André Darlington Explores Global Cocktail Culture in Booze Cruise - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

André Darlington Explores Global Cocktail Culture in Booze Cruise

In the fall of 2019, just before the world as we knew it shut down, Philadelphia-based drinks writer André Darlington (Booze & Vinyl, The New Cocktail Hour) undertook a 60-day expedition in search of global cocktail hotspots—and delicious drinks. His itinerary took him through Berlin, Kyiv, Athens, Beirut, Dubai, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo, and the result is his new book Booze Cruise: A Tour of the World’s Essential Mixed Drinks. We recently caught up with Darlington about his travels and what he learned on his global cocktail quest.

Imbibe: How did you choose the locations for your cocktail itinerary, as well as the other spots you included in Booze Cruise?André Darlington: My projects always begin with a massive spreadsheet, looking at articles and people. I reached out to over 100 bartenders and other industry people around the world, which really helped determine the shape. Some people became these veins [of knowledge], such as Vivian Pei, who is in Singapore. She works with [The World’s] 50 Best [Bars] and became an ambassador for me in Asia. I knew that I had to go to Asia to see what was going on right now. I’ve also done a lot of wandering around Europe, so I wanted to hit some spots that I knew or had heard were up and coming, but kind of outside what we’re normally exposed to in the U.S., such as Kyiv [Ukraine], which is a wild cocktail landscape, and the bartending there is being done at an extraordinarily high level. I’m not trying to claim any omniscience with the book, but I’m trying to find the traces of the craft cocktail revolution that has spread across the globe, and really so quickly that it’s astonishing. The itinerary was sort of what I could do financially within the limits of what I had. I spent four or five nights in 11 different cities for a total of 60-some days. So, kind of like Around the World in 80 Days, but it was “Around the world in 60 hangovers.”

In terms of a global cocktail culture, were there unifying factors that you experienced from place to place?The cocktail follows social optimism. The places where the cocktail scene is really strong tend to be cities with young populations with their future ahead of them. That was really exciting to see because it reminded me of New York and Chicago in the early 2000s, when I was also young. It was fascinating to realize there was something about upward mobility and forward-looking that the cocktail follows. It also helped me understand that, having been a writer in the United States and really focused on the cocktail, I was less focused on understanding that what happened seemed to be a codification of a new kind of space. It’s not just that the cocktails were revived from bad juices and bad ice and bad mixes, but really it created a new kind of space that we all went to. That only became clear to me as I went around the world. This is a new kind of experience [for many places]. Because there are already restaurants and street food and taverns and wine bars—they have these places. And then a cocktail bar comes along as this new place that is a magnet for, say, 25- to 40-year-olds, that have money, that have never been in this kind of space. It really helped me understand that cocktails are this really fascinating urban cultural phenomenon, beyond just what they are selling. In a city like Hong Kong or Singapore, they’re interpreting the cocktails in a different way; a lot of the cocktails in Singapore are this insane, competition-style experience—and they are really expensive. But that matters less than the fact that for a whole generation of Singaporeans, now they’re going out to a cocktail bar, which just wasn’t a space that existed before.

Were there places that you felt really had an approach all their own that reflected local flavors, history, or trends?Places like Tokyo, where the cocktail has been taken into Japanese tradition to the point that they speak of place and season. The cocktail is really part of the experience of the other food and drinks that they consume. And the showmanship of Singapore really stands out. They just serve these over-the-top, champion-style drinks that are experiences—opening jewel boxes, or wafts of dry ice or bubbles. They were also obsessed—in a really good way—with re-creating famous Singaporean dishes. I think it is a point of patriotism, like the Nasi Lemak drink [emulating a rice dish] that I included in the book. In Hong Kong, they have really adopted the speakeasy, which for us was a style that rolled across the country at a very specific time. But I think Asia in general has adopted the speakeasy as part of the DNA of this new type of bar they are experiencing. Similarly, in Kyiv, I think of the former eastern European, Iron Curtain-vibe, where if you were going to party, it better be behind closed doors. They just kept that, and it’s still impossible to find the bars in Kyiv.

Coming out on the other end of your trip, what was your main takeaway, or how had your impressions of global cocktail culture changed? I was surprised at the rate of adoption [of cocktails] in countries that have been traditional beer and wine countries for hundreds of years. And that happened in Europe first, but then also in Asia. I think the cocktail rides a little on the showmanship in Asia, but that has meant that they have adopted all kinds of products they haven’t been exposed to before, and just in the last two, three, four years. And I find that really heartening—it’s proof that the cocktail as a format is amazing. You have a set of tools, like a keyboard, and people all over the world want to play that keyboard. I really felt, going around the world, that here are some of the best and brightest people in their countries, and they were attracted to cocktails. I think the cocktail, and the cocktail bar, is a window on the world, wherever it is. I have a bartender friend who says bartending is the best job because he gets to travel every day. You could be a bartender almost anywhere, and people are coming to your bar from all over the world. It’s that level of commerce and communication that happens through the cocktail that is fascinating.

Enjoy This Article?

Sign up for our newsletter and get biweekly recipes and articles delivered to your inbox.

Send this to a friend