Food & Culture

Seattle Bartenders Look to the Far East for Big Flavor

Asian ingredients once seldom found in drinks are showing up on cocktail menus across town.

By AJ Rathbun August 10, 2017


If ever you’ve dreamed of journeying across Asia but can’t find the cash or time, don’t worry. Our creative local bartenders are rapidly expanding their range of Asian-inspired cocktail ingredients, including many items you would have sampled if that mythical vacation had happened.

Sipping these drinks here in Seattle might not be the same, but at least you don’t have to wait in heinously long lines at Sea-Tac.

Chan’s Ginger Makgeolli
An unfiltered South Korean rice wine/beer/spirit (you may hear it called different things), makgeolli is starting to have a moment, popping up more in big city cocktail dens and garnering press and praise. But the relatively low-alcohol beverage, which is actually a bit healthy thanks to its lactic acid bacteria and dietary fiber, is still a mystery to most. This drink at downtown’s Korean delight Chan mingles makgeolli with ginger, lemon and triple sec into a light-but-herbal treat is the perfect introduction.

Navy Strength’s Garam Masala Whiskey Collins
A bar suited for travel lovers, Belltown’s non-kitschy tiki haven Navy Strength (which recently opened its coffee/juice bar) actually has a rotating “travel” section on the cocktail menu focusing on flavors from a particular country or region (currently India). While there are many worthy choices, this exotic Collins is a refreshing blessing on a hot day thanks to coconut soda, and still carries an intriguing array of Garam Masala (a spice blend utilized heavily in Indian and southeast Asia) accents: pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, cumin and more.

Soi’s Tamarind Whiskey Sour
Though a crucial ingredient in many Thai dishes—including the inescapable Phad Thai—it’s still rare to see tamarind paste in drinks. But at Capitol Hill’s Soi, which focuses on more traditional Issan Thai food from the country’s northwest peninsula, you can expect adventurousness on both culinary and cocktail fronts. Here the time-honored sour elements are in place with Four Roses bourbon, palm sugar and lime, but the tamarind ramps up the sourness even more.

Heartwood Provisions’ Hello Poppy
The jackfruit is consumed throughout South and Southeast Asian, but also in places as far-reaching as Brazil. It’s known for its versatility and sometimes tropical, sometimes mild flavor (its fibrous nature also makes it a beloved meat substitute for vegetarians). But rarely is it discovered in drinks, at least outside of downtown’s Heartwood Provisions where they mix it with bourbon, the slightly bitter Grand Poppy liqueur from L.A. distillery Greenbar, lemon, egg white and tiki bitters.

Foreign National’s Silk Road
This low-lit Capitol Hill bar’s exotic atmosphere is ideal for dreaming of an escapade across Asia, especially when accompanied by this drink. It features pandan, a Southeast Asian plant used in a variety of dishes (especially enhancing rice dishes). Here it’s combined with rums, ginger, curry and coconut cream—another traditional pandan partner. Together they fit well in a drink named after the historic trade network across Asia, making for a lush, flavorful cocktail.


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