Drinking deep in the funk zone: just how savoury and funky can cocktails be?

This detailed Som Tum recipe from Bangkok-based bartender Pae Ketumarn digs in deep.

Drinking deep in the funk zone: just how savoury and funky can cocktails be?
Pae Ketumarn, the bartender behind the adventurous drinks list at F*nkytown.

When it comes to cocktails, there’s a lot of sameness these days. And it’s perhaps not a bad thing: whether it’s drinks on big clear blocks of ice in a minimalist glassware (of which, for what it’s worth, I’ve drunk many), or just about every long drink dispensed from a carbonation rig, it’s mostly a signifier that we live in an era of Good Drinks Are Mostly Everywhere.

But what if you want something a little different? There’s only so many clarified, somewhat acidulated, milk washed drinks one can have before things get all a bit same-same, right?

As I wrote last week, I do think savoury drinks might offer a way — some inspiration at least — to shake things up, even if I haven’t yet met many savoury drinks I’d sip a second time. Of course there’s the Bloody Mary and Red Snapper and Caesar variants, and the mighty Gibson? Well, that’s a deliciously savoury Martini in its classic form, and ripe for modern riffing. They’re classic drinks, delicious for a reason.

And I’ve had some savoury drinks that have come close to seeing me order a second: there was a mushroom drink at Native in Singapore a few years back, which tasted good, but was more mushroom velouté than beverage. I don’t usually go for two soup courses. I rarely order even one.

But I do like that there are bartenders out there expanding the array of flavours we can drink. I hold out hope.

That’s why I emailed Pae Ketumarn last week. He’s the bartender behind the adventurous drinks program at newcomer to the Bangkok bar scene, F*nkytown. The clue to what drives the drinks is in the name, too: their menu comes with a funkiness rating for each cocktail.

The bar at F*nkytown, Bangkok. Photo: Supplied
The bar at F*nkytown, Bangkok. Photo: Supplied

For instance, at the less funky end of the spectrum, you’ll have drinks like the Blondie Sour with a funkiness of 1: Maker’s Mark, seasonal honey, beeswax, up-cycled lemon, and egg white. Pretty conventional and straightforward cocktail territory these days.

But at the upper end of the funkiness score, you’ll have drinks like the Som Tum — you can get the full recipe for this below. The Som Tum is inspired by the Thai salad of the same name, and features a spicy som tum cordial, Roku gin, fish sauce caramel, honeyed wine, and dried shrimp — and a funkiness rating of 5.

Now, I am not saying we have never seen drinks draw on food dishes for their flavours before, but there does seem to be some renewed interest in that area. And while F*nkytown hadn’t opened when I visited Bangkok last year, so I don’t know how the drink tastes over the bar, Pae does have The SG Club in Tokyo and the excellent Sober Company in Shanghai on his resume, so you can assume he knows what makes a good drink.

In the chat below, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, Pae tells me how they’ve gone about taking these savoury, funky ideas from food and implementing them into craft cocktail beverage form. And you can grab the recipe at the end — perhaps it’ll provide a jumping off point for your next drink.

Pae, Can you describe the flavour of the Som Tom — what’s the experience like of drinking it?

The Som Tum cocktail consists of a spicy Som Tum cordial, Roku gin, fish sauce caramel, honeyed wine, and dried shrimp. This drink promises a more adventurous and intense experience, given its higher funkiness level. The combination of spicy Som Tum cordial, fish sauce, and dried shrimp provides a complex interplay of savoury, spicy, and umami flavours. The addition of honeyed wine introduces sweetness, creating a harmonious balance of diverse tastes.

You use a lot of savoury ingredients (like fish sauce) — what’s some advice for other bartenders wanting to incorporate these flavours into their drinks? How do you ensure that funky flavours still work in a beverage format (as opposed to food)?

When crafting beverages, it’s essential to consider the balance of ingredients and how they contribute to the overall concept of the drink. Take, for example, the Som Tum cocktail. Drawing inspiration from the dish’s use of fish sauce, we incorporated it into the cocktail in two forms: as a caramel and an atomiser. This approach ensures that the fish sauce flavour is present without overwhelming the palate, while the atomiser adds a sensory element, enhancing the drink’s aroma and association with the dish.

Start by getting to know the flavours of savoury ingredients on their own. Then, it’s just a whole load of experimenting; mixing and matching flavours until you find combinations that fit and taste great together. If you want to add savoury flavours, using cordials or infusions is a cool trick as it helps you blend those savoury tastes without them becoming too overwhelming. This way, you get a drink that’s flavourful and balanced.

It’s also important to find balance: to make sure that the sweet, sour, bitter, and savoury flavours all play well together.

How do you know how far to go into the funk zone?

You always have to listen to your customers as a whole. They are the best critics and we take a lot of our findings from their feedback. I would say in the beginning, we wanted to be sure as to not over-funk ourselves with too many strong flavours but once our guests are having fun trying out funny flavours, that is when we start to be able to gauge how much funkier we can go.

What has been the reaction of your quests to the most funky drinks?

So far the reaction has been very positive and even some customers are finding it easy to enjoy the level of funkiness in our funkiest drinks so we’re eager to explore even funkier flavour profiles in the future.

You folks like fish sauce, right? The Som Tum cocktail at F*nkytown. Photo: Supplied
You folks like fish sauce, right? The Som Tum cocktail at F*nkytown. Photo: Supplied

Som Tum


  • 35ml dried shrimp-infused gin
  • 10ml dry vermouth (we use Mancino but can opt for any available choice)
  • 30ml pomelo cordial
  • 10ml honeyed wine
  • 5ml fish sauce caramel
  • 5 dashes chilli tincture
  • 45ml soda water
  • 2 puffs fish sauce spray from fish sauce in an atomiser bottle
  • Garnish with 2 pieces of sticky rice ball and 1 piece of lime wedge


  1. Add all ingredients into a glass and top with soda water and spray the fish sauce spray into the inside of the glass.
  2. Serve with a lime wedge on the rim of the glass and sticky rice balls on the side.

For the dried-shrimp infused gin:

Sous vide 700ml of dry gin with 20g of dried shrimp in a sous vide bath for 2 hours at 65C.

For the pomelo cordial:

1000g of water, 400g of pomelo discards — peels, core, flesh, or by-products from peeling pomelo — 200g of white sugar, and 3g of citric acid are brought to medium heat and let simmer to about steaming and not let boil. Simmer for 15 minutes on low heat. Strain the pulps and solids out and keep it refrigerated.

For the honeyed wine:

150g of honey and 150g of old opened bottle of wine are mixed and simmered on low heat for 10 minutes.

For the fish sauce caramel:

150g of tomato water, 150g of palm sugar, and 5g of fish sauce are simmered on low-medium heat.

For the chilli tincture:

200g of vodka and 20g of red chillis that have been toasted in a dry pan until charred are left to infuse for 24 hours.

Recipe by Pae Ketumarn, F*nkytown, Bangkok.