INTRIGUING sensations often come when experiencing something for the first time.
Biso – one of Penang’s newest cocktail bars – tries to stimulate the senses by taking an innovative and thoughtful approach to mixology.
It opened in mid-October along bustling Magazine Road in George Town, Penang and derives its name from the Hokkien word for “flavours”.
Typical of most pre-war heritage shophouses, it is narrow and long. However, its minimalist decor is sleek and contemporary, using splashes of light and colour to enliven predominantly grey tones.
And with cutting-edge equipment in use, there are also experimental lab vibes.
Co-founder and head bartender Quay Kar Ve said they employed a diverse range of methods from distillation to centrifugation, clarification, infusion and fermentation to create drinks.
“We play with the five fundamental tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami to create specific sensations that most would not have encountered before,” she said.
Biso’s launch menu is concise, with just 15 concoctions divided into three distinct sections – refreshing highballs, medium- entry sours and bold spirit-forward concoctions.
“For this series, we drew inspiration from nature’s bounty.
“Fruits and vegetables are the stars. We find ways to distil their flavours into clean and well-balanced drinks, in some cases with a nod to Penang’s culinary heritage,” said Quay.
She recommends starting with something refreshing like Strawberry Elation, built on the time-honoured combo of sweet basil (in vodka), strawberries (macerated) and peppercorns.
Sweet and fragrant on the nose, it promises to be a crowd-pleaser. The peppercorns and cardamom (in a syrup) bring a warm tingle.
The Liquid Herbaceous with gin, bitter gourd, elderflower, vermouth, lemongrass and rosemary lives up to its name. The alpine flower comes through first, with bitter gourd gradually emerging at the back of the palate without being overpowering. When torched, the rosemary adds an olfactory element.
Something Peachy blends lacto-fermented peach rum with peach distillate, limoncello, an aperitif wine and tea. It immediately recalls an iced peach tea, but with added zing and complexity.
The concoctions are thought-provoking. The ingredients may be familiar but reinterpreted and combined in such a way that it is like getting acquainted for the first time.
“Some of our drinks are pre-batched and can take over a week to prepare. We do things a little differently here as we want to offer a taste of adventure,” said Quay, who honed her craft over 18 years in the F&B industry.
It does not get any more memorable than the off-menu Deacon B.K.T made from special bak kut teh-infused scotch.
Shiitake mushroom, garlic sugar, vodka and fried yutiao make a rather novel yet potent supporting cast.
Those who love the original pork-rib broth will definitely appreciate the drink’s deep herbal notes and lingering pungency. Whoever knew a traditional dish would be so sippable?
“There is nothing wrong with classic cocktails but we enjoy pushing boundaries and embracing new trends as it gives us the opportunity to experiment and grow,” Quay said.
“We also want to give customers an educational experience so we often share our methods. I hope this will cultivate better appreciation for unique cocktails.”
Other notable concoctions include No 1, which is deconstructed from Italian pasta and mimics its savoury essence through Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino cheese gin, tomatoes, balsamic and black pepper; as well as Magic Mushroom with mushroom vodka, bonito and shio kombu infusion, dry vermouth and truffle oil.
With such bold libations, this is a watering hole that craft cocktail aficionados should check out.
BISO, No. 63A Magazine Road, 10300 George Town, Penang. Business hours: 7pm to 1am, Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Monday). Contact: 014-639 6321.