Juan YiJun: Operation Dagger (Singapore)

YiJun is a bartender at Operation Dagger in Singapore. She makes two cocktails for us, one with Rye Whiskey and Bee Pollen and the second with Tequila and Chocolate.

Juan introduce yourself
I’m YiJun from Operation Dagger in Singapore. I started in the F&B industry at the age of 16, while I was still in school. I then went on to study graphic design, but continued to work in a bar part-time. After I graduated I worked as a designer for a while, but hated being stuck in an office. I realised I could merge my two passions and that my part-time job and graphic design could work together, so I looked at the most creative bars in Asia and applied for a job in Tippling Club. That place was amazing and chef Ryan was a huge inspiration for me, as was Zac who was an incredible mentor and now works at Crackerjack. After Tippling Club I worked at Ding Dong, until three years ago when I met Luke Whearty who I just clicked with and initially was hired to work with on the branding of Operation Dagger. We soon realised we had the same attitude to art and design and I stayed to work as part of the bar team here. Everything in this bar is a part of all of us… the art, the drinks, the food, the interior, everything.

The classic you want to show us
Bee Pollen Refashioned
30ml of House Blend Rye Whiskey
30ml of House Blend Bourbon
10ml of Gum Syrup
10g of Bee Pollen Granules
1 dash of Abbots House Bitters
1 dash of Angostura Bitters

The bar you dream of
I’ve been thinking about that for a long time, but to be honest I love Operation Dagger so much I can’t imagine leaving. If I did have a dream bar, it would be exactly the same as this (art installations, cocktails based on flavours rather than spirits and food), but with a bigger kitchen to allow us the freedom to play and offer a larger menu. I also used to play music, so I’d love a space where I could make and play music. I would definitely stay in Asia, maybe it would be in Tokyo and I would like to go in a more high-tech direction. I just want to make a creative space where people could experience something they wouldn’t find anywhere else.

What do you do in your time off
I tend to read a lot or spend my spare time researching food, drinks and art. If I do go out, my go to bars are 28 Hong Kong Street, Manhattan and Skinny’s.

The spirit you like the most
We don’t really work with particular spirits here, we work on flavours and distill our own alcohols. Right now I love toasted sesame distillate. We toast sesame seeds in a pan and combine with a neutral spirit in the rotary vacuum. That’s my favourite at the moment.

What makes a good cocktail
Everyone says balance, but it’s so true. I’ve also learnt that seasoning is really important too. I use salt and sugar a lot in drinks as it makes such a difference.

What ingredient do you enjoy using in cocktails
I had a small obsession with tomatoes this year. You can use them to make a drink sweet or savoury. I’ve been fermenting them, making tomato wine and tomato water. I think everyone’s sick of me talking about tomatoes.

The signature cocktail you want to show us
Hot and Cold
30ml of infused Pineapple and Lavender Tequila
20ml of Agave Nectar
3 wedges of Pineapple
2 wedges of Lime
White Chocolate and Coconut Foam

Where do you think we need to go to interview another bartender
Go and see my first mentor Zac at Crackerjack in Singapore. You have to talk to Leo at Skinney’s, it’s loud and messy but everyone loves it. Check out Native and speak to Vijay and Tippling Club and Manhattan are a given.