This article original appeared in Saveur.
Shanghai is one of the world’s most exciting cocktail cities, a humming metropolis of glittering high-rise bars and intimate speakeasies filled with a savvy, cosmopolitan crowd. You are as likely to rub shoulders with a Chinese eco-entrepreneur as an American designer or French photographer on location. Shanghai’s cocktail scene has long sought inspiration from abroad, notably New York, Tokyo, Taipei, and London. But the city’s own cocktail culture has now come of age. A new wave of homegrown Chinese bartenders is emerging, using unique local ingredients to make creations with a sophisticated Chinese accent.
Aromatics used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries—zesty green Sichuan pepper, honey-sweet osmanthus blossoms, cassia bark, and Chinese cardamom—are now finding their way into complex, layered cocktails along with fruits like mulberry-purple yang mei, goji berries, and lychee. Chinese wines and spirits have found a place in the cocktail maker’s lexicon, too, with grain liquor baijiu and smooth amber haungjiu rice wine adding intriguing new flavor to cocktail classics. Shanghai bartender and cocktail competition judge Yao Lu has noticed the trend, too, saying of recent national cocktail bartending championships, “just like in Chinese cuisine there were huge regional variations in the cocktails—spices and mala (the numbing spice of Sichuan pepper) in Chengdu, tropical fruits in southern Guangzhou, classic elegant ingredients in Shanghai and heavy syrups and liqueurs from the colder northern climate in Beijing.”
Here’s where to meet the next generation of cocktail makers and try a taste of something new, in six Shanghai bars of note…