BISO Cocktail Bar

where to get a drink in George Town cocktail with rosemary garnish

BISO Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang, George Town

Words: Alison Christ
Photos: Monica Tindall

It’s been a little over a year since I moved from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, and this is the first chance I’ve had to join The Yum List on a review. It’s great to be back and to share an afternoon with Monica; that’s always my favourite part of the experience. Today, we will enjoy a relatively new cocktail bar called BISO in George Town, Penang.

Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang Street Entrance
Street Entrance – BISO Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang

There are many reasons to visit Penang, and people love it for different aspects. After 52 weeks on the island, my favourite part, and the thing people are doing on a world-class level, are the cocktails. There are over a dozen top-notch cocktail bars in George Town, including my favourites Chez Chez, The Nest, and Archipelago. I am a creature of habit; I always go back to what I love, so sadly, I missed out on BISO, but I’m thrilled to get a visit in on my last weekend in Penang before I am off to the Land of Smiles. 

Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang Seating Area
Seating Area

BISO is the latest addition to Penang’s cocktail scene, which opened in October of 2023. Monica and I get to spend an early evening exploring cocktails with Kar Ve, the creator and founder of BISO, which takes its name from the local Hokkien dialect to mean “flavour.” It’s my first time meeting Kar Ve, who has a reputation for not being shy on the boozy side of things, most likely coming from her experience working in London. This makes me very happy as nothing disappoints me more than a cocktail lacking in spirit, over-juiced, or sugared up, as you can often find in Asia.    

Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang
Main Bar
Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang
Tables at the Back

The cocktail menu, divided into highballs, sours, and spirit forward, is very cleverly laid out as a calendar, each cocktail representing a different month. Mon and I belly up to the bar to work our way through the year! I am admiring the interior design which is slicked back and sheik on one side and pristine and scientific on the back side. I particularly love the skinny, long black tiles on the bar itself. The back bar is set up deliberately like a lab, as the cocktails focus on some serious techniques involving distillation, centrifugation, clarification, infusion, and various types of fermentations. The drinks are even prepared in chemistry beakers. Kar Ve’s mission is for every drink to harmonize the island’s rich culinary heritage with contemporary mixology techniques.

where to get a drink in George Town Some Serious Cocktail Making Equipment
Some Serious Cocktail Making Equipment

BISO Menu & Prices

We begin in April with the Pearfectly Spiced (RM 48), which is prepared with house-made Umboshi Bourbon. Umboshi is a sweet and salty Japanese pickled plum with my favourite Bourbon Woodford Reserve served in a highball with pear juice and vanilla-infused pear crumbs. These leftover pear crumbs go into the freezer and get coated with dark chocolate used as a garnish, yummo (as my mother would say). There’s no waste making this drink, kind of like nose-to-tail dining or, in this case, as Monica says, “roots-to-leaves drinking”! I love the booziness and spiciness of this. The Umboshi reminds me of the local asam boi (local dried plum). 

where to get a drink in George Town Pearfectly Spiced 
Pearfectly Spiced 
Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang Menu & Prices
BISO Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang Menu & Prices

Marching forward into another highball is the Strawberry Elation (RM 48), which features Sweet basil-infused T&T Straight Wheat Vodka from France, macerated fresh local strawberries, black peppercorn, and cardamom. The liquid is centrifuged to remove all the chunky bits to create a clear and refreshing drink. The strawberry and basil flavours are pure and fresh, and again, I am quite pleased to be able to taste the spirit.

where to get a drink in George Town Something Peachy
Strawberry Elation

September’s Sour is looking sexy in its delicate long-stemmed glass filled with Liquid Herbaceous (RM 50). It’s made of Fords London Dry Gin, balsam pear (a type of bitter melon that balances out the sweetness), elderflower, vermouth, lemongrass, and torched rosemary, which gives the bar a lovely smell. I love the aromatics of this drink and it goes down all too easily.

Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang September's Sour - Liquid Herbaceous
September’s Sour – Liquid Herbaceous

June is a lucky month and has two “sour” cocktails. One is the N.E.O.H. (RM 50), which we are told is a hot seller. We try the other, the O+ (RM 50), a fun spin on the blood type since the drink is deep red from the beetroot-infused gin, liquid gold (which will remain a secret, but we do know that it is matcha-based) and milk punch (clarification happening here). The aroma is appealing, like fresh earth or finely finished compost, and the drink is seemingly healthy. At least, I am trying to convince myself of this. 

where to get a drink in George Town O+ cocktail
O+

Found in the Spirit Forward section is Something Peachy (RM 60), lacto-fermented peach rum, peach distillate (similar to a grappa but made from peaches), Biso house-made Limoncello, Lillet Blanc, cold brew peach and passion fruit black tea. I’ll be honest; I love peaches, but only when they are eaten ripe and pulled off a tree. So, this drink isn’t my cup of tea, but I do enjoy its structure, and for sure, anyone who loves peaches will be happy with this one. We ask for a sip of the limoncello, which is well done and worth trying.

Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang Something Peachy
Something Peachy

Last but not least off the menu is my Birthday month November. Yay! We are getting to try some Magic Mushrooms (RM 60). It’s too bad we are not in Thailand, as these Malaysian mushrooms are only magic in our imagination. It’s also spirit-forward with mushroom-infused vodka, dry vermouth, shio kombu and olive bitters. Kar Ve is very upfront about this; people either love it or not. All of the cocktails require intensive behind-the-scenes preparation, requiring days in advance of prep and fermentation. This drink, in particular, is a labour of love as the fresh shitakes are dehydrated and left to rest for a day, and then the process is repeated two more times. After three days, the shitakes are full of flavour, and then sous vide with shio kombu, a type of kelp from Japan that adds a strong umami flavour. I’ve never had anything like this before, and it’s growing on me sip by sip. I like it more and more. 

Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang Magic Mushrooms cocktail
Magic Mushrooms 

Served after the magic mushroom is a refreshing and delicious green apple and celery sorbet palate cleanser. Kar Ve serves this after the mushrooms because of the intense herbal flavours – it gets your palate ready for the next drink. We are ready!

Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang Green Apple and Celery Sorbet Palate Cleanser
Green Apple and Celery Sorbet Palate Cleanser

While the cocktail list at BISO surely has options for all palates, the team is super happy to make you a dealer’s choice or your personal favourite, which for me is always a mezcal-based negroni or margarita and Mon loves a classic Negroni. Kar Ve makes Monica a classic Negroni, and I get a Spicy Highland Sunset with lacto-fermented capsicum, Mezcal, Whiskey, and Ancho Reyes Mexican Chilil Liquor to finish us off. She shares her Negroni ratio secrets with us (you’ll have to come find out on your own). I love mine, made with one of my favourite mezcals, Machetazo – 100% Agave Cuperata with a spicy twist. The ice blocks are hand-carved in a perfect Rubik’s cube fashion and branded with the Biso mark. Finish us off? It does indeed. What a lovely experience with Kar Ve and the team! We head outside for a fun photoshoot, and we are off to find some awesome Penang local eats.

Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang Spicy Highland Sunset
Spicy Highland Sunset
Biso Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang Negroni with spirit bottles and bartender in background
Negroni

Reasons to visit BISO Cocktail Bar Penang: Small bar, big flavours, boozy cocktails, high-quality ingredients, passionate team, great service and cool vibes. 

BISO Speciality Cocktail Bar Penang
63a, Jalan Magazine, George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Link to Google Map
+60146396321
[email protected]
@biso.pg

BISO Penang Opening Hours
Monday: Closed
Tuesday to Sunday: 7 pm – 1 am

Find more recommendations for gourmet travel to Penang here and stay updated with the latest gourmet happenings around Malaysia here and here.