Welcome to “cocktail of the month” where we talk to the barmen plying their trade in the best hotels in the world and pry their hands from iconic cocktail recipes… and because luxury is in the secret details we’re more than happy to share!
We’re launching the series with the legendary screwdrwiver and the tale of how it first came to the shores of Hong Kong.
This story starts with a thirsty Hollywood actor and a very confused Barman.
Johnny Chung Kam-Hung was just starting his bartending career at the Peninsula Hong Kong but already had a well stocked cocktail book to rely on. However, it didn’t come in handy at all when Hollywood actor Clark Gable asked the young barman for a screwdriver to help him unwind from a long day on set.
The American favorite had never been heard of in Hong Kong till then and a nonplussed Johnny went straight to the hotel’s engineering department and brought the actor a maintenance tool.
Definitely not what the Gone with the Wind star was after.
Undeterred, Gable took matters into his own hands and taught Johnny how to make his poison of choice, instructing measures of this and that to be poured and calmly writing down the recipe until an ice cold screwdriver, the first in Hong Kong, was popped onto the counter and into the hotel’s history.
“He was quite a gentleman about it, though he looked very serious at the time” Johnny remarks on his encounter with the star. “I was so nervous as I was afraid that the Screwdriver would turn out to be something different from his expectation. Luckily he said “Perfect!” after tasting it, I felt absolutely relieved. when I heard that.”
One happy actor later and 50 + years of experience under his belt, Johnny now knows plenty about the screwdriver and is happy to walk us through the process of making it.
“The recipe is simple – vodka, fresh orange juice and ice. When Mr Gable taught me back then, there was no actual ratio of the ingredients for the cocktail. So, I worked on it and came out with a 2:3 ratio in vodka and orange juice, respectively.”
The screwdriver is an easy cocktail to make and a party favorite. but god is in the details, and if you want it done right, you’ll need quality ingredients.
Johnny avoids tainting the drink with the taste of artificial flavorings or concentrate by only using freshly squeezed orange juice in the mix. The vodka of choice here is Absolut, a quality spirit which blends smoothly with the fresh juice. Last but not least, use a large ice cube for a steady melt and to avoid leaving slow drinkers with a watered down drink in their hand.
Round it all of by placing some orange slices onto the glass for visual effect, and Tada! you’ve got yourself a Peninsula Hong Kong screwdriver.
Thanks for the recipe Johnny! but we weren’t about to let this bar legend go without asking him a few more questions first,
1. What’s the number one reason to be a barman
I joined The Peninsula Hong Kong as a Messenger when I was 14. Three months after, I was transferred to The Bar as an apprentice. To me, being a bartender could enrich not only my knowledge in alcohol and spirits, but this role also allows close interaction with guests.
2. You’re probably one of the most successful barmen in the world, but is there one other career that you would have liked to do and why?
I might have chosen to be a waiter as I really love working in front of the guests and interacting with them. I always broaden my horizon by listening to their stories, so it might be a good alternative for me.
3. You’re known for the screwdriver, but is that your favourite drink? If not, what is and why?
Speaking of my favourite, the ‘Singapore Sling’ would be the one. It is a colourful and gin–based aperitif, which is nice to have before a big meal.
4. The best type of food to pair a screwdriver with is?
Screwdriver should be served as an aperitif rather than a dinner wine.
5. What is the after meal drink that you highly recommend and why?
For gentlemen, I would suggest the ‘Grasshopper’, which is made of green peppermint, white crème de cacao. ‘Brandy Alexander’, which is made with VSOP Cognac would be recommended for ladies. Both of them are sweet digestifs and help digestion after a rich meal
6. You’ve had the honour of meeting Mr Gable and that’s a great experience in itself, however is there someone else that has left a particular impression during your time here and why?
Mr William Holden and Mr Jack Hawkins were filming in Hong Kong for the movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in 1950s and another actor Mr Rex Harrison joined them for a drink at the Lobby Bar. They liked to order Scotch Water. The live band played the theme music of the movie “Colonel Bogey March” when they walked in, it was a lovely memory.
7. After working at The Peninsula for more than 50 years, what is your best souvenir?
When The Peninsula Hong Kong celebrated its 85th Anniversary, the evolution of Hong Kong has been made into a video and projected on the façade of the hotel. It was so amazing to be able to witness that.
8. What’s the one thing that The Bar at The Peninsula Hong Kong has that other high end bars don’t?
We are the leading hospitality giant in the industry and set the bar for the definition of luxury. We treat our guests like close friends but in a professional manner at the same time. We always remember our guests and their preferences. At The Bar, we have a collection of over 180 kinds of whiskey, which is quite a large number for a bar to offer in the industry.
9. I’m new in Hong Kong and I’m here for one night. What’s the one, Johnny Chung Kam-Hung tried and approved, activity I must do?
Enjoying the view from The Peak is quite relaxing, and the night view there is stunning. It’s a must-do if you would like tranquillity and romance. Walking along the Avenue of Stars can see the night view from the other side of Hong Kong with a series of movie-related sculptures and handprints of movie stars. If you would like to experience the local culture, the Ladies’ Market and Temple Street Night Market are quite popular.