Phu Nguyen aka Phil: Irusu Lounge (Ho Chi Minh City)

Phu Nguyen is the head bartender of Irusu Lounge in Ho Chi Minh City. He makes us two cocktails, one with Bourbon and Lemon and the second with Japanese Whisky and Okinawa Syrup.

Phil introduce yourself
My Vietnamese name is Phu, but I use an English version in the bar which is Phil. I’ve worked in the industry for the last four years. For me, a bartender doesn’t just make cocktails but also transmits their culture through drinks. After that, it’s about service and how you interact with the customers and create a connection. I also love this job because it allows you to travel and you are never alone when you’re abroad. I also enjoy being part of competitions as you have to understand a brand and then you meet a lot of other bartenders from touring the region. That’s why on top of my daily job at Irusu I participate in competitions, like Campari, which I just won for Vietnam.

The classic you want to show us
Whisky Sour
50ml of Bourbon
30ml of Lemon Juice
15ml of Simple Syrup
1 Egg White
2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters

The bar you dream of
My bar will be named Re. As in Refresh, Restyle, Reborn etc and we’ll be based near Dalat to have access to fresh products from the mountains and farms. It would be a small bar for 20 people where you feel at home, like in a living room, with minimal design and no actual bar in it. It would be open from 9 am until midnight. In Vietnam, we drink a lot of coffee, so it’s perfect for the morning crowd with a banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) and we’d serve finger food for people who are hungry during the day. I love to work with fermentation because Vietnam has very good products, especially the herbs, so the idea is to use these products with alcohol. Music would be a mix of classical music and old school hip hop.

What do you do in your time off
In the morning I exercise a lot because you need to stay fit for a long career. Then I go for coffee and read books about chefs or bartenders. At the moment I’m reading Nomas book about fermentation. I also go to the museum to find inspiration for my cocktails.

The spirit you like the most
It would be gin because you can play on the botanicals with Vietnamese flavours. Right now my favourite gin is an Australian one, called Four Pillars Shiraz.

What makes a good cocktail
It’s about listening to the guest. I always ask my guests if they prefer sweet, sour, short or long and from there, you can bring them something they will want. The idea is to match their taste and push them slightly, to discover something new.

What ingredient do you enjoy using in cocktails
I like working with pineapple juice because it is sweet and sour at the same time. When you shake it, it creates foam so it changes the structure and texture too. And let’s face it… most people like pineapple.

The signature cocktail you want to show us
84 Old Fashioned
50ml of Japanese Whisky
10ml of Okinawa syrup (Black Sugar, Ginger and Pandan)
2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters

Where do you think we need to go to interview another bartender
In Ho Chi Minh City you need to go to Cocktail Merchants, which is a new venue. The owner is Vietnamese, but grew up in Australia and used to work at Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour in London. He does a lot of experimentations and organises guest shifts to improve the Vietnamese bar scene. You also need to go to the Alley Cocktail Bar and Kitchen and Rabbit Hole.

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