I wasn't sure why Eben Freeman and Linden Pride's seminar on cocktails and Asia wasn't included in the professional track of seminars held on Wednesday (though I guess super early on a Thursday morning is close enough). While the topic did touch on flavors in Asia and how to use them in cocktails a bit, the two talked mainly discussed what they'd learned from the experience working the cocktail biz in Asia.
I have either heard of, read of or spoken to an decent number of folks in just the past year alone who have been to Asia either for consultant work or to work with brands and with a lot of the recent news about restaurants and chains expanding into territories like China (KFC, please come to the courtesy phone), it's not surprising that some people working in cocktails would be interested in heading out to Asia.
For example, Linden explained how in China there was a rise in service, design and cuisine.
Linden worked with Spice Temple in Sydney and had visited China to study local flavors and cuisines, as well as having worked with Mangkut Group with Eben doing beverage consultant work with numerous hotels.
Linden said that on the mainland, the market included consumers such as young, moneyed Chinese, young affluent locals who are returning from the West and foreign diners as well.
Combined with the Chinese dining culture where 'gaining face' is important through high-level spending for elaborate dinners, this means that not only is there a market for Western-food (and by extension, drink), but also for high-quality drinks crafted with both good ingredients and
These same group of consumers are also many times the same people you're going to be doing business with.
Eben said that anybody expecting to do business in Asia has to understand and respect the culture. For example, due to the way family relationships and businesses are structured, that means that many times you have a lot of young businessmen in their 20s who wield extreme power and wealth.
There are also those who have studied, lived or worked in the West and returned to their home country, and as potential business partners, they know how to both traverse traditional connections while doing business in a Western fashion.
Eben throughout some numbers that seem to point towards hotels as being the way. He also grabbed hotel numbers mainly because it's just too hard to accurately gauge the number of restaurants in such a huge and varied market as Asia. Especially when many of these restaurants are independents like mom and pop joints, hole in the wall neighborhood favorites or pop=up street stands.
Also, according to Eben, "Anyone going over for consulting is going to be with hotels."
According to his research, over 1,000 new hotels opening in China in the next 3 years.
- Starwood is opening 30 newly constructed properties in China for 2010.
- 664 new hotels will open in Asia in 2010.
- China will open 463 new hotels in 2010.
= India has highest number of pipeline projects, and 106 new hotels opening this year.
Bottle service is king and the market for Scotch whiskey is huge. Also the Asian palette is sensitive and discerning, at the same time, Eben explained that strong bold flavors in cocktails work better with the strong and bold flavors of Asian cuisine more so than delicate or overtly nuanced cocktails or wines.
For example, Eben said that Old Fashioneds have been highly popular when he's served it, because the drink has a balance of sugar and bitters (though Eben advised that people refuse from using the word "bitter" on menus or with drink descriptions). The market appreciates drinks with layers of flavor and even texture, like with egg white drinks.
"They don't like one note drinks, they're used to having a balance of many things in cuisine. Which makes them an ideal quality cocktail consumer."
Linden pointed out that in his experience, unfortunately, it's hard to utilize a lot of the flavors and fresh ingredients that are abundantly available in local markets when working with foreign-based business like hotels in Asian countries. Mainly because there maybe restrictions based on the food safety standards of a hotel that restrict the use of "unapproved" produce or ingredients.
Also the way that alcohol import works in a lot of Asian countries can be another hurdle.
But Linden advised that those who do get a chance to use local indigenous ingredients in their drinks should make sure they are using the ingredients in a "enlightened and not pandering way."