Meet the mixologist founders behind Draft Land, a bar serving high-end, yet affordable cocktails on tap in Hong Kong and Taiwan in favour of quality, sustainability and fast service.
Fresh on the heels of the craft beer phenomenon comes a new on-tap concept – draft cocktails. Masterminded by two mixologists from Taiwan and Hong Kong, both in search of a more sustainable, more affordable and more scalable version of the oh-so-popular high-end cocktail bar, their Draft Land bars are presenting Asia’s first cocktails on tap concept. Opened first in Taiwan and now in Hong Kong, their high-end take on pre-mixed cocktails aims to change the way that the boutique drinking experience is seen. Founders Angus Zou and Antonio Lai talked Hive Life through their idea.
Walking into Hong Kong’s Draft Land, located just off the bar-hopping locale that is Lan Kwai Fong, you won’t find the same ubiquitous wall of spirits you would normally see in bespoke cocktail joints. Instead, you’ll see a clinically clean interior marked out by a row of brass taps. This vibe, together with the pleasantly casual, homey atmosphere the duo have created, embodies the wider Draft Land philosophy: “I felt something needed to be changed in our drinking culture. Cocktails themselves need to be more accessible and more lifestyle-orientated,” explains Angus. Or, as he famously once put it, “No garnish, no bullshit.” For this mixologist, pre-made cocktails on tap were the solution to a problem – one that saw high prices, scare availability and a rarefied atmosphere preventing his craft from being enjoyed by more people.
With backgrounds in experimental mixology, the Draft Land concept was a natural progression for both Angus and Antonio. Starting their careers in the cocktail business 14 and 20 years ago in Taiwan and Hong Kong respectively, they are both masters of their art, each founding award-winning bars like Angus’ Alchemy in Taipei and Antonio’s Quinary in Hong Kong. As far as they’re concerned, delivering these concoctions on tap does not take away from the skill involved in their profession. “It’s more of an added option to multi-sensory mixology,” says Antonio. “The amount of precision and the equipment required to produce these cocktails on tap requires a high level of mixology, on a par with anything else you would get at a bar.”
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Draft Land has been designed with two distinct groups in mind – specifically, those that find cocktail drinking an intimidating experience and those who are put off by what they feel is an unnecessarily complicated experience. “Menus are often complicated with a laundry of unfamiliar ingredients, which leads to hesitation,” says Angus. And the second? “People who find cocktail drinking a fuss because it’s not as simple and straightforward as a pint of beer,” he adds.
Prepared for the sceptics, Angus and Antonio can easily explicate the advantages to Draft Land’s tap system. “Above all, there’s a shared emphasis on offering a drink of excellent taste, not just the presentation of it,” explains Antonio. “Draft Land embodies four core values: speed, high-quality, affordability and sustainability. We seek to simplify the bar-going experience down to the essentials – and allow the indecisive among us to sample different flavours before committing to a whole cocktail,” Angus adds. Their more audacious goal is to become pioneers in the bartending industry: “Traditional cocktails are the foundation of bartending, but they also build a wall blocking out creativity,” he argues.
A year on from launch, the reception has been good. “I expected the need to invest time and effort to educate drinkers. But to my surprise, they have received it with an open mind,” says Angus. For his business partner, this has not been a surprise. “For years, bartenders have been the focus of drinks, but now it’s time for the drinks themselves to be the focus. The simple assurance of having the same quality drink every time is now a privilege for cocktails as well.”
From start to finish, passion has driven this project. It was friendship that started it off: “We had always talked about opening a bar together to mark our friendship – thank goodness he said yes!” says Angus, and now it’s friends they are making as they gradually bring cocktail connoisseurs over to their way of thinking. “Initial snobbery often gives way to complete convert!” laughs Antonio. Regardless of why, Draft Land has breathed new life into the mass cocktail business, serving up hundreds of pre-made cocktails every night. And their hope is, it won’t stop there. “I never think of Draft Land as being simply a success. Instead, I feel the responsibility and urge to achieve further and greater things. It’s just the beginning,” says Angus.