It’s been a long time coming but Jay Moir (Layla Eatery & Bar) and his gang have finally flung open the doors to their much-anticipated new garden craft cocktail bar Summer Experiment.
And it has been well worth the wait.
Summer Experiment is more than just another cocktail bar.
It’s a commitment to the craft of bartending and cocktails on a level that we’ve never seen before in Saigon.
That makes it a trailblazer, so expect the competition to follow.
The cocktails start from VND160,000 for creations like the Peanut Butter Jelly Time, a cheeky throwback to the flavours of our childhood, made with Canadian Club whisky infused with Dalat peanut butter, raspberry jam, Angostura bitters, cherry bitters and even some mini toast for some crunchy texture between sips.
But if you’re keen to spend a bit more on your tipple, you can go for cocktails like the Eternal Legacy (VND240,000), a floral number that uses Bacardi 8 rum, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, dry ginger ale and rhubarb bitters that will surely get your tastebuds singing like the birds at the first sign of Spring.
While it’s true that each of Summer Experiment’s 27 signature cocktails has a generous shot of Jay’s hallmark creative DNA cutting through them, this isn’t merely Layla 2.0 or its flowery offshoot.
It’s a whole new craft; the result of months and months (even years) of experimentation, trial and error.
Central to the concept is a respect for ingredients that is unrivalled among cocktail bars in Saigon.
Each ingredient is considered for how it can elevate the flavour and appearance of a cocktail, not just because the manual says it should be in there.
And then there’s its provenance.
Not only are all the ingredients 100% locally grown and from farms in Dalat in Vietnam’s southern central highlands region, they are also grown in the bar itself.
As much of the space (caters for up to 70 people) is used as practical to grow herbs and botanicals that will ultimately end up in a drink.
While outside along one balcony wall grow even more ingredients that are lovingly cared for until they are literally given the chop and find new homes in drinks as well.
A small longan tree that produces edible fruit (yep, more source drink ingredients) from the same tropical tree family as lychee and rambutan, was even craned into position from the ground level three floors below to top up the ‘summery’ vibes.
When it flowers then fruits, that will be something to see.
Speaking of summer, the menu is laden with the taste of it, which is exemplified by playful drinks like the Bananas Be Smoking (VND180,000) comprising whiskey-infused dried banana leaf, Flor de Cana Spresso, banana liqueur, home-made coconut condensed cream, smokey dried banana peel and finished with a mini-banana coconut peanut ice-cream.
Even head bartender Thep (Jay’s trusted right-hand man and confidant) has been enshrined on the menu with his award-winning Melon Of Steel (VND190,000) cocktail comprising Ketel One vodka, watermelon, pickle juice, lime juice, simple syrup, watermelon soda, dehydrated watermelon mist, Vietnamese mint, pickled watermelon rind and watermelon seeds.
The drink draws inspiration from a growing awareness in Vietnam of the importance of aiming for zero waste practices in hospitality. It includes the ambition of creating more sustainable cocktails in an industry that has sometimes been accused of its throw away culture.
Thep’s cocktail ultimately won him the Diageo World Class Vietnam bartender competition this year.
In all, Summer Experiment speaks of synergy – meaning the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Everyone and everything involved has an integral role to play. Even for guests it’s hard for them not to get swept up in it.
Much like in the way the environment works, important elements come together to create something that is both remarkable and beautiful, and therein lies the craft. – Matt Cowan
10 Things You Can Expect From Summer Experiment
1. Hand-crafted cocktails with ingredients that are in them for a reason, not just to taste “nice”
2. An emphasis not only on how the cocktail tastes but an appreciation of the whole experience
3. Complexity of flavours but not to a point where it’s lost on the average cocktail lover
4. Lots of ‘unusual’ natural ingredients that you may never have considered to put in a cocktail
5. Liqueurs, barrel-aged cocktails, craft infusions, botanicals and more botanicals
6. Bar stools and other ‘pre-loved’ materials that have been given a new lease on life
7. Award-winning well-trained local staff who know their cocktails
8. Drinks for everyone. Don’t feel like a cocktail? Have a beer or a glass of wine instead over some delicious sharing plates for dinner
9. A different crowd from Layla. You’ll go to Summer Experiment to experience and experiment
10. It’s not a faze or fad. What’s happening at Summer Experiment is the future, especially given current discussions around climate change and sustainability in hospitality
Happy Hour Mon. to Sat. 5pm to 8pm. VND99,000 for select cocktails
Words by Matthew Cowan. Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon
Photos by Mike Palumbo. Follow Mike on Instagram at @mikepalumbo_
For more information about Summer Experiment, visit https://www.facebook.com/summerexperiment/
Summer Experiment is at 77-79 Ly Tu Trong St., District 1, HCMC (access through narrow ground floor door, along a short passage, then up flights of stairs)
Summer Experiment’s Garden Craft Creations