Cover Photo: Four Seasons Hong Kong

Home to 27 spirits that are making their way to Hong Kong for the very first time, we pick out five expressions from Argo's new Field Guide to the World’s Innovative Spirits that are exemplars of the cocktail bar's groundbreaking approach to imbibing

Now open in Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, Argo, a game-changing bar that seeks to drive innovation in cocktails and spirits, is already shifting the conversation in Hong Kong. Styling itself after the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts of ancient Greek mythology into terra incognita, Argo's cocktail menu is an exploration of familiar classics reinterpreted in novel and unexpected ways, as well as in entirely new concoctions that highlight the rapidly changing nature of global climate and food ecosystems.

Central to the bar's philosophy is the question of which of the commonplace ingredients we know today will become scarcer in the near future as they are threatened by climate change. On the list are staples like honey, cacao, vanilla, coffee, rice, and apple, endangered due to the massive change that global warming will impose on their ideal growing conditions.

See also: Argo At Four Seasons Hong Kong Is One Of 2021's Most Ambitious Bar Openings

The task of ideating recipes to capture this unique concept fell to Lorenzo Antinori, beverage manager at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, whose creations for the launch menu—titled 'Here Today, Gone Tomorrow'—seek to turn current cocktail conventions on their head. These include the Single Origin Negroni, which ages the a mix of St. George Terroir gin, cascara vermouth, Campari and smoked jalapeño not in a barrel, but in a single-origin Hulu Gali cacao pod sourced from Malaysia's Chocolate Concierge; meanwhile, the Bark, Leaf & Love cocktail utilises mono-floral lychee and longan honey sourced from Argo's own beehive at HK Raw Honey to create a deliciously fruity, cognac-based drink. 

True to its mission of celebrating innovation in the world of fine drinking, Argo has compiled what it calls the Field Guide to the World’s Innovative Spirits, a tome of cutting-edge liquors that break the rules in one way or another. Divided into five categories, half of the 54 spirits in the guide are available for the very first time in Hong Kong. While it makes for fascinating, if not technical, reading, the guide is best experienced in person at Argo, where guests can try the spirits as part of a tasting flight, or as the base to a classic cocktail. Keep reading for our pick of five spirits from the guide to sample for a taste of the future.

Related: Inside Argo: The VIP Preview Of Hong Kong's Newest Cocktail Bar

1. Monker's Garkel Gin

Category: Modernist Spirits

Found in the Field Guide under the category of Modernist Spirits, which is defined by "creative exploration of new ingredients and cutting-edge techniques in the world of distillation", Monker's Garkel is the world’s first gin created entirely by artificial intelligence. It's the result of what its creators at Bristol's Circumstance Distillery called a Gin Neural Network, which combed through thousands of gin recipes and botanicals before creating the final botanical makeup, as well as the name and label design.

“The data all around us comes from millions of stories, and in turn has its own stories to tell… we wondered what story an AI would tell with a gin recipe," says the distillery. Those tasting this spirit might be able to pick out notes of raspberry leaf, gooseberry, marigold and clementine.

See also: The Most Unique Gins Across Asia Right Now

2. Argo Gin

Category: Collaborative Creations

Highlighting spirits that were created through partnerships between industry-leading distillers, producers and bartenders, the Collaborative Creations category features Argo's own bespoke gin distilled by Australia's Never Never Distilling Co. Lightly aged in ex-wine barrels seasoned with Mancino Secco vermouth and blended with three types of Chinese tea, the gin is then served in the Argo Martini along with seasonal hydrosols (otherwise known as herbal distillates) and a "magic olive" that adds complexity, nuance, and surprise to the drinking experience.

3. Equiano Rum

Category: Philanthropic & Socially Conscious

Originating from Mauritius and Barbados, Equiano rum was picked by Argo for the care shown in its production process towards the land and those impacted by its creation, reflecting a holistic approach to distilling. 

It takes its name from Olaudah Equiano, a Beninese slave who purchased his freedom by selling rum, later founding an abolitionist movement in London. As one of the first African writers to have his work published, Equiano’s compelling memoirs went on to inform the Transatlantic Slave Trade Act of 1807, impacting the freedom of people all over the world.

"We feel great pride and honour in his name adorning our bottle and that is why we give five percent of company profits to ground level freedom and equality projects annually,” says Equiano co-founder Oli Bartlam.

Related: The Best Asian Rums To Drink Right Now

4. Cape Grim 666 Autumn Butter Vodka

Category: A Sense Of The Land

Grouped with other spirits that celebrate provenance and ancestral traditions while safeguarding the essence of terroir for future generations, this vodka from rain-drenched Cape Grim in northwestern Tasmania is an inimitable example of out-of-the-box spirits-making. 

“We wanted to continue to showcase the best of what the land around us can produce, and surrounding the local area of Cape Grim are family owned dairies, so we decided to work with them to make the world’s first fat-washed full spirit," says Cape Grim founder Dean Lucas. "Every autumn the season’s heaviest rains produce the lushest grass across the region. The high moisture levels in the grass means the local cows produce the tastiest and creamiest milk. This in turn is created into some of the world’s greatest butter. We use this local autumn butter which allows us another way to highlight our amazing land."

5. Compass Box – Affinity

Category: A Clash Of The Worlds

Symbolising the meeting point of different schools of thought, practices and traditions previously separated by distance, time or thinking, the category of A Clash Of The Worlds includes Compass Box's Affinity spirit, which cannot legally be labelled as a whisky due to its blend of Scottish whisky and French Calvados. Rich stewed apple fruit meets the spice of sherried oak on the palate, marking an unexpected "affinity" across these two distinct traditions of aged spirits.

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