When zero is the hero: A new KL bar leads the charge in low and zero ABV drinks

Triptyk specialises in zero-proof drinks and low-ABV cocktails, like this classic vermouth-based Bamboo. — Photos: Triptyk

Recently, there have been many reports on how people are drinking less alcohol, and are increasingly going for more low or no alcohol drinks options.

I think this is a positive thing, as it forces us to reevaluate our relationship with alcohol beverages, and maybe reduce its negative impact, especially on issues like over-consumption and drink-driving.

While it may seem strange for a column on alcoholic beverages to extol the idea of non-alcoholic beverages, I would just like to reiterate that this column has always been an advocate of drinking better, and not more. Over-consumption of anything is never a good thing, let alone alcohol, so for me, moderation is key when enjoying my favourite beers, spirits, and cocktails.

Anyway, it’s the New Year, and after a festive period of heavy drinking, some people are doing a “Dry January” where they abstain from drinking alcohol for the month. But just because you’re not drinking alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself this period.

Bar Triptyk is the latest project by industry stalwart Angel Ng.Bar Triptyk is the latest project by industry stalwart Angel Ng.There are actually a few options for folks in the Klang Valley who still want to meet up with friends in bars and have a good time without having any alcohol.

One of those places is the newly opened Bar Triptyk, the latest project by industry stalwart Angel Ng, located in a pre-war shop lot on Jalan Tuba (around the Kampung Attap area) in Kuala Lumpur.

Founded by Ng (who previously co-founded the iconic PS150 bar in KL) and Ahmed Zareh, who was the development consultant and architect, Triptyk is a “food and beverage collective” that is made up of three concepts: Two restaurants and a bar, which is also called Triptyk.

The bar is a low- to zero-proof bar, and also advocates zero waste and sustainable practices. The interior is very minimalist, meant to pay tribute to the pre-war history of the space, and true to its goal of sustainability, every “new” addition to the building is salvaged and repurposed from other renovation sites.

The menu boasts a comprehensive list of original low-ABV and zero-proof cocktails. No Shirley Temples or Arnold Palmers here – the zero-proof cocktails are every bit as good as, well, regular cocktails. In fact, I wouldn’t even want to insult them by calling them “mocktails”.

According to Ng, she has had a vision for a low-ABV bar concept for the past five years, way before the pandemic. She cites two factors for this – health (exhaustion, dehydration and emotional imbalance) and business (inclusitivity, diversity, and community).

“The former is quite straightforward – alcohol in moderation is beneficial, but one can easily transition into an unhealthy lifestyle or worse, an addiction if the habit is left unchecked,” she said.

“I also thought that a low- and no-alcohol concept would work now, because people are more aware of their body and mental health.”

The bar is a low- to zero-proof bar, and also advocates zero waste and sustainable practices. – Photo: MICHAEL CHEANG/The StarThe bar is a low- to zero-proof bar, and also advocates zero waste and sustainable practices. – Photo: MICHAEL CHEANG/The Star

For the second factor, Ng says she has often seen friends and guests who want to be part of the scene, but either do not enjoy the after-effects of booze or are driving, or even simply choose to abstain from it.

This could be due to a change of lifestyle because of certain experiences in their life, or health factors. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to hang out at bars.

“I realised the menu I used to create were not very friendly to these folks,” she adds. “There has also been a growing number of modernised, spiritually-aware youths who tend to pivot towards different types of nightly hangouts.”

The Jacky Joseph is one of the highlights of the low-ABV menu at Bar Triptyk.The Jacky Joseph is one of the highlights of the low-ABV menu at Bar Triptyk.The drinks at Triptyk are all inspired by the experiences of the people Ng has met, and also her own personal ones.

“As they sip the drink, we would like to transport them to a particular memory which the person that inspired it was trying to share,” she said.

For example, the low-ABV Café Rosé (made with lychee liqueur, black pepper, cold brew coffee, oat milk with toasted nutmeg and coconut flakes) is a dedication to all the former baristas who are now working at bars.

It goes back to their roots and background, as it is not just coffee that they worked with, but also all the other flavours they are familiar with.

There’s also a non-alcoholic version called the Lil’ Café Rosé, which replaces the liqueur with lychee syrup.

The Jacky Joseph is another highlight of the low-ABV menu. It is a twist on a classic whiskey highball that uses Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey, jackfruit tea, club soda, spiced pineapple, orange jam and bread crisp as garnish.

And in keeping with the idea of having non-alcoholic alternatives, there is also a zero-proof version of it called the Jacky Joseph Junior, using Lyre’s American Malt (a zero proof spirit reminiscent of bourbon) in place of the whiskey.

The Burung Hutan is a zero-proof version of the Malaysian classic JungleBird.The Burung Hutan is a zero-proof version of the Malaysian classic JungleBird.Then there’s the tasty, savoury Hafu, which uses shitake mushroom vermouth, miso tequila and Jameson seaweed bitters; and a zero-proof twist on the Malaysian classic Jungle Bird called the Burung Hutan, made with Lyre’s Italian Orange, pineapple, malted orange cordial, club soda, with citrus peels powder.

If you’re in the mood for something more familiar, there are also classic low-ABV cocktails on the menu like the Bamboo, Amaretto Sour and Garibaldi, as well as local rice wines and tuak.

But even if you want something a little bit, er, stronger, just check out the back bar, which has some pretty awesome spirits as well, including Michter’s Straight Rye Whiskey, Gin Mare, and other spirits.

According to Ng, there is a clear future ahead for zero proof cocktails, even if it might take some time to take off in Malaysia.

“Like every cycle in the beverage industry, it will develop slowly but surely, but has the potential to be quite successful,” she said, adding that the hope is that they can stop relying on imported non-alcoholic spirits and wines and make their own alternatives instead.

“With a better competitive price point, more consumers will be inclined to try it. The Malaysian bar industry always seems to be the last ones to start on a new trend, but when we do get going, we always make sure we are the best in the region!”

Michael Cheang isn’t doing Dry January, but it is nice to have a lower proof alternative from time to time. Follow him on Facebook (fb.com/mytipsyturvy) or Instagram (@mytipsyturvy).

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