Words by: Ian Cameron
Tim 'Rusty' Barnes grew up in Australia's Barrossa valley but cut his bartending teeth in Nottingham and Manchester before departing for India, the Philippines and Singapore, where he is now running a luxury whisky bar.
The traffic and the noise is the first thing that struck me arriving in India. Anyone who has ever been there will understand how your senses are completely swallowed as soon as you step outside the airport. I was there ahead of the World Class Global Final in Delhi in 2011 as a Diageo Bar Academy trainer. Living in India you have to adopt a more relaxed attitude to life. I saw new realms of lateness - bartenders arriving five hours late for the beginning of a course. I couldn't understand it at first but you have to adapt. Somehow we managed to train nearly 1400 bartenders in three months.
The Indian cocktail scene is full of contrasts. A rooftop bar at the top of a hotel in Bangalore might be extraordinarily decadent but be completely alien to the poverty outside; some bartenders wouldn't know what vodka was or how it differed from rum, but then you'd find those who could tell the Johnnie Walker story and knew how Zacapa was aged. You can't get hold of some products in India, so ahead of World Class we made our own Benedictine and Campari substitutes - we had amazing spices on our doorstep, cinnamon quills a foot long - and fantastic domestic spirits like Amrut. I think we did have an impact: when we left I saw better standards and more solid techniques.
The Philippines bar scene is emerging a bit slower than other nations. Certainly there are some clubs catering to the elite market, but in general appreciation of cocktails is lacking - every time they were like 'more sugar, more sugar'. But there's clearly a lot of potential and I wasn't the only western person consulting there - some New York consultants had left an imprint, including Michael McIlroy from Attaboy, or Milk & Honey as it was then. The local white rum is actually really good, and ridiculously cheap. The natural beauty of the Philippines is incredible, I had some great surfing trips. Manila is another 'traffic' place though - on a Friday afternoon a journey that might take 15 minutes can take three hours.
I'm now living in an exciting region in an emerging market and am at the centre of what people are enjoying. After so much time on the road it's nice having something regular and a place to call home - sure, hotels can be nice, some are beautiful and decadent, but in another I was woken by cockroaches. I came here originally to help open Cufflink Club and in February I took over as GM at B28, a single malt whisky bar. There's a huge appreciation for fine spirits here that can match Sydney, New York and London. As a bartender it's financially rewarding, we are certainly looked after, and there's a lifestyle to be had with your earnings. Certainly western bartenders are sought after as drinkers want to learn and they want bartenders to lead young local teams.
B28 is a very small, 30-seat venue with live jazz that attracts a mix of ex-pats and locals. We have another branch in Seoul that opened five months ago - I travelled there to help train the staff on cocktails and whisky - and we are hoping to open more across South East Asia in the next few years. We have a membership programme for tastings - we have a lot of rare whisky and single cask whisky, sourced direct from Scotland and many independent bottlers, much of which is not available outside our four walls. We've got vintage Laphroaig, Port Ellens, Banff from Douglas Laing and hugely valuable Duncan Taylor bottlings. At times we do see extravagance but, in general, whisky is a more social drink in Singapore and you see things I wouldn't expect back home, like groups of girls in their mid-20s trying four different whiskies from the menu or sharing a bottle between them.
For me, whisky has always been something I'm interested in but recently - even before B28 - it's become far more serious. I'd like to see where that takes me, maybe an ambassadorial role? I love the diversity and how different age bottlings from the same distillery can be so individual, even before you bring in the single cask element. Whisky can be challenging to bring in to Singapore, as customs fees are quite high. That affects other things too - because we are an island, fresh produce such as cherries can sky-rocket in value overnight. But we have our own little safe-keep of whiskies that we can access. Sometimes we'll get a phone call from a member, asking us to pick up six bottles for a private party, and after I've been to the warehouse I'll be sat in the back of a taxi with thousands of dollars of whisky.
Outside of B28, I like the Cufflink Club, the service you get there is excellent. I really like The Library bar, it's very inventive, quirky and the drinks are excellent. I'll go to a La Maison du Whisky for a dram on the weekend, and The Auld Alliance has a whisky library you wouldn't believe. The Tippling Club is a great place to go, and of course there's Raffles, an institution - but you have to be savvy, give a nod to the right person and you can get a hand-made Singapore Sling. At other times I can often be seen drinking a pint of bitter with friends at one of the English-style pubs. What is it they say? You can take the boy out of Manchester...