How Gibson turns the humble sugarcane juice into an ingenious cocktail

Gibson’s sugarcane juice is not one for the kids.

The regular drink is one of the joys of dining at a hawker centre. It is refreshingly grassy, a restorative after your greasy plate of char kway teow. Freshly juiced, it comes with a layer of luscious foam. At the Bukit Pasoh bar, their Sugarcane Spritz carries all the hallmarks of the original, with the mind-numbing power of booze.

The cocktail is part of Gibson’s latest menu Chimera, which remakes classic cocktails with Asian ingredients and flavours. Local beverages are also an inspiration. “We wanted to bring our perspective on this beloved drink that has a mass appeal,” said Aki Eguchi, bar programme director of Jigger & Pony Group, which owns Gibson.

Sugarcane spritz (Image credit: Gibson Cocktail Bar / Facebook)
Sugarcane spritz (Image credit: Gibson Cocktail Bar / Facebook)

But it is not as simple as spiking your sugarcane juice with alcohol. Instead, the bar works with Ding Jie Tan of Singapore-based food manufacturing company Starter Culture to ferment the juice into a wine. To do this, Tan inoculates the liquid with yeast, which converts sugars into alcohol, aroma, and carbon dioxide in a process called anaerobic fermentation.

“One key challenge we faced was in the selection of yeast,” Tan said. “There are many strains and varieties of yeast available, all with different flavours and applications. We probably tested this against an entire library of yeasts before we found the perfect one.”

Amazake Bellini (Image credit: Gibson)
Amazake Bellini (Image credit: Gibson)

The resulting wine is quietly effervescent with a grassy funk, which Eguchi accented with cachaça, a Brazilian spirit distilled from fermented sugarcane juice. “They both have a sweet aroma, almost like gula Melaka,” he said. It also has a subtle savoury note, which he played up using olive brine.

The spritz is then rounded out with a French wine aperitif called pineau des Charentes and chinotto orange bitter liqueur. Acidity from lime cordial and unripened grape juice, or verjus, evens out the cocktail.

The Sugarcane Spritz is not the only drink that Gibson created with Starter Culture. On the current menu, Tan is also partly responsible for the Amazake Bellini, which mixes pandan and prosecco with a creamy, yoghurt-like drink made from fermented basmati rice. He also had a hand in the Americano Blanc, a kombucha-based cocktail with gin and Japanese bergamot from the previous menu.

Gibson is located at 20 Bukit Pasoh Rd, #2nd Floor, Singapore 089834. Book here.

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