Bar Trigona breathes new life into an ancient preservation practice

Photos Courtesy of  Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur

Take a step back, oak barrels. The new frontier in cocktail-ageing is clay pots. With its ability to coax out subtle tastes and silky textures, earthenware is now being used by leading cocktail creators to elevate the flavor profiles of drinks.

As the first pottery invented by humans, clay earthenware has a long history in the kitchen, going back some 8,000 years. Prized for their uniquely porous texture, these unassuming vessels were widely used for cooking and preserving food and beverages, until modern alternatives displaced them from the shelves. In several Asian communities, traces of this culinary heritage linger on, think clay pot chicken rice and briyanis simmered in traditional handis.

Now on the cusp of a comeback, clay pots are finding flavor among natural winemakers and maverick mixologists around the world. “Clay creates a quite different ageing environment. It breathes faster than oak barrels and increases the pH level in the beverage,” explains Ashish Sharma, Head Bartender of Bar Trigona at Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur. “The process is fast but tricky to work with, which makes it all the more interesting.”

Close on the heels of being named Malaysia’s Best Bar in 2020, Bar Trigona’s menu introduces KL’s connoisseurs to cocktails aged in clay pots – a vibrant addition to the city’s buzzing drinks scene. The cocktails are rested for up to two weeks in unglazed terracotta vessels, infusing them with earthiness, minerality and smoothness. Compared with oak, it is the porousness of clay that allows greater control over temperature and oxygen exchange. “The liquid interacts more freely and also evaporates faster,” notes Ashish, emphasizing that precision is key to getting the flavors just right.

An amalgam of Malay, Indian and Chinese influences, Malaysian pottery is a tangible symbol of the country’s all-embracing diversity. Plus, as an abundant and natural material, clay is highly sustainable. As Ashish observes, “Being a Malaysian bar, it makes much more sense for us to use clay pots for ageing. They check all the boxes – locally made, reusable and biodegradable.” The clayware used by Bar Trigona has been crafted by Amin, a talented young potter from Pahang whom Ashish tracked down through the National Art Gallery of Malaysia.

Guests can taste the marvels of clay-ageing with six signature cocktails, all designed by master bartenders who have done guest shifts at Bar Trigona – from Lorenzo Antinori who led Caprice from Four Seasons Hong Kong into Asia’s 50 Best Bars, to Vijay Mudaliar who founded Native, one of Singapore’s most famous drinking destinations.

Behind the counter at Bar Trigona, Ashish swirls together a trifecta of Venezuelan dark rum, artisanal vermouth and Campari, then pours it into an unglazed clay pot and covers it tightly. This is Rich Heart, a blend dreamed up by Sai Charan, Diplomático’s Asia Pacific brand ambassador. After 7-14 days of ageing, it will be ready to drink. Transformed by its interaction with the clay, the cocktail will have mellowed and become beautifully balanced.

Sip it slowly, savor it deeply. Behind it lies the weight of millennia-old traditions, tracing their path all the way from the Neolithic period to the glass in your hand.

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