Since opening five months ago, Alchemy GastroPub has been making a splash on the cocktail scene, drawing even the most hardened expats from the safety of their BKK bubble to Toul Tom Pong. Editor Marissa Carruthers and photographer Enric Catala see what all the fuss is about.

_alchemy-gastropub-sPlumes of white smoke billow from a bottle on the bar. As the thick liquid smoke starts to part, the concentration on manager James Reihl’s face becomes apparent as, like an alchemist at work, he puts the finishing touches to his concoction, the Smokey Old Fashioned.

In just a few months, Alchemy and its contemporary Cambodian setting has become the go-to spot for kicking back cocktails. Ranging from all the classics, given an Alchemy twist, to more creative combinations, the biggest challenge faced is settling on which of the 45 cocktails to try.

The Smokey Old Fashioned ($7) is one of the more innovative additions, with the preparation being as astounding as the end result. Woodford Reserve Bourbon, whiskey barrel aged bitters, a slug of maple syrup and a dash of water are mixed together in a vintage glass bottle before being gun-smoked. Here a machine blasts hickory liquid smoke into the bottle, before being poured into a glass and served, smoking.

The result is divine. The liquid smoke enhances the flavours, drawing out strong wood notes that top off the cocktail.

On the simpler side, the Gingerbread Caipirinha ($4.50) pays testament to Brazil’s national drink. Originally concocted as a cure to many ailments in the early 1900s but it has been refined over the years.

Here, cachaça is combined with gingerbread liquor, key lime, gingerbread syrup, apple juice and raw honey. Spicy with a fresh bite, the gingerbread adds a homely taste with the notes of ginger and vanilla complimenting the sweetness of the honey.

The Shaky Jay’s ($5) is inspired by the 2012 cocktail created in a London bar by Pete Jeary AKA Shaky Pete. Using Bombay Sapphire gin, key lime juice, the addition of freshly crushed ginger and gingerbread syrup really lifts the flavour. Topped with Cerevisia craft pale ale, it is refreshing and far too easy to knock back.

Four years in the making, the Bloody Mary ($5.50) is Riehl’s baby. Having been through thousands of versions during his three years blending cocktails in Japan, he has unveiled his Cambodian rendition. The result is a drink that is as pleasing on the eyes as it is to taste.

Serving as the perfect hangover cure, a tall glass is garnished with candy bacon – where has this been my whole life? – a sprig of celery and cherry tomatoes. Vodka, fresh lemon juice and a secret bloody Mary mix of local spices, including Kampot pepper, topped with tawny port, present a savory and spicy delight that demands a repeat visit.

With 41 more cocktails to try, and food straight from the barbecue and kitchen on offer, venturing to the Russian market area after dark has become much more appealing.

36 Street 123, Phnom Penh.
Tel: 077 749 686.