Proof & Company: the business driving Singapore’s hipster booze transformation

Proof and Company general manager Zdenek Kastanek

Modern Singapore is but 51 years old and, therefore, some aspects of its culture and personality are only starting to make waves on the international scene.

Born out of Singapore’s famous speakeasy-style bar 28 HongKong Street - Proof & Company - is a business that is taking on the Herculean task of disrupting an age-old industry and has consequently helped put the country on the global booze map.

Proof & Company Singapore general manager Zdenek Kastanek spoke to The Drum ahead of the Blis Golden Shaker Awards, which both Proof & Company and The Drum are a partner of.

Kastanek said there was a tipping point in the Singapore bar scene around the end of 2012, where existing business such as 28 HongKong Street and other early pioneers of the new cocktail scene such as restaurant Tippling Club got notoriety globally, landing on best bar and restaurant lists. It spawned a new breed of businesses for the Singapore nightlife scene, ones without big name alcohol brands, a more subtle personality and a focus on quality.

“After the first year of 28 HongKong Street, Cufflink Club and Jigger and Pony launched, and The Library opened just after those guys. It was the second half of 2012 and that’s when it was clear Singapore was onto something.

There’s an ongoing discussion: was Proof & Company a huge part of growing this or was it going to happen anyway? I think it’s a very nice coincidence. It was about to pop and we happened to be here, so together it grew much faster than it would have done with only one part,” he explained.

The business is the supply chain now to all the new and interesting bars in Singapore, helping bring more independent and rare alcohol brands and tools to those wanting to do something different in the Lion City.

It’s not all quirky independents however, the business has just finished a major project with Four Seasons for its new bar Manhattan in the Regent Hotel in Singapore. Kastanek says it took 16 months of work, a duration of which there’s sometimes no revenue as the supplier. The bar was named as #35 in World's 50 Best Bars by Drinks International, helping open Proof & Company up to more large-scale brand projects.

The business is set up in an unusual way. It doesn't have a website or use social media (yet) and relies on word of mouth. Instead of having sales reps that help brands find themselves into the best bars, Proof & Company invested in a creative team. This team consults the bars, advising on the best tools. Kastanek admits that this is something some businesses find hard to understand but a more creative approach is working for some of its partners.

The Gin Jubilee, an event concocted by the Proof & Company marketing team for high-end mixer brand East Imperial has been running for four years in major cities in Asia. It involves events for bars and consumers, the focal point being a Gin and Tonic competition for bartenders.

Part of this success, he says, is down to the openness of the Asian consumer. “The actual customer and guest is open to trying new things in Asia. In London I’d have customers saying ‘I’ve been drinking this for 20 years, I don’t need to try anything else’ and over here it’s the complete opposite.”

The company is now preparing to launch its second bar, Crackerjack, led by one of the bartenders Peter Chua that worked at 28 HongKong Street. It’s also launched a new concept in the ‘bottle shop’ format, creating an apartment that belongs to fictional Proof & Company patriarch Mr E.C Proof.

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