Shanghai Bar Review: Ounce, Straight Up With a Twist

By Sophie Steiner, February 8, 2021

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The Place 

Co-founder Marley Teng of Ounce is the kind of person who proves that passion can trump experience. With minimal background in whiskey, aside from a strong personal interest and hobby for whiskey tasting, he left his previous job, pooled together his extensive personal connection of distillers and opened Ounce in June 2017 – a whiskey library bar focusing purely on the spirit he feels such a deep connection with. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Over time, Ounce has become a meeting place for whiskey lovers and cocktail connoisseurs alike – a spot where both types of people can find exactly what they are looking for.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The upstairs hits the whiskey bar trend on the nose – dark and smoky, chocolate brown leather upholstered recliner loveseats, sultry cover jazz bands playing over the speakers and a spotlight bar lined with over 400 varieties of whiskey, scotch, brandy and bourbon from around the globe. 

This is the kind of place that makes you want to light up a cigar, drop some serious cash and flaunt the inner high-class socialite that lives inside us all. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Last year saw the launch of their second location, Perfume by Ounce – a lively gin bar – just a staircase away. Here, the focus is fully on cocktails, with flavor profiles that match aromatic perfume-like ingredients created via rotovap in their cocktail lab. 

First used in chemical laboratories for solvent removal through evaporation, these mad scientist-looking contraptions are now commonly used in molecular cooking to create concentrated distillates and extracts so that your eyes see one thing, but your mouth tastes something completely different. 

Each of the 30+ drinks fit onto a four-quadrant multi-dimensional graph measuring sweetness, sourness, bitterness and acidity. 

The Drinks 

The tome of a cocktail menu is a bit off-putting. Each page highlights a different drink – mostly classics with a twist – with background information on the cocktail, flavor cues and key ingredients. 

If you’re a cocktail fanatic who happens to know exactly what you want, this could be helpful, but as you fall further down the stiff drink rabbit hole, a page of reading per drink can become daunting. There are also seasonal cocktails that change every few months. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The bar staff, however, are extremely knowledgeable; instead of tackling the reading list, we found it easier to tell them the kind of drink we prefer, and they select from the menu for us or put together a bespoke creation.

There is risk in this, and the stakes are around RMB100 per drink, but if you’re willing to put the fate of your night in the hands of a mixologist stranger, then this is the way to go. We found most cocktails to be cohesive and well thought through, from base liquor to supporting ingredients to garnish. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Upstairs, whiskey by the glass goes for RMB100+ and bottles can range from RMB1,680 and up to RMB5,000 if you’re looking to impress. We even saw a few super rare bottles for RMB10,000+. 

But, the fact that they sport this broad of a selection, despite lacking a long-standing career in the industry, speaks volumes. Imported European craft beer and wine are also available. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

We started upstairs at Ounce before moving our way down to Perfume by Ounce. The standouts include their lineup of barrel-aged cocktails, the true core of their concept as the actual halfway point between a cocktail and straight whiskey. Stronger than your average mixed drink, the complex flavors coupled with the unexpected ingredients make for a memorable tipple. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

In Viva La Vida (RMB105) the Ardbeg 10-year single malt lays the foundation for a heavily peaty drink with a balance of salt from Chinese preserved plum and sweetness from huangjiu (Chinese rice wine). Fruity osmanthus adds another aromatic layer of depth that enhances the whiskey’s complex flavor profile and welcomes newbies to the world of smoky whiskey. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

By using pecorino romano, mozzarella and feta cheese as an infusion base, the resulting Cheese Butter Old Fashioned (RMB110) is a silky, savory cocktail unlike its customarily saccharine counterpart. Topped with a white cheddar wedge and a dash of homemade bitters, this bevvie is equally appealing to those with roots in the dairy state and those with lactose intolerance. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The coconut-infused dark rum in the Bohemian Rhapsody (RMB105) creates a creamy mouthfeel, coupled with homemade coffee vermouth and Kilchoman bramble liqueur for a sultry sip. Flavor and texture embellishments come in the form of a biscuit cookie perched atop a chocolate-dipped, dehydrated orange slice. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Downstairs at Perfume by Ounce, the drinks are more modern with creativity as the driving force. The Earl Gray & Cucumber (RMB100) is the venue’s first signature, bringing together Hendricks Gin, homemade Twinings Early Grey white wine and cucumber juice for a pleasantly fragrant drink that we would just as willingly bottle and spritz on as an enticing scent. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

You can taste the playfulness in the Fig and Pimento (RMB100), compiled by what actually tastes good rather than what is just on trend. Homemade fig pimento tequila sees the addition of plum wine for a pickled pepper spice rounded by honey sweetness.

Paper Planes (RMB100), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The glass is the garnish for the Beetroot & Raspberry (RMB120), as is the case for most cocktails here where glasses are curated specifically for each drink. Botanist gin, raw beetroot juice, Ethiopian coffee and raspberry syrup come together in a ruby-purple chalice, sprinkled with sour, dehydrated raspberry powder. 

The Vibe 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Although two seemingly different concepts in one space, Ounce and Perfume by Ounce are connected by a common sensory experience that is at the forefront of each cocktail. Rather than just using one sense, each drink is consumed by utilizing all five, with equal attention paid to every detail. The complimentary vibe of both spaces creates a synergy that makes you want to gravitate between the two rather than move elsewhere. 

Price: RMB100-300
Who’s Going: Cocktail connoisseurs, whiskey drinkers, the late-night in-the-know crowd
Good For: Tipsy date nights, post-dinner libations, nightcaps

See a listing for Ounce and Perfume by Ounce

Read more Shanghai Bar Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]

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