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Hong Kong’s Newest Cocktail King

Cocktail wizard John Nugent may be new to the Hong Kong bar scene, but he’s already made a splash with his innovative twists on cocktail classics. In the past, Nugent’s skills have seen him win a number of prestigious mixology competitions including Cocktail Wars and the Cognac Experience Cocktail Competition. Now head mixologist for Lily & Bloom, Nugent sat down with Drinks World recently to talk about his move to Asia, making new friends and his take on the Hong Kong cocktail industry.

DRINKS WORLD: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in the industry?

JOHN NUGENT: I was a barback for a large upscale seafood restaurant in Seattle. I decided I wanted a change and moved to the east coast, to Boston, Massachusetts. It was in Boston that I really started to learn my craft as a bartender.

DW: It’s often a goal for bartenders to own their own bar or work overseas. On the latter, what steps do bartenders need to take to obtain a bartending gig abroad?

JN: Patience and due diligence. You not only need to apply for the job you want but, also, the industry has to feel that you’re qualified for the job as well. It was somewhat of a long process, but it worked out well and here I am.

DW: What made you make a move over to Hong Kong? What attracted you to work in this market?

JN: I had never been to Asia until now and I wanted to be taken out of my comfort zone.  Hong Kong attracted me because it seemed that it was a city paving the way for the future in many fields, but also refusing to lose some of its old world charm.

DW: You’re working at Lily & Bloom in Hong Kong, have you come across any significant differences regarding palate profiles, bar service, etc.?

JN: People have told me that Hong Kong palates tend to be sweeter but I feel every time I give someone a balanced classic cocktail, they seem to love it. In regards to bar service, there are some subtle differences, but usually I’m the student learning from my bar team. I love the bartenders I work with. We are learning so much from each other.

DW: How have you found the Hong Kong hospitality community? Am I hoping they have welcomed you with open arms?

JN: The hospitality community in Hong Kong has been amazing for me. Proof & Co. and Lily & Bloom were incredibly helpful and inviting after my initial move here. Since then, I have been added to text threads, Facebook pages, and have the ultimate privilege to be roommates with Ana Souza (lead bartender and system manager at The Pontiac). I have felt incredibly welcomed in such a short amount of time and am eternally grateful.

DW: For the people who are yet to meet you in Hong Kong, how would you describe yourself in three words?

JN: I like Daiquiris.