Asawin Rojmethatawee, the owner of Tep Bar in Bangkok’s Chinatown, intended his bar to be a “cultural bar of Thailand” with Thai-rooted drinks, decor, music and food. As a general rule, Tep Bar does not serve classic cocktails, but the Mantra is an exception, born from a “sneak attack” from a well-known bartender who came into Tep Bar one night and ordered a Negroni. Bowing to hospitality, one of Tep’s bartenders combined ginger and date-infused Mekhong with Campari and sweet vermouth, creating the Mantra.
First produced in 1941 in a distillery once run by the Thai government, Mekhong is distilled from a co-ferment of 95% molasses and 5% rice and then blended with native herbs and spices and sweetened with honey. It’s named after the Mekhong River that flows from China through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia to Vietnam, and it’s the closest thing Thailand has to a national spirit. Its characteristic color comes from added caramel rather than barrel aging, and though it’s closer to a spiced rum than any other liquor, generations of Thai drinkers have erroneously referred to it as whiskey.
As it’s closer in flavor profile to a whiskey than a gin, it might be more accurate to say the Mantra is a twist on a Boulevardier, the Negroni’s darker hued sibling. Regardless, if you can’t get your hands on Mehkong but want to make the Mantra, using a spiced rum will get you the closest approximation. After you’ve had your fill of the Thai twist on the Italian classic, you can use the ginger-infused Campari to add some spice to other drinks. Something like a Jungle Bird or a variation on it, like the Italian Bird, would work especially well with a touch of ginger to enhance the Tiki aspects.
- 1 ounce Mekhong (or spiced rum)
- 3/4 ounce Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth
- 3/4 ounce ginger-infused Campari*
- Garnish: medjool date
Add the Mekhong (or spiced rum), sweet vermouth and ginger-infused Campari to a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled.
Strain into a chilled rocks glass.
Garnish with a medjool date.
*Ginger-infused Campari: Combine 750 milliliters of Campari and 5 grams of peeled ginger in a sealed container. Store in a cool, dry location for at least for at least 18 hours, agitating occasionally. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bottle.