Somphong “Peter” Chaina Transforms Time-tested Drinks with the Newest Member of the Chivas Regal Family
With a block of ice in one hand and some kind of small trident in the other, Somphong “Peter” Chaina hand-crafts an Old Fashioned ice ball. Scraping and stabbing, then peeling with a kitchen knife. Peter furrows his brow and chips away with nothing short of total focus. As the ice evens out, it becomes clear this sinewy spectacled mixologist, who has returned to JW Marriott Hotel’s Manhattan Bar after a brief period away, takes his cocktails seriously.
Peter washes off the flotsam of shaved ice and lets the perfectly round, nearly transparent ball slide into a rocks glass. The ball of ice, says Peter, melts much slower than crushed or cubed ice, so it doesn’t dilute the cocktail. “Now, I make five or six of these [ice balls] a day. When I first started [16 years ago], I would make about 200 in four hours,” Peter recounts.
With the hard manual labour out of the way, Peter gets to work on the classic Old Fashioned—one of his favourite cocktails to mix. He’s a traditionalist. “I like old-school drinks. If you can make a classic cocktail taste good, you can make any cocktail taste good,” he declares. “Since there are so few ingredients, it’s all about technical skills.”
He places sugar cubes, bitters, and orange peel in a tall glass with ice and stirs 70 seconds to dissolve the sugar. Then, he adds 10ml of Drambuie, a honey-laced liqueur, and stirs another 70 seconds to release its flavour and aromas. Finally, he adds 50ml of Chivas Regal Extra and stirs again, letting the ice cool down the liquid before straining it all into the rocks glass. As he pours, Peter explains how the fruity, floral notes of Chivas Regal Extra, a Speyside blended Scotch whisky that uses malt whiskies aged in sherry casks, is the perfect marriage for the Old Fashioned, which he finishes with a garnish of orange peel studded with cloves.
For many bartenders, the Old Fashioned is the barometer of skill. And Peter’s balanced, mellow take on the barroom classic, underscored by the orange and toffee kick of Chivas Regal Extra, certainly speaks to his 16 years of success in the industry.
While shaping orange peel into a spiral for another of his favourite cocktails—the Blood & Sand—Peter opens up. In 2005, he was Talent Champion at the Flair Bartender Competition. “Now I’m too old for competitions,” he says with a hint of a smile. Though he’s decided to stop taking part in showy competitions, he instead seems to relish in making perfect cocktails for customers, raising the bar for mixologists in Bangkok. “Maybe five years ago, people expected a foreigner to make their cocktail—someone from Europe or Japan. Now, they come to the bar and expect a Thai mixologist,” he explains. “Local talent keeps improving.”
Chivas Regal Extra also makes the base for Peter’s Blood & Sand. With the same precision and care, he combines the whisky with sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur, orange juice, and grenadine. Then he pours it all into an ice-cold martini glass. His Blood & Sand seems to reveal three layers of flavours, as well as different textures, each leading into the next. From smooth and aromatic, to potent and cold, to a soft, fruity bitterness at the finish.
As the night nears, Peter whips up a Whisky Sour. After combining Chivas Regal Extra with vanilla syrup, lime juice, egg white, and angostura bitters, he gives the tumbler a slow, powerful shake until the blend is pleasantly chilled. Through the strainer runs a frothy liquid, another impeccably balanced classic, this one served in a wine glass to release its bright aroma and display its pinkish colour.
With his taste for tradition, but contemporary talent and touch, Peter and the Manhattan Bar—stylishly lit with candles, dark leather, and low-hanging chandeliers—make a natural pair. Both classic, cool, and cultured, knowing the perfect moment to spice things up.