Ben Ng

Updated: 05 Jun 2012 | By:

Consultant bartender Ben Ng has just opened his own bartending and mixology school; he shares his vision for the Malaysian bartending scene and cocktail culture.

What got you into bartending?
I stepped into a local Irish pub called Shamrock in my hometown of Penang when I was 17 and saw how the bartenders worked – I was mesmerised and decided to try it out. A week later, I went back to that pub to look for a job and got it. Two weeks into it, I decided that I wanted make bartending into a career.

Do you call yourself a bartender or a mixologist?

In my opinion, the word ‘mixologist’ is a ‘marketing’ term used to refer to bartenders who specialise in the art of cocktail making. Personally I prefer the term ‘bartender’ as it reflects the roots and the essence of what we do. A good bartender is not one that only knows how to mix drinks; he/she is able to pour a beer properly and, most importantly, provide good customer service. Therefore I find the term ‘mixologist’ to be limiting and to not entirely represent the craft of bartending.

What is your view of the Malaysian bartending scene?
The Malaysian bartending scene is growing and changing pretty fast. A lot of promising young bartenders are coming up in the drinks industry. It has quite a lot of potential; however there are several challenges that are limiting our growth.

One is the lack of training for and investment in bartenders. Many establishments and drinks company in Malaysia do not focus on training for bartenders and do not see the craft as a professional career. This has caused many good bartenders to leave the country and seek more respect and better opportunities in other countries.

The other challenge would be that among the young bartenders, many have great potential and most of them are keen to learn – however, many tend to pick up the advanced skills without building their fundamental skills, hence leaving them with very little understanding of the trade.

Comparing the Malaysian bartending scene to the global one, where do we stand?
We are improving and today we have many bartenders that are doing things very differently and practising their craft according to global standards. We may not be comparable to bartending standards in cities such as Manhattan, London, or Tokyo but in Malaysia, the bartending community has a pretty good spirit and there is a strong sense of fellowship among bartenders.

What do you think of the cocktail culture in Malaysia?
It’s been growing, and we have quite a few bartenders to thank for this. They have championed the cause to introduce better drinks and educate consumers about cocktails. However we’re still in a country where ordering bottles of spirits in the bar is a norm, as it proves to be more economical due to the high alcohol tax that all drinkers have inherited from lawmakers. In many ways, this has deterred people from sipping on a cocktail. However the situation is changing, with a growing class of discerning consumers which is getting acquainted with cocktails and premium spirits.

What can be done to improve the current cocktail culture and who plays a more important role in this?
The scene can change for the better when bartenders and bar staff are provided with the right support, education and exposure. This is something that will require bar owners and drink companies to put effort into developing the skills of bartenders. On the other hand, bartenders will need to keep an open mind to learning new things.

What kind of bartender do you admire the most?
A bartender that is hard-working, humble and passionate.

What is your favourite spirit and how do you like it served?
This is a tough question! I enjoy my Cognac, as much as my rum and whiskies.

What is your favourite classic cocktail?
A Negroni or an Old Fashioned.

Which of your own cocktail creations do you call your signature?
I do not have a particular signature, but I’ve created a Northern Sling which is a mixture of mangoes, light rum, ginger flower and lime. It’s inspired by the awesome mango salad that my mum makes!

Where do you see yourself in the industry in the next five years?
Continuing to develop upcoming young talents in the drinks industry, particularly in smaller cities that do not currently have access to such training.

What is the most hilarious experience you ever had serving at the bar?

Oh! I can’t decide...too many!

What do you do during your free time?
It’s either shooting at a gun range, working out at a park or cooking.

Bar school

Tell us about the purpose of the new bar school you have just started.
It’s to provide affordable formal training for bartenders and to stress the importance of developing the skills of bartenders.

What inspired you to open the bar school?
The lack of training programs made available to bartenders. and the need to develop fundamental skills which are lacking in many young bartenders today.

Why is it important for bartenders to be trained?
Knowledge is the key to success in anything you do, and that includes bartending. It sets the professionals aside from the amateurs.

What courses are available?
We’ve got the Fundamental Bartending Course and Advance Bartending course for industry professionals and Masters of Mixology for consumers.

Can anyone attend the bar school and what would they achieve from the course?
Yes, we’ve got courses available for both industry professionals and consumers. Participants attending this course, particularly the Fundamental Bartending Course, can expect to strengthen their understanding for the bartending craft by developing good basic skills, thus enabling them to better themselves at work. The courses enable participants to develop their skills further and hopefully with hard work and perseverance, they’ll make it into a successful career.

Is the school accredited?
We are recognised as a training provider by the Human Resource Development Fund (HRDF).

How would anyone who has attended the course in the bar school help the local drinks culture?
Participants who attend this course, particularly bartenders, are the frontline of the drinks industry, as they can advocate and educate consumers about the quality of drinks and influence the way people drink.

Are the students who have completed the course in the bar school guaranteed a job in the F&B industry?
No. We do not guarantee them a job.

Do you also teach bar flair?
No. This is not within our specialisation.

What is the proportion of male and female applicants for the bar school?
We currently have around 20% female and 80% male participants. I would like to see more ladies getting involved in the craft.

What other jobs can a bartender/mixologist advance to other than working behind a bar?
Bartenders today are lucky! They have a good choice for career progression. Apart from becoming bar owners in their own right, bartenders today also have the option of becoming brand ambassadors for drink companies, trainers or consultants and possibly hosting their own cocktail show on TV.

As a bartender, do you have to be able to flirt?
Depends how a bartender does it. But some charm with the ladies can sometimes help you manage your customers. Just don’t overdo it!

What is your vision for the bar school?

Honestly, I’m still uncertain as I’m planning to let it run and see where it takes us. Hopefully we’ll have a bigger, better and more versatile training facility.