Theo Watt will often refer to the bartending community in Asia as one big family, and when he says family, he means it. “It’s not just about bartenders, it’s the people that are pushing the spirits, the people that are selling the spirits and everybody else in between that are making this industry what this industry is,” he clarifies. His life’s work and resolute passion make him, undoubtedly, the head of this talented bloodline.
Theo Watt is the founder of Thirsty Work Productions & DRiNK Magazine, Asia's leading bar industry publication. “I wanted to create a vehicle that would come out every two or three months, that would give as many reasons as possible for bartenders to fall in love for what they do,” Mr. Watt remembers.
Today China’s bar culture is booming, but it wasn’t always this way. Mr. Watt has been living in the country for eleven years now. He recalls that being a bartender used to be merely about getting a paycheck at the end of the day. But the movement was very young, there weren’t many bars making proper classic cocktails, and they were far behind on new trends. The possibilities were boundless. “Everything that we could do was something in the right direction", notes Mr. Watt, "we were building the industry.”
DRiNK Magazine was a means of encouraging change. It was a printed magazine issued in 170 cities within Asia until recently. Now it’s entirely online, and its reach is limitless.
“I wanted to create a vehicle that would come out every two or three months, that would give as many reasons as possible for bartenders to fall in love for what they do,” -Theo Watt, Founder of DRiNK Magazine & DMBA
If a venue was hot, it would be featured. If a new talent began raising eyebrows, it would eventually get profiled. If something was happening somewhere, you read about it in DRiNK Magazine.
The online version is still on point. Recent hot topics like robotic bartenders, durian flavored concoctions, or the current craft spirit revolution are a few examples of the exciting content on Drinkmagazine.asia. Its scope is also broader, it has elevated the beverage scene not only in China, but in the whole continent highlighting venues in Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and the Philippines.
On top of that, the site has a fantastic recipe library; from a classic Ramos Gin Fizz to the Breakfast Martini. DRiNK Magazine might just turn into the other bartender’s little black book.
After his magazine, Mr. Watt’s most meaningful contribution is the DRiNK Magazine Bar Awards, an event that has become somewhat of the Oscars for Asia’s bar universe. “The idea was to bring as many people as we could from every facet of the industry, to celebrate what’s been done in the year... It’s an industry party” explains Mr. Watt.
The DMBA recognizes excellence and merit in more than twenty categories, including bar decor, service, music, wine programs, cocktails, and more. The coveted Bartender of the Year award is indeed a highlight and the beautiful trophies, shaped as cobbler shakers, just help to build excitement around the ceremony. This is serious business, a panel of more than 100 experienced professionals will be selecting the winners.
The awards have also evolved through time, “There’s a big focus this year on sustainability” says Mr. Watt about the 2018 DMBA being celebrated this November in Shanghai.
Even with his hands full, Mr. Watt is already thinking about the future. After a life-changing humanitarian first-hand experience in Sri Lanka, where he helped vulnerable communities, he realized he could leverage his influence to help out even more.
The spirits trade has the resources and the means to help those in need while gaining respect, recognition and brand awareness. And they will have the chance to do it through Mr. Watt's new program based on the DRiNK Magazine Bar Awards. This will change everything.
Mr. Watt’s influence in Asia's drink business is undeniable, and his new focus, and renovated mission, might just be the final step for a well-deserved global recognition. It’s time to grow the family tree. Is the world prepared for a serious drink?
Listen to the interview!
Author: Franco Salzillo, Certified Somm & Wine Writer