With a career that has spanned Italy, London, Australia and Singapore, there’s no denying that Palmira Bertuca is a bartender of the world. Her latest position as head bartender at Marcello, Singapore has allowed her to harmonise this thirst for travel and adventure with her love of Italian drinking culture – the culture she grew up with and remembers fondly. Drinks World spoke to Palmira recently about the differences in drinking habits around the world, her venue, Marcello, and the growing popularity of aperitifs and digestifs in drinking scenes across the globe.
Drinks World: You started your life and bartending career in Italy. What led you to move to Singapore and how have you adapted to the cultural differences?
Palmira Bertuca: I’ve always loved to travel, and was lucky that my career took me abroad to London in 2013. Since then, I’ve worked in bars across Singapore and Sydney. It’s been an invaluable experience so far, and travelling with my career has taught me so much about the differences in drinking habits across the world.
DW: How, in your experience, does Asian drinking culture differ from European drinking culture?
PB: Typically, when Italians reach the age of around five or six years old, we start going for aperitivo with our parents – of course, we stick to the soft drinks, such as Chinotto, Crodino and Sanbitter, but all of these have the same bitter taste, so we grow up drinking bitters without even realising! On the other hand, those who grew up in Asia tend to discover the bitter taste in their later years, which impacts the culture around drinking them; I think the key challenge I face here is encouraging customers to try these drinks – they’re usually pleasantly surprised!
DW: Your venue, Marcello, has a strong Italian concept. How has this been received by Singaporean consumers?
PB: It’s been very well received! The Singapore bar scene is very vibrant, and there are some amazing bars here, but I think the strong personality of Marcello really shines through.
People in Singapore are always excited to hear about the newest destination on the scene, and are really open to new and exciting experiences, so I think this is why Marcello has been so popular – we offer an authentic Italian experience.
DW: What do you think makes Marcello unique? What do you think it offers the Singapore drinking scene?
PB: Of course, aside from having the largest collection of amari in Southeast Asia, and authentically Italian cocktails, I think the energy of the bar is what makes it unique – it’s super high energy, and yet there’s a really warm and personal approach, which I think is really unique here in Singapore. As I said previously, the drinking scene here is amazing, but I do think Marcello has found its own niche, and there’s really nowhere else like it here.
DW: Marcello proudly stocks the largest collection of amari in Southeast Asia. Being of Italian heritage, have you been a driving force in collecting these digestifs? If so, where does your passion for amari come from?
PB: The fact that Marcello has the largest selection of amari in Southeast Asia is one of the main reasons I was so excited to start this adventure – introducing amari to Asia has its own challenges, but, since I grew up drinking Amaro, it is so ingrained in my heritage (as I said earlier, Italians often begin joining their family for aperitivo at a young age) and I am very proud of Marcello and everything it represents.
DW: In Australia, we’ve seen aperitifs and digestifs become a massive trend in our bar scene. Is it the same in Singapore? If not yet, do you predict it being the next big trend?
PB: Definitely – the aperitivo trend has definitely been growing in Australia, here in Singapore, and also across Europe. I think people nowadays are often looking for a cocktail that is refreshing, tasty, and easy to drink, as opposed to the higher alcohol content drinks that may have been more popular previously.
I think the digestif trend is growing a little slower, but it’s definitely something I see becoming much more popular in years to come.
DW: Do you think Asian consumers and/or the bartending community are aware of how best to serve aperitifs or digestifs? (I.e. that they are designed to be consumed either before or after a meal)
PB: I think so, although I like to believe that there is no rules to drinking or serving amari – nothing is set in stone, so if the customer would like it over ice, straight up, or fresh from the freezer, I think it’s great that people are embracing the drink. It’s actually very versatile, and there are many ways to enjoy it.
From the standpoint of the bartender, amari is such an exciting ingredient as it really allows us to play around with our drinks and flavours, creating bespoke and notable cocktails.
DW: What excites you about serving aperitifs and digestifs in your venue?
PB: I love to watch people’s faces the first time they try amari – initially, they look suspicious, and as they take their first sip they often look very worried. Then, more often than not, their face breaks into a surprised expression, as they realise they actually enjoyed what they drank!
DW: Sustainability in bars and adopting a sustainable approach to cocktail making has been the biggest trend of the past year. What do you predict will be the next big trend in the industry?
PB: Absolutely, I think it’s really important that industry professionals and customers alike recognise the importance of making conscious decisions to protect the environment, and I’m proud that this trend has infiltrated into the bar industry.
I have a feeling that the next big thing will actually be going back to the classics – there’s been such a focus on the craziest cocktail experiences, but I think we will see a trend of going back to simple drinks.