All Mixed Up MNL: Claude Delima, Principal Bartender at The Spirits Library
by: The Beat Asia
June 06, 2023
Our continent loves a good drink. To cool off from our temperate weather and hot food, you can find us huddled in an airconned bar sipping on something cool, sexy, and clean. To celebrate our boozing culture, All Mixed Up MNL explores the stories behind the city’s famed mixologists, bartenders, and cupbearers who make our tipples and what makes them tick.
A Filipino with ambitions is a Filipino who goes to places and achieves things. None better to describe Claude Delima’s bartending career, which started at an early age and led him to experiences he couldn’t have expected. His guest shifts aren’t in the city, but in different countries. That should tell you what this man can do with a shaker, some ice, and some space to work behind the bar.
These days, he’s grounded by his day job as The Spirits Library’s head drinks honcho. So, when he’s not doing cross-country bar hopping, you’ll see him slinging drinks here in front of the bar’s awesome display of high-end drinks. He’s the bartender who can make you whatever drink you want, and we mean any drink.
But, for now, before leaving for a guest shift at Lumo in Singapore, he sat down with The Beat Manila to tell us a little bit about his career, his time as the Philippine representative to World Class Bartending, and why he’s the guy to seek if you want to drink well.
Can you introduce yourself and a little bit of your history in bartending?
I'm Claude Delima. I am currently the principal bartender for The Spirits Library. I started as a bar back, just cutting limes and lemons, so basically just help for the bartender. After that I started gigs, private events, mobile bars. Then, I started working at Discovery Primea as the head team leader for the bar for the whole hotel. So, I did a little bit of everything from bar backing and washing the glassware. Then, I became the principal bartender of The Spirits Library in 2022.
I want to talk to you about your experience in World Class Bartending. Can you tell us about the competition, from the preliminaries here to the finals in Australia?
World Class is the biggest bartending competition. It's the bartenders’ Olympics because we have people from all over the world. I competed three times already, so this last one in 2022 is my fourth time. In those three times, I never got to perform onstage. I got cut at the first round for the first three years that I tried joining World Class. But, on my fourth, I went straight to the finals.
I was really nervous about that because I wanted to bag the championship already. We started as 30 Filipino bartenders and then down to 14. The first round is a virtual presentation. So, I competed in front of the camera, where I made the drink. What I made [for the second round] is a bit special to me. I partnered with a small coffee shop. Are you familiar with espresso martini, the drink? The espresso, it’s black and brown, right? I made it clear. Crystal clear. As clear as water.
And then for the third [and final] round, we were tasked to make two drinks, one aperitif and one digestif. I chose to do a Filipino-style drink. The cocktails were named “Pagsidlak (sunrise)” and “Takipsilim (sunset).” So, sunrise and sunset, aperitif and digestif, right?
“Pagsidlak” is basically whiskey with pomelo tepache. I used pomelo, which is our Filipino grapefruit, and [fermented it for two weeks]. I added water, black pepper, and Szechuan pepper. It’s a serious aperitif since the numbness from the Szechuan pepper is going to make you feel famished. It’s also a very acidic drink, owing to the fermentation process.
For the sunset drink, “Takipsilim,” I made an inverted New York Sour where the layering represents sunset. It's also whiskey with lemon aquafaba. Aquafaba is chickpea water. It’s vegan style because some bartenders use egg whites. And some guests really don’t like egg whites. So, that’s the alternative. Then, I added spiced port wine reduction and the special ingredient—chartreuse-washed mozzarella cheese. Chartreuse is a liquor and I washed it with mozzarella.
I got that idea because whenever I eat at a samgyeopsal place, I never eat cheese. So, it’s always left uneaten and if left for long, it produces this oil. In bartending, there’s this thing called fat washing. Anything with oil, I can infuse it with alcohol. So, when I saw what’s happening to the cheese, with the oil it produces after being heated for so long, I realized that I can wash it with alcohol to get the taste that I want. So, it turns out to be a very savory drink that has a hint of saltiness because of the mozzarella cheese runoff.
Since we’re in the subject of going international as a bartender, when you’re asked to guest shift in a foreign country, do they expect you to bring Filipino-themed drinks or it’s more about your profile as a World Class-competing bartender?
Usually, I get invited because of my title. So, at the end of the day, they really want to taste my drinks and see how I make my drinks. But, just by inviting Filipino bartenders, they already acknowledge our capabilities. They want to see how creative and balanced the drinks are.
For the past six months, I’ve been to so many countries as a bartender. Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam. What they expect from me is my drinks. So, every time I go to a bar, they really want to sample my drinks immediately. A part of it is because they want to know my drinks, so they know what they will be serving. But, I also noticed that they really want to taste my signature drinks. And as Filipino bartenders, we have to bring something Filipino. So, when we go to a different country, we always bring something local.
Let’s switch to something local. What’s the biggest difference between Manila’s cocktail scene now and how it was before?
The first thing is the creativity of the Filipino bartenders. Back then, all the drinks were by-the-book kinds of cocktails. That was all I saw when I started as a bartender. Now, it’s so creative that I can say, proudly, that we can match other countries when it comes to cocktails. We didn’t use to be on par with them because we didn’t have the equipment, but now, we’re really creative, even the younger bartenders.
What makes working in The Spirits Library different for bartenders?
The Spirits Library is a dream to work for bartenders. We have a large collection of alcohol, and customers can taste each one of them. In addition, when I go to a different bar, I usually see three to five bottles of the same kind. In The Spirits Library, there are 10 to 15 other bottles from different labels. That’s the advantage of The Spirits Library. As for the drinks, we really want to make specialty drinks. But, we tell our guests that we can make them classic and bespoke cocktails. The customers usually opt for the bespoke cocktail.
That’s our edge: you make the idea in your head and we’ll make it for you. But, for me, the most important advantage of The Spirits Library is that we converse with our guests. Our bar takes ¾ of the room, which would be a waste in other places, but what it does is it induces conversations with our guests. They’re all sat down in front of the bartenders, and it encourages them to talk to the bartenders.
So, if I want anything from the Boston Guide, the bartenders at The Spirits Library can make it?
Yes! Just need to do a little bit of research in case we’re not familiar with the drink.
The strangest request I got is a Doctor Strange drink. At the time, Doctor Strange was really famous and this customer said that he’ll see the film the next day. I wasn’t able to incorporate everything, but I still told him that I’ll serve him the drink. I even did Doctor Strange’s gesture while serving the drink!
Opinion time: do you think there is a place for single malt whiskey in the Filipino drinking culture? As a drink that is famously needed to be savored, is it something that Filipino drinkers, who often finish the bottle on the same night they open it, can appreciate?
The normal Filipino drinker can’t appreciate that because they haven’t tried the big, expensive brands yet. Still, for me, there is a place for it. But as bartenders, we need to educate them. My take is that if Filipinos don’t know it, then we need to introduce it.
Before we close it out, please tell us what’s a signature Claude Delima drink?
It’s really the “Pagsidlak” drink. It’s the drink that put my name on the map. It’s because I’m one of the few Filipino bartenders who used a Filipino term that even a lot of Filipinos aren’t familiar with! It really made a mark among Filipino drinkers that whenever they hear someone say “Pagsidlak,” they think that’s Claude’s drink. Each and every time.
Thank you so much for sitting down with us!
You’re welcome and this piece just came at the right time because May is my birthday month!
Enjoyed this article? Check out our previous All Mixed Up profiles here.
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