders were full time staff, it was an impossible dream! Back then, part time staff weren’t allowed to be bartenders. You needed to be accepted and to be part of that click. There was certain requirement. It wasn’t easy to step into the bar, but I was determined to," says Jerrold. When he saw a friend of his get promoted from a server to a part-time bartender, he started to question why he was not allowed a chance behind the bar too.

"I’m competitive. If someone can get it. I want it as well. So if he can be a bartender, then I want to be one." As fate would have it, three months later, another bartender left, and Jerrold, having gained the management’s trust, was allowed to take over his role. Despite having zero experience, Jerrold learnt quickly on the job. It was a complete eye opener for him.

"I like drinking, but I often had no clue what I was drinking, so I thought it would be nice to learn about it!” In 2008, there was little to none in the cocktail industry. Loof, where Jerrold first started working at, was considered a pioneer. It set the foundation for him as a bartender. Nightly, he had to make a high volume of cocktails in a bar. “It was like the BMT of bartending. No focus on craft. Banging out as many drinks at one time. 18 drinks at one time and getting our drinks out within the fastest amount of time More speed, more volume, less craft," laughs Jerrold. He recalls that the first drink he ever made was the mojito. This was followed by the Long Island and Cosmopolitan. Loof crafted many house signature cocktails. It was the craft element, that excited the designer in him, and he started to envision other creative possibilities other than just plain old cosmopolitans.

"We were opening up meringues. That was more intriguing for me."

He never looked back since.

The Cocktail Narration

Since young, Jerrold had always dreamt about being an interior designer. Blessed with a keen eye for aesthetics, he decided to enrol in design school to pursue his passions. When his interest in bartending was piqued, he applied the designing techniques he had learnt and used them to create his cocktails. He discovered a creative alignment between art and cocktail making. To him, both were all about the human spatial experience. The creative process behind cocktail making is multifarious and Jerrold takes a few approaches; the first is having a vision of what the drink and flavour is, the second is to start with a story of the cocktail and let the details inform the ingredients. This is what he terms as the "Cocktail Narration".

For Jerrold, a good cocktail is one that is well-balanced. In addition, the ingredients must complement the other ingredients in the glass. A great cocktail is when the dilution and temperature is right; it is a served in a glassware that enhances the drink, garnished necessarily, iced necessarily, named brilliantly and has ingredients that reflects the name of the drink, just like how the lyrics is a story extension from the song title.

"Some drinks are overly garnished. It’s a whole package, visually. Taste wise and name of the drink. It all has to come together."

A Tale of Two Cocktails

Jerrold’s two favourite drinks at Jigger & Pony are the Crystal Ramos Gin Fizz and the Madame President. The Crystal Ramos Gin Fizz epitomizes Jigger & Pony’s philosophy of drink creation, creating twists on the classics. However, simply swapping an ingredient for another is not all they do. The approach is to deconstruct a drink and reconstruct the components. In this case, taking the classic creaminess of the Ramos Gin Fizz and clarifying it to get the texture but not the density of the cream, also garnished with Orange Blossom Water bubbles, which is added in dashes in the classic

Madame President is a ‘Singaporean’ tropical city take on the Negroni, made with Gin, Orchid Bittermelon and Kaffir Vermouth. This cocktail is named in celebration of the nation’s first female President and inspired by the scents and sights of walking through the flora and fauna of the Botanic Gardens, while sucking on a lollipop. This whimsical tipple is made from Campari: the pillar of flavour and ingredient in the classic Negroni, where the bitterness comes from. Bittermelon or bittergourd is used to achieve the bitter notes, balanced with the floral sweetness of Orchid Tea.

Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Not so long ago, this clear-green liquor long associated with the French Impressionist movement was available only on the black market — outlawed, it was said, after having caused hallucinations and violent behaviour. This was attributed to a mysterious and mystical chemical called thujone present in one of the ingredients used to make it. In praise of the opaque green liqueur beloved by his creative contemporaries, Oscar Wilde once posed the rhetorical question, “What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?” The prosaic answer, at least for Americans, has long been one of legality: sunsets can be freely enjoyed, but absinthe was forbidden. Now that this green gold spirit has been legalized; the naughty aura of the forbidden fruit is removed and all that remains is a grasp at unearned sophistication.

This deliciously disreputable liquid gold is Jerrold’s choice of spirit. Like absinthe, he is an old soul, a bit on the artsy and the creative side, sometimes misunderstood as he takes his time to slowly open up to the people around him.

"I hold it dear to my heart. Ice water. Drip it slowly in the pint and sip it slowly. Use a few
drops onto a drink and it will add more favour to it," he says.

He has no special concoction with it, just cold water dripped slowly into absinthe, to transform the flavours. Water not only changes the flavours; it almost magically alters the appearance of the absinthe. Slowly add water, then watch the liquid thicken, and transform into an opalescent pastel cloud. Another way he uses it absinthe, is to add a few dashes in cocktails to impart some dimension to the cocktail. Sazerac or an Arsenic and Old Lace is the way to go.

"My life philosophy is to do something well, or not do it at all, to enjoy doing what you do, as long as it is sustainable, it may not be the best paying, but there’s a bigger reward in seeing happy customers enjoying a beverage that I made with care, and having a good banter. Bartending is also a creative output and being in service line is like a dance, I guess that is when I knew that I would enjoy being behind the bar. I believe in this saying, do it to the best or don’t do it at all."