JOHOR BARU, May 7 —A cornucopia of cocktails awaits. Some have names that beguile (“Rozu”) or bemuse (“Ugly, But Beautiful”).

Others seem ordinary until you taste it. The plain sounding “Yam” turns out to be a creamy blend of corn, yam, ginger and coconut milk, topped with a whisky corn chip.

“Oolong” isn’t your kopitiam brew but a cocktail made with Phoenix Dancong Jiang Hua Xiang, a tea that has been double charcoal fired, then mixed with centrifuged banana juice for sweetness, and a bay leaf aftertaste.


What cocktails! What a bar!

This is Shuǐ — a cocktail bar in Johor Baru co-founded by Vinc Pow in November 2022. The drinks are expertly crafted but mixology, he will be the first to acknowledge, is still a new realm for him.

However, owning a cocktail bar does appear to utilise a couple of Pow’s strengths: design and F&B (food and beverage).


'Yam' (left). The sleek and minimalist bar (right).
'Yam' (left). The sleek and minimalist bar (right).

The 32-year-old explains, “I had studied interior design in Singapore and before I launched Shuǐ, I used to co-own a few cafés in JB.”

Having moved on from these early ventures, Shuǐ is Pow’s focus nowadays.

Located in the old neighbourhood of Taman Pelangi, the bar itself exudes a sleek and minimalist vibe. Perfect for conversations over cocktails, and perhaps a monochromatic dress code.

Behind the bar is a long shelf filled with a selection of different distillates. These, Pow shares, are “to make our drinks layered and full of flavour.”

Every element adds up to an assured, curated whole. It’s certainly the ambience Pow appreciates as a patron of cocktail bars before opening his own.

He recalls, “Nine years ago, I went to a bar in Singapore and the bartender served me a totally crystal clear drink. So well balanced with a lot of flavour. It really amazed me!”

Vinc Pow, co-founder of Shui (left). Selection of various distillates (right).
Vinc Pow, co-founder of Shui (left). Selection of various distillates (right).

That was when Pow went down the rabbit hole of learning about everything related to cocktails, including the clarification of different ingredients.

Clarification, Pow explains, is an arsenal of techniques a bartender would use to change how a cocktail looks or tastes. Even the drink’s texture can be altered, as suspended particles in the liquid are removed or trapped through methods such as filtration and gelation.

The result? Cocktails that appear “clear as water” yet taste confidently complex.

This love of clarified cocktails might also offer a hint to the name of the bar. Shuǐ (水) means “water” in Chinese, after all.

Pow further shares: “I want to serve my cocktails as a drink you can enjoy daily. It’s not about the gimmick or a performance. Instead, just like how you drink water, it should be a normal and very easy activity — to taste the flavour and enjoy its simplicity.”

Yet his claims of simplicity shouldn’t be taken as a declaration of a barebones bar. There is a lot more going on than is immediately obvious.

'Ugly, But Beautiful' (left). 'Rozu' (right).
'Ugly, But Beautiful' (left). 'Rozu' (right).

Take the house distillate mix, for instance. Made with ylang ylang, false cardamom, mock orange, lemon peel, juniper berry, citric acid and Malbec, it has a floral and dark fruit aftertaste.

Some cocktails even use homemade ferments such as their lacto fermented shiitake mushrooms; one batch was fermented for eight days with two per cent coffee grounds, resulting in a complex Marmite and ikura flavours.

Again, the drinks might appear simple, but the taste is complex.

Pow says, “To make our cocktails, we are using many different clarification methods and processes for our ingredients. We try to create more layers of flavour in our drinks as we are totally in love with very adventurous cocktails.”

Given this passionate assertion, you might be wondering if Shuǐ has any signature cocktails. The answer might surprise you: There aren’t any.

Pow explains, “We always trust that different people have different palates. The work of a bartender is to find a suitable cocktail for you, not create a signature cocktail and ask you to accept it.”

The house distillate mix has a floral and dark fruit aftertaste.
The house distillate mix has a floral and dark fruit aftertaste.

Which isn’t to say the crew behind the bar concocts drinks on the fly. For Shuǐ’s current menu, they are serving cocktails inspired by Malaysian ingredients.

Tropical flavours abound. “Pandan” features coconut oil fat-washed rum, gula Melaka kombucha, and Rosso vermouth, resulting in a strong and sweet cocktail.

There are also seasonal drinks, such as “Snowfall” from their Christmas special menu. Notes of oregano, leek and mangosteen — who would have expected manggis in a cocktail! — in a heady toddy topped with lemon foam.

“We are working with two different farmers to create our drinks,” says Pow. “Each has its own character and we try to make all of them different!”

This depth of engagement with the local community of fellow food producers might conjure up an image of smooth sailing operations from day one. Pow swiftly quashes that notion.

“When we first started, it was quite challenging,” he says. “Basically we didn’t have any bartending experience or know-how on managing a cocktail bar before opening Shuǐ. We had to figure out everything ourselves!”

Some cocktails use homemade ferments such as lacto fermented shiitake mushrooms with coffee grounds.
Some cocktails use homemade ferments such as lacto fermented shiitake mushrooms with coffee grounds.

Fortunately for Pow and his team, the F&B industry in JB is a tightly knit one. Given their prior experience in running various cafés and eateries, part of the learning process was adapting what they had learned before into their new venture.

Pow adds, “After a year and half, we made a lot of good friends as well as customers who helped us a lot. That’s how we overcome all our challenges and we are still very grateful to them.”

With this shared experience, Pow and his team hopes that Shuǐ can continue to collaborate with other partners, be it in the food industry or even other fields like fashion.

Pow shares, “We don’t want Shuǐ to just be a cocktail bar. We want it to be a lifestyle for everyone.”

Conversations over cocktails, anyone?

'Snowfall' (left). Conversations over cocktails (right).
'Snowfall' (left). Conversations over cocktails (right).


25-03, Jalan Sri Pelangi 3, Taman Pelangi, Johor Bahru



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