The first ever KL Cocktail Week was a celebration of a vibrant, growing scene


The KLCW Festival Village saw all the bars and brands come together for a vibrant day of drinks and revelry.

The city went cocktail crazy a couple of weeks ago when the first ever major Kuala Lumpur Cocktail Week swept across the Klang Valley with a stellar lineup of guest shifts by international bars, masterclasses and seminars, a nationwide cocktail competition, cocktail dinner pairings, and a one-day Festival Village that brought all these elements together.

The KLCW ran from April 24 to 30, and though it isn’t the first event to bear the name ‘KL Cocktail Week’, it WAS arguably the first MAJOR one, as the previous one in 2011 was held at a much smaller scale, with just five bars and spanning five days.

Organised by a group of local industry leaders and stakeholders, including Bangsar bar Three X Co’s Angeline Tan, Penrose founder Jon Lee, and Bar Trigona head bartender Rohan Matmary among others, the event saw the support of some of the Klang Valley’s top bars, as well as some major spirit brands, including Roku Gin, Remy Martin, Hendrick’s Gin, Tanqueray Gin, Michter’s Whiskey, Dewar’s, Bombay Sapphire, Monkey Shoulder, and more.

According to a statement by the organising committee, the objective of the event was to “highlight the art of cocktails, and promote the city’s growing cocktail scene”, while also “providing a city-wide platform for local and international bartenders to showcase their skills, and for enthusiasts to explore the art of cocktails”.

Here are some of the main highlights of the week.

Guest shifts galore

If you’re a regular barfly in Malaysia, you would have heard of many of the names on the list of local participating bars. These include those that have been featured in the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, such as Penrose, Bar Trigona, Three X Co, Reka, and JungleBird; popular ones like Bar Terumi, Rakh, Frank’s Bar, Joloko, Here & Now, Ikiya 2.0, Concubine, Skullduggery and Jann; as well as some newer and up-and-coming names like Cabinet 8 and Remedy.

To cover a wider range of bars and restaurants, the event was divided into five ‘zones’ across the Klang Valley, namely Bangsar, Petaling Jaya/Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Damansara Heights, Chinatown, and KL City, with bars in each zone hosting shifts each day throughout the week.

KLCW saw memorable shifts by international bars at some of KL’s best outlets, including this one by South Korea’s Alice Cheongdam at Three X Co. — Photos: N.Z Phang/KLCWKLCW saw memorable shifts by international bars at some of KL’s best outlets, including this one by South Korea’s Alice Cheongdam at Three X Co. — Photos: N.Z Phang/KLCW

Each of these bars hosted one or two guest shifts by renowned international bars, including Singapore’s Atlas, Employees Only, Nutmeg & Clove and Last Word; Thailand’s GOD and Teens Of Thailand, and Indonesia’s The Cocktail Club and Cosmo Pony.

Other international bars taking part were Alice Cheongdam (South Korea), Bar Long Fong (China), Bar Leone (Hong Kong), Room By Lekief (Taiwan), Sidecar (India), and Tokyo Confidential (Japan).

For those of us who don’t get to travel to these countries and visit those bars, KLCW was the perfect opportunity to sample their wares. Some of the best received ones include the shifts by Sidecar at Jann and Ver Bar; Atlas and Employees only at Bar Trigona; Bar Long Fong at Cabinet 8, Alice Cheongdam at Three X Co and Bar Terumi; and Tokyo Confidential at Reka.

KLCW was a great oppurtunity for cocktail lovers to try drinks from renowned international bars, like this one from Employees Only, Singapore.KLCW was a great oppurtunity for cocktail lovers to try drinks from renowned international bars, like this one from Employees Only, Singapore.

Food and drink go together

Another aspect of Cocktail Week focused on the importance of pairing drinks with food, and this was done via six exclusive cocktail pairing dinners that featured acclaimed KL restaurants such as Jwala, Jus, Terra Dining, Yellow Fin Horse, BarKar, and Waig.

I was fortunate enough to attend two of these dinners, and was blown away by the level of detail and care both the chefs and the bartenders took to highlight and complement one anothers’ creations. More on these pairings in a later column!

One day of revelry

If you only went for one event throughout the entire week, then the Festival Village on Saturday (Apr 27) would have been the one.

A day-long cocktail extravaganza that took place at APW Bangsar, cocktail lovers would have been spoilt for choice there, as some of the biggest bars in KL were involved, and some big name bartenders were behind the stick at each booth as well.

The KLCW Festival Village's outdoor cocktail street had a good variety of drinks to enjoy by a variety of bars and brands.The KLCW Festival Village's outdoor cocktail street had a good variety of drinks to enjoy by a variety of bars and brands.

I personally liked how the event flow was laid out – if you started out at the main entrance, you could stroll along the outdoor cocktail street, where there was a good variety of drinks to enjoy, from low ABV starters by Cocchi, Garjado and Cointreau, gin and tonics by Malfy, whisky-based delights at the Deacon and Nikka booths, and Negronis with Campari.

Moving upstairs to the main area, you were would have a tough time picking just one drink, as all the local participating bars were there, with the main sponsor brands. Most bars even created new drinks for the event (Three X Co’s wintermelon-inspired Meow San was especially tasty, as were the Michter’s Whiskey drinks by Bar Ttrigona).

Battle of the cocktails

The Festival Village also saw the finals of the nationwide KLCW Open cocktail competition, which was open to bartenders from all over Malaysia, and required participants to create a cocktail using one of the KLCW’s sponsored brands under the theme “Local Malaysian Ingredients’’.

I was honoured to be one of the judges for the penultimate round of the competition leading up to the finale, and helped choose the Top 6 finalists who had to present live in front of international judges during the Festival Village.

At the end of it, Danny Tun from Petaling Street bar Jao Tim took home the grand prize, thanks to his Chicken Rice cocktail, which was inspired by his first foray in the food and drink industry working at a chicken rice shop.

Danny Tun emerged as the champion of the cocktail competition with his Chicken Rice cocktail.Danny Tun emerged as the champion of the cocktail competition with his Chicken Rice cocktail.

The cocktail had three key ingredients – sesame oil washed Hendrick’s Gin and burned butter washed Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Whisky, and chicken essence (for the umami note). The cocktail was also paired with a piece of steam chicken and chili sauce, to complete the ‘the ultimate Malaysian Chicken Rice experience’.

Coming in second was freelance bartender Lucas Chee, whose Planteray rum-based Optimism cocktail utilised the whole pomelo fruit (including the pith!) for a uniquely original drink that shines a spotlight on Malaysian produce.

And rounding out the Top 3 was home bartender Priyadharrsini Sethu Pathy, with her Roku Gin-based Jambu, a unique twist on the classic Clover Club cocktail using Malaysian pink guava instead of Raspberry.

The Bar Trigona x Employees Only guest shift was a fitting way to end the week.The Bar Trigona x Employees Only guest shift was a fitting way to end the week.

If there was one aspect of the entire KLCW that really stood out, it was the fact that most, if not all the events, guest shifts, and the Festival Village were really well-received, with many shifts selling out within hours.

The success of this event, coupled with that of last year’s Penang Cocktail Week, really bodes well for the growing cocktail scene in Malaysia.

Here’s hoping that next year’s will be even bigger and better!


Michael Cheang was a little sad that he could not go for ALL the events in KLCW, but hey, at least the Festival Village was fun! Follow him on Facebook (FB.com/MyTipsyTurvy) and Instagram (@MyTipsyTurvy).

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