A View from the City: Yangon

05 May, 2016

Hamish Smith speaks to Chan Nyein Soe Owner of Roof Alchemy and Level 2 bars about the Yangon bar scene


Tell us a little about the drinking and bar culture history in Yangon (formerly Rangoon).

The drinking and bar culture in Yangon, Myanmar, is pretty young. As of a few years ago, bars and restaurants have been popping up and young local and international entrepreneurs are starting new initiatives. Cocktail bars and rooftop bars are especially popular in Yangon.

How much has cocktail culture developed among the city’s people?

You can see quite a difference between the local taste and the taste of expats/tourists.

Most foreign people have more drinking experience and prefer classier and spirit-driven drinks, while the Yangon locals are more into the excitement and entertainment of the new cocktail scene and have a different and sweeter palate.

Locals grow up with drinks such as avocado juice, rose milk and sweetened fruit juices, so it is a nice challenge to create cocktails that fit the needs of both locals and foreigners.

What are the cocktail trends right now?

The trends in general are split into two target groups. On the one hand you have classy, speakeasy-style bars and, on the other, more themed and playful bars.

One year ago I started experimental molecular cocktail bar Roof Alchemy in Yangon. Here we try to make a good combination of both preferences.

We use modern techniques, such as banana butter fat washing, smoke injected spirits and aromatic mists.

We make our own lavender foam, homemade syrups and infusions to give the drinks a serious, multiple-layered taste experience, but also play with creative presentations that challenge the five senses and make for memorable moments.

Who and what are the pioneer bartenders and bars?

At the moment you see a few bars hiring experienced bartenders from other countries.

For example, for Roof Alchemy we hired Cocktail Professor (consultancy) from Amsterdam, but the bartenders from Myanmar are very ambitious and that’s why they learn and grow so fast.

Bars are, of course, my own Roof Alchemy and Roof: Level 2, but also definitely Escape, Hummingbird and Gekko.

Also expect some projects of mine that will hit Yangon soon.

Where and to who do local bartenders look for inspiration?

There are not so many liquor brands investing in Myanmar, giving masterclasses or trainings like you can see in other countries. The bartenders mostly don’t have the possibility to travel.

It’s only recently that internet has been widely available, so bartenders are looking to the internet for inspiration.

Myanmar people are really willing to learn and are really thankful if people teach them something.

What are the challenges the city’s bar culture faces?

We don’t have a wide diversity on available spirits, so you have to be very creative with infusions and making your own stuff. It’s the same case with glassware, tools, interior and other items that are so easily available elsewhere in the world.

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