#BarStar: Draft Land’s Alex Ko

Find out everything about Hong Kong’s coolest bar, from one of Hong Kong’s coolest bartenders

Back in December we announced the opening of Draft Land and told you that a whole new world of cocktails was coming to Hong Kong — namely, cocktails on tap. Well, Draft Land is officially up and running now, and serving some of the best cocktails in the city, hand-pulled from a tap. 

draft land bar star alex ko cocktails on tap lan kwai fong
It’s a revolutionary concept brought over from Taiwan by Angus Zou, an award-winning cocktail expert, and our very own Antonio Lai (the man behind some of the city’s most famous spots like The Quinary). What makes Draft Land so exciting is that it’s a brand-new way of making delicious, hand-crafted cocktails, without the crazy price tag or long wait—but you can read more about that here

Today, we’re sitting down with Draft Land bar manager Alex Ko to talk Draft Land and life as a ‘Draftender’. If Ko looks familiar, that’s because he is! You’ve probably spotted him working at the city’s best restaurants and bars like Goughs on Gough, The Ocean, The Woods and Bar Butler. Ko started bartending part-time in 2011 while he worked on his MBA. In 2014 he decided to pursue it full time, giving up a promising career in manufacturing. Today, he’s behind the stick at Draft Land and loving every minute of it.

draft land bar star alex ko cocktails on tap lan kwai fong
What attracted you to bartending initially?
At first, bartending was just a way to meet people, make some money and have fun. As it happened, I entered F&B at around the same time the cocktail renaissance was in full swing in Hong Kong. With the help of some very passionate mentors I was able discover the incredible depth of the world of cocktails, spirits, and wines. I had a desire to learn everything I could about it, and it's a journey I continue this day.

What makes Draft Land special from other bars? 
As you might imagine, we can serve our drinks faster than any other bar in town. That allows us to spend more time with our guests, to find out what they like, and to find the perfect drink for them.

On top of that, we’re able to break down barriers and preconceptions. We've had a lot of cases where a guest tells us they don’t like a particular spirit, or the list of ingredients on a menu item. Since we are able to provide a small taste of the cocktail at the pull of a tap, we are able to introduce a guest to new and unusual flavour combinations. If we were a traditional cocktail bar, they would never have given those menu items a second glance.

Read more: #BarStar with Hugger Mugger’s Luca Sergi 

Is the process of creating a “cocktail on tap” different than creating a regular cocktail?
In a lot of ways, it's the same: it all comes down to flavour. In our case, it's especially important to zero-in on that perfect balance because we don't have the ability to adjust things on the fly. And while we have certain limitations in what we can use, we have some advantages too. For instance, dilution is generally the enemy of drinks in a traditional cocktail bar. Getting a drink nice and cold usually waters down the flavour. For us, the dilution is factored in in advance. We can use it to add flavour, such as teas, without cutting back on the good stuff like alcohol.

draft land bar star alex ko cocktails on tap lan kwai fong
What are some of the must-try cocktails at Draft Land?
The Fancy Gin Collins and Oolong Tea Collins are by far our best sellers, for good reason. They're absolutely smashable drinks with fresh and light flavours, and there's a subtle complexity which means you don’t get tired of them. That being said, I'm a particular fan of the Rum Stout, which is a beauty to pour, with its cascading Guinness-like foam. It also packs some great, dark flavours that contrast nicely with the lighter fruit notes of the black tea we use.

Where do the large-batch cocktails get made? 
We make them right there at the bar. One of our ‘Draftenders’ comes in at 10am every day just to batch all the cocktails and get them ready for service for the day. We've really hit it out of the park at Draft Land. We tap out kegs every day, so the batching never stops.

Have you found your interaction with customers is different now that you are “pulling” cocktails as opposed to making them?
Absolutely.  I'm spending far more time talking to them instead of focusing on shaking all night. I even have time to stop and chat with a guest for five minutes on a Friday or Saturday night.  At a traditional cocktail bar, that's absolutely impossible.

What do you love most about your job?
The unpredictability of it! No two days are the same, and there is simply no room to stand still. There's always something to do, whether its thinking up new drinks, fixing up the shop, or welcoming an old friend to the bar.

Read more: The Best Bars to Instagram Right Now 

draft land bar star alex ko cocktails on tap lan kwai fong
What do you wish more people knew about your job? 
At our calibre, there’s usually tons of work that goes into the bar every day before the first guests walk through our door. This isn’t just making the infusions and syrups and such, but also menu design, training, setting the ambience, and so on. I'd say the best places spend a solid six hours (at least!) before opening to get everything sorted.

Any tips for people wanting to become friends with a bartender?
You don’t need to do anything special, honestly. Bartenders are naturally friendly people, and just spending a few minutes talking to us is enough. That being said, there's a few things you SHOULDN’T do: snapping your fingers at us is a particularly grave example.

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you while you were working?
A pipe above the bar I was working at burst, soaking through the flooring. We had no sign of the damage except for a drip here and there, and we just chalked it up to the air conditioning. Well, during the next Friday night service, the entire section of ceiling just caved in, showering the guests with plaster!

Draft Land
63 Wyndham Street, Central

All photos are the rights of their respective owners

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