All eyes on Asia

21 must-win categories, five international pop-up  bars, 600 glamorous guests and one very big night of celebration. It’s Shanghai and it’s DMBA 2018.

It may only be in its third year but DMBA (Drinks Magazine Bar Awards) has grown rapidly, not just in size but in reputation. As we joined the guests for the evening it was more than a little evident from talking to the movers and shakers of the Asian bar scene that picking up one of the beautifully designed shaker trophies is a priority to show that you’re making your mark.

Founded by Thirsty Work Productions and DRiNK Magazine, DMBA started back in 2016. This year the winners were announced at a spectacular ceremony at the Jing An Shangri-La, West Shanghai, on the 19th November. The ceremony is a celebration of the very best bars, brands and bartenders across China and Asia. And this year DMBA also featured new awards for Sustainability, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, as well as a new category for International Bartender of the Year.

Theo Watt is the founder of Thirsty Work Productions and the driving force behind DMBA and his ambition for them is very single-minded. “These awards are all about celebrating where our industry has been this year and where it can go in the future.”

Setting the tone for the evening were a range of outstanding pop-up bars to welcome the guests. There was Shanghai’s latest and most talked about bar, The Odd Couple, with founders and the odd couple themselves, Steve Schneider and Shingo Gokan. From Singapore there was Native and joining the celebrations from New York, Dead Rabbit. Completing the line up from London was Coupette with Chris Moore, Happiness Forgets with Alastair Burgess and the Connaught Bar’s Ago Perrone along with his iconic martini trolley. All of them shaking, stirring and serving up a storm.

The theme for the evening was rhythm as the ceremony paid tribute to the beating heart of the bar industry and the shared pulse that connects everyone within it. It was a theme that was underlined by an incredible opening percussion and dance performance featuring shakers, bar spoons, bars and barrels.

As for the awards themselves there were plenty of stand out moments during the evening. Sober Company, Shanghai, consolidated its growing reputation by picking up no less than three awards for Restaurant Bar of the Year, Bar Team and Service. Hope & Sesame took the coveted awards for Bar of the Year (China) and best Cocktail Program back to their home city of Guangzhou.

Jackie Lo became the first woman to be crowned Bartender of the Year (China) – a particularly popular choice judging by the rapturous response from the audience. And Agung Prabowo claimed two titles, winning Bartender of the Year (Asia) and Bar of the Year (Asia) for The Old Man, Hong Kong.

There were special awards too for two particular popular figures. Eddy Yang, was honoured for his contribution to the Asian bar scene. Having started his career by accident at Detroit in London nearly 20 years ago, he’s now a hugely popular figure in his native China. The other special award was to recognise the contribution made by a figure from outside the region,  but through regular visits inspires the local bartender community. Picking it up was Erik Lorincz.

More than the category winners themselves the real winner was the whole Asian bar community. Shining a well deserved light on it, DMBA looks set to become an increasingly important fixture on the international cocktail calendar and we’re already looking forward to discovering what 2019 has in store.

The DMBA winners in full

Sustainability Award presented by Nespresso
BACARDI No Straws Campaign

Innovation Award presented by RATIO Coffee and Cocktail Bar
Cityson

Bartender Brand, presented by Thirsty Work Productions
Campari

Brand Ambassador, presented by Thirsty Work Productions
Ethan Liu, Proof & Company

Design, presented by Orrefors
Atelier by Taste Buds, Shanghai

Music Program, presented by K-Array
Shake, Shanghai

Wine Program, presented by Penfolds
Le Verre a Vin, Shanghai

Beer Program, presented by Boxing Cat Brewery
Jing-A Brewpub, Beijing

Service, presented by Small Batch Learning
Sober Company, Shanghai

Restaurant Bar of the Year, presented by Licor 43
Sober Company, Shanghai

High Volume Bar, presented by Jack Daniel’s
Le Baron, Shanghai

Hotel Bar, presented by Summergate Fine Wine & Spirits
EQUIS, Four Seasons Hotel Beijing

Cocktail Program, presented by Havana Club
Hope & Sesame, Guangzhou

Bar Team, presented by Chivas Regal
Sober Company, Shanghai

Entrepreneurship Award, presented by Hennessy
Kin, Constellation

Founders Award, presented by Thirsty Work Productions
Eddy Yang

Bar of the Year (Asia), presented by Montenegro
The Old Man, Hong Kong

Bartender of the Year (Asia), presented by Peddlers Gin
Agung Prabowo

International Bartender of the Year, presented by Cityson
Erik Lorincz

Bartender of the Year (China), presented by Gotham East, Luxardo, Cocchi, Nouaison
Jackie Lo

Bar of the Year (China), presented by Perrier
Hope & Sesame, Guangzhou

Photography courtesy of Doron Gild and Amaro Montenegro

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