Adrian Besa of MO Bar Singapore shows us how he lives his best life and his idea of an Asian-inspired Gimlet

By Justin Choo 22 September, 2021
Adrian besa mo bar

In One For The Road, we speak with the best bartenders and get to know them better. Here, Adrian Besa approaches his hobbies and professional work with the same zeal – it’s all research for him

Adrian Besa is the bar manager at MO Bar Singapore, one of the top bars in the world. His best life is a never-ending trail of exploring hobbies, which always lead him back to new learnings for the bar.

I went back to the Philippines to open my own bar, which is like an alfresco bar-slash-flair bartending school and then I realised a part of me is still missing, and that’s how I ended up going back to Singapore.

With a nice partnership with the Proof and Company, we managed to build MO Bar from a blank sheet, with the help of our management of course. Being part of those projects brought back why I fell in love with the industry.

We’re trying to open up to non-alcoholic drinkers that mocktails are not like what they used to be. If they are part of a group of people that are drinking, we don’t want them to be left behind. And we want them to enjoy the same feeling that the alcohol cocktail drinkers are enjoying that evening. With the help of modern equipment that we have, we can replicate the exact flavour, or as close as we can, of its alcoholic counterpart.

I always have a passion for creating cocktails made from indigenous ingredients. So if I travel to a country, if I see a nice fruit or vegetable or something, I will find a way to make that into a cocktail.

For our Volume 2 menu, we launched this nomadic forager series where we travelled across the region visiting countries, working closely with producers, and bartenders. For the guest shifts, we went around markets, we went around farms, and then we try to find as many ingredients as we could and then we tried to convert those into a cocktail for that event. 

In terms of cocktails, I tend to lean more toward the creative and experimental types of cocktails.

My parents would give me a citrusy drink when I feel I have a common cold. If you want to be refreshed on a hot afternoon, they give you a citrusy drink. If you want to have a palate cleanser, you need a citrusy drink. My poison is always citrusy drinks, which is why the cocktail that we created for Robb Report Singapore is an Asian-inspired gimlet.

We started with only making drinks behind the bar, now we are doing virtual masterclasses – not only here, but also overseas. We send bottles of cocktails to the clients and then we do a virtual masterclass. One of the main concepts of the bar was travelling around the region. When we reopened, people were looking for that experience.

People miss travelling. Having a menu that represents something from the Philippines, from Vietnam, from Indonesia; they become more open to exploring things.

Honestly, I’m a tourist in my own country as well. Every time I travel across there, it’s like wow, how come I never tried this food before.

I grew up in a province where there are many mango plantations, and mangoes always bring me back to my childhood. I’d finish a kilo or two of those.

I read a lot. I study a lot in terms of trying to figure out new techniques and how we can improve ourselves here at the bar. I really enjoy my work. 

Adrian besa mo bar
Adrian Besa, bar manager of MO Bar at Mandarin Oriental. Photo by Studio Daydream

Back home, I love cars. I have the same attention to detail as to how I’d do drinks. I’d dismantle my car and then put it back together. Here, I built my own bike. It’s a downhill bike now with full suspension. I think the only original part left of the bike that I bought is the frame. 

Another hobby that I have is photography and filming. So I have a Blackmagic camera. We do a lot of videos and pictures at the bar.

We have different alternatives for different parts of a cocktail. From there we just explore the options, and (think about) the flavour profile we want to achieve. But it’s like bikes. If one works perfectly in terms of tyre profile versus another and I know it’s a bit more expensive, I’ll still pay the extra S$50.

The attention we pay to detail here is crazy. Like Etienne (Francois, director of F&B, Mandarin Oriental Singapore); yesterday midnight, he sent me a picture we took earlier, saying “why don’t we add a bit more colour on this area here.” It’s not even on the picture. It’s on the edge, just to pump up the gold colour of the lights.

If it’s for myself, the last thing I’m going to buy is a phone. I’d rather buy a new tyre for a bike. Or a camera lens.

If I’m not on the way home or going to work, I’m either on a phone, on a PDA (tablet) or a small book.

I do drag racing in the Philippines. That’s the competitive side of myself. 

On my car, it’s a close gear ratio. So the closer the ratios the more torque that you have. It’s not about how fast you can go, it’s about how far you can push off. I tried to bring that to the bike. I try to make sure that the cranksets and the chainring are as close as they can. This brings me back to cocktails. The closer the flavour profile (of the elements), the more balance you get. If you’re using a strong flavoured spirit, you need a strong-flavoured ingredient. And then you need a strong sugar to back them up.

The Negroni is a ‘perfectly balanced’ cocktail: one part gin, one part Campari and one part sweet Vermouth. And then you have your perfect aperitif – Negroni, on the rocks.

I’m trying to explore more; like how to get better at the interaction experience of the bar. It’s always about breaking boundaries, trying to explore, trying to find new ideas. 

You will always hit a dead end. So you need to explore other lanes.

We’re working closely with Edible Garden City now. We’re trying to have a small project of having our own garden here. Hmm, microgreens, why not? So you might see me gardening soon, I guess. Maybe not only gardening; I’ll go into roasting, poultry, or sourcing my own milk. It goes on and on.

Exploration is always ongoing. That’s what keeps us moving forward in terms of projects. And also building people and how they can be a better version of themselves. Like in 2008 when I came here and I was only a bartender, not knowing a lot of these things: “We have a new colleague now, how can we build him so he knows his potential while he is working here?”

I’m in a position where I can inspire a young Filipino in the Philippines, telling them it’s ok to be a bartender, telling them it’s ok to work in hospitality. There’s a mindset that bartending or hospitality-wise is a not-so-fulfilling job.

I’m constantly trying to find ways to make life better. World peace!

Adrian besa mo bar
Make the Theriaca, your antidote to a bad day. Photo by Studio Daydream

By Adrian Besa

“It’s all about finding the perfect cure, you know, even when on a ‘slacking off’ day. It’s the perfect cure for sickness. Simple, elegant, full of flavour, and rich. It’s about the balance between the spirit, sugar, cordial and bitters.”

45ml kaffir lime-infused gin (1)
25ml kaffir lime cordial (2)
2 dashes of lime bitters

Stir and strain into a Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with a kaffir lime leaf.

(1) Kaffir Lime-Infused Gin
500ml St. George Botanivore
1 whole kaffir lime peel

Combine ingredients in a bottle and store it for three to five days. Shake every 12 hours to agitate the infusion

(2) Kaffir Lime Cordial
100g water
100g sugar
1 whole kaffir lime peel
5 kaffir lime leaves

Simmer till sugar dissolves. Add in the kaffir lime peels and leaves. Let it cool before straining it into an empty container.

MO Bar
5 Raffles Avenue
Singapore 039797
Tel: +65 6885 3500