Cover Photo courtesy of Kyle & Bain

Break away from your average sweetened cocktail with all the sumptuously savoury concoctions that Hong Kong bars have to offer

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When it comes to cocktails, too often is the refrain heard that "I don't drink cocktails because they're too sweet"—despite the fact that cocktails are defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit mixed with other ingredients", and can encompass any number of flavours and components that are anything but sweet.

While it's true that artificial syrups and juice mixes reigned supreme in the so-called Dark Ages of mixology in the '80s and '90s, savoury drinks have had as long a history in the cocktail canon as their more sugary brethren, including, most famously, the Bloody Mary and the Gibson. And as cocktails cement their place as a sophisticated accompaniment to all stages of a meal—rather than being limited to a spritz during brunch or a strong nightcap to wind down the night—they're taking on more flavour cues from the food they're served alongside. 

Here, we've rounded up eight of Hong Kong's best savoury cocktails below, so next time you hear that infamous refrain, you'll know exactly where to lead them for some liquid enlightenment.

See also: 8 Of The Healthiest Cocktails In Hong Kong

1. Salisterra

So good that they named it after the restaurant, the Vesper-inspired Salisterra cocktail is part of the revamped cocktail menu and takes the salis (Latin for salt) literally. Featuring a mix of Tanqueray gin, Mancino dry vermouth, Ketel One vodka, dill, and housemade tomato tincture, it's poured from an iced sidecar into a martini glass at your table, and finished with a pickled pearl onion for a complex and savoury libation.

2. Quinary

Another eponymous cocktail is the Quinary Sour, which resides firmly in the bar's signatures menu. Velvety and umami-forward, it's a whisky sour that has been spruced up with the addition of monkfruit and seaweed infusions, sweet vermouth, homemade bonito liquorice syrup, and finished with a spritz of bitters, bonito flakes, and a stencilled letter Q, in case you had any doubts about where you were.

See also: Through The Stirring Glass: Quinary Founder Antonio Lai's Career So Far In 3 Cocktails

3. Dio Store

Head bartender Bone Cheng gives a uniquely Asian twist to the dirty martini with his Dashi Dirty Martini. As part of an infusion-focused menu, this twist on the classic incorporates vodka macerated with bonito, kombu, sun-dried mushrooms and whitebait, mixed with dry vermouth and finished with an obligatory olive for a deliciously filthy sipper.

Dio Store, 8 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong

4. The Old Man

Named after Ernest Hemingway's seminal 1964 account of his time living in Paris, A Moveable Feast takes inspiration from the herbaceous profile of the Bloody Mary in The Old Man's characteristically molecular approach. Gin and seawater are passed through a rotovap machine before meeting clear spiced cherry tomato, clear salted coconut syrup, and a drop of basil-tomato seed tincture. The mixture is pre-batched and infused with cheesewax, then poured out with each order and garnished with an oyster leaf, for a drink that's salty, savoury and spicy all at once.

5. The Pontiac

One of the few remaining places left in Hong Kong to get a taste of the now-shuttered Okra is at The Pontiac, whose High Tide Martini was created in collaboration with chef Max Levy. Featuring gin, dashi-infused dry vermouth, Okra's wormwood tincture, and a pickled celery, this dirty martini riff is bursting with umami and sushi-centric flavours, hitting all the right notes when it comes to creating a savoury cocktail that you'll have hunger pangs for.

The Pontiac, 13 Old Bailey Street, Central, Hong Kong

See also: Through The Stirring Glass: If Nepal Were A Cocktail, According To Stockton's Lok Gurung

6. The St. Regis Bar

For a taste of the Über-savoury cocktail, why not head to where it all started? The St. Regis is rightly proud of the Bloody Mary's historical association with the hotel, dating back to 1934 when French barman Fernand Petiot—who is widely credited for inventing the Bloody Mary—took over the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis New York and made the drink synonymous with the brand. At the St. Regis Bar in Hong Kong, as is customary of the hotel's many locations, a localised version of the cocktail called the Canto Mary is served.

This rendition mixes Grey Goose vodka and peated Lagavulin 16-year-old scotch whisky with lemon juice and a blend of Hong Kong spices. Then, most importantly, comes the tomato juice, a choice which is left up to the guest. For a spicy and smokey profile, go for the red tomato juice base; a lighter and more sour profile can be attributed to the green base; while the yellow base provides a sweeter taste. 

Alternatively, choose from other versions of the Bloody Mary from St. Regis locations around the world, including the original New York version (later renamed the Red Snapper), the Hibiscus Mary from Cairo, or the Sangrita Maria from Mexico City.

The St. Regis Bar, 2/F, The St. Regis Hotel Hong Kong, 1 Harbour Drive, Wan Chai, Hong Kong

7. Kyle & Bain

Newly-opened martini bar Kyle & Bain is possibly one of the city's most savoury-leaning bars, and among its offerings, the Mirepoix Martini is perhaps its most savoury drink. Named after a French cooking technique where diced carrots, onions and celery are slowly simmered with butter on low heat to create a flavour base, the cocktail recreates the moreish taste of mirepoix with some ingenious mixology. Allium, the relative of the onion that blooms a globular head of purple flowers, is infused into vodka, then mixed with fino sherry for dry umami, blanc vermouth for a touch of floral sweetness, and a dressing of chive oil for another kick of garlicky goodness.

Kyle & Bain, Shop 7, G/F, The Galleria, 9 Queen's Road Central, Central, Hong Kong

See also: Through The Stirring Glass: The Diplomat's John Nugent On The 3 Cocktails That Guided His Career

8. COA

We're ending with a classic, and very likely one of the cocktails that elevated COA to the prime position of Asia's Best Bar in 2021. The Pepper Smash cleverly plays off the vegetal characteristics of tequila by infusing it with jalapeño pepper. Mezcal brings smokiness to the mix, while the main star of yellow bell pepper is supported by shiso liqueur and sweet basil. Cointreau, acid-adjusted pineapple and agave nectar round out the cocktail with complex sweetness. The result is something we deem a modern classic, and a uniquely quaffable drink that should only be had in multiples.

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