In this edition of Bar Banter, we get to know the cheery mixology maven behind the bar at Amoy Street's newest izakaya
Looking for a post-work pick-me-up after a long, tiring day in the trenches? The craft cocktail haven that is Amoy Street has got a brand new French-inspired izakaya, and holding court behind the bar is the personable (and jovially named) Head Bartender, Sugar Ray Ruban. We were lucky enough to sample some of this mixology maven’s signatures last month (full review here!), but we wanted to get to know the man himself. Besides, we’re sure you’re just dying to know how he got that nickname, so we’ll dive right into it.
Hello Sugar Ray Ruban! Obviously, we’re curious about your name. What’s the story behind it?
When I was working at The Cufflink Club, I was advised by my boss, Joel Fraser, to make drinks as fast as possible. And that came with consequences. When making drinks fast, my bar station became sticky with sugar, and my co-workers would tease me about it. Then, when I left The Cufflink Club to join its sister bar, Vasco, I was carrying a bottle of salted caramel and accidentally dropped it at the bar. The assistant manager, Krissy, saw it and gave me the name Sugar Ray Ruban. That’s how the moniker stuck.
How did you cut your teeth in the bartending world?
My first job was at The Dempsey Brasserie; I literally served everything, from milkshakes to wines. I was inexperienced and didn’t learn very much about cocktails there. They eventually hired a consultant named Joel Fraser, and he taught us a lot about cocktails – both in knowledge and cocktail creation. When I left The Dempsey Brasserie, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I gave Joel a call and here I am today. I can’t say I would be here if it wasn’t for him!
We understand that bartending goes beyond just putting together a drink. What are some important aspects of the craft that new bartenders miss?
Sometimes, new bartenders get impatient with their career progress. They chase money, fame and recognition too soon. In actuality, all these will come to you when you focus on your job and do it well. They need to know that all that is earned, not given. Patience and effort will pay off.
What’s your approach to designing new cocktails?
I follow a philosophy when it comes to bartending – speed, quality and consistency. When I design a new cocktail, I place heavy emphasis on these values and I never stray from them.
Le Binchotan blends Japanese ingredients with French techniques. Is your bar programme similar?
Our bar programme uses Japanese whisky, and a few French products to fit the concept. But at the end of the day, I also want to cater to a wider audience – hence, the bar’s other spirits and liqueurs from all over the world.
What’s your favourite spirit to work with, and why? Any esoteric ingredients you’d like to incorporate into your cocktails?
Gin, because I’m a huge fan of it. I believe every brand of gin is unique and there’s so much to explore. I’m also starting to enjoy Fernet Branca.
Where do you usually grab a drink on your night off?
My favourite hangout spots are usually The Cufflink Club, Vasco or Skinny’s Lounge. The people at The Cufflink Club and Vasco are like family to me. I’ve been with these guys for two years, so I enjoy catching up with them. I drop by Skinny’s Lounge because the place is amazing.
There’s no shortage of things to do in Singapore. How do you keep yourself busy when you’re not behind the bar? Any hobbies?
Is watching anime considered a hobby? If it is, then yes, that’s my hobby. I like catching up on TV series, movies and anime during my downtime. Once in a while, I like to play football, but I’m absolutely rubbish at it!
What is your proudest achievement outside of bartending?
I watched over 600 episodes of One Piece [a famous anime show] in three months. That’s an achievement right there!
If you could make a drink for anyone in the world right now, who would it be? And what cocktail would you make?
Conor McGregor! He is the current UFC featherweight champion. He is cocky, but also very inspiring. One of my favourite quotes of his is “We are not here to take part; we are here to take over”. It’s relatable to me because I like winning. When I take part in something, I am not going there to make friends or just for the experience – I am there to win. I don’t believe in losing; it’s either I win, or I learn. I won’t get Conor McGregor a cocktail though. I think he might beat the living daylights out of me if I serve him a Strawberry Daiquiri! Irish whisky on the rocks would be the way to go.
Though you might have Sugar in your name, are you guilty of having a sweet tooth?
Sometimes! I really like the Custard Puff from Beard Papa’s.
What cocktail would you make for someone who a) is in love, b) is down in the dumps, and c) needs a strong swig of liquid courage?
The people who are in love, I will recommend the cheeky Sake My Cucumber which is made of sake, vodka, cucumber, fresh mint and chartreuse. For people down in the dumps, just a shot of tequila to lift their spirits. Lastly for liquid courage, a shot of Fernet Branca. You need to have courage to drink Fernet Branca itself, so once you get that shot down, you’ll have the courage to do anything else!
Le Binchotan,#01-04 (Entrance via Gemmill Lane), 115 Amoy Street Singapore 069935. p. 6221 6065. Open Mon-Sat 11.30am-3pm, 6pm-12am. Closed on Sun.