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Beyond Tequila & Soju Shots: We Uncovered Hidden Gems Of Agave & Rice Spirits With Cat Bite Club's Jesse Vida


The first time I met Jesse Vida was at a guest shift showcase at La Maison du Whisky Singapore. The unassuming Jesse is no stranger to the world of high-end mixology. He’s made a name for himself with a 15-year career that spanned across some top bars in San Francisco, New York and the feather in his cap being head bartender at the iconic Atlas Bar Singapore. 

But in this highly competitive scene, Jesse stands out for this refreshingly chill, approachable demeanour and ease with which he interacted with everyone around him. It’s almost like I’m talking to an indie musician—confident yet unassuming, passionate yet relaxed. I ordered a couple of cocktails from him and took the chance to learn more about his new venture with an innovative focus on agave and rice-based cocktails – Cat Bite Club.

We then continued our chat the following week at Jesse’s bar, just an hour before service when the Club is much quieter.


Nuts over agave spirits

A very basic distinction between tequila and mezcal is this: tequila is made exclusively from the sweet, juicy hearts (or piña) of Blue Weber agave plant. In contrast, mezcals are made from a myriad of different agave varietals. Both of these agave spirits are explored at Cat Bite Club.



The agave category is close to the hearts of Jesse and his cofounder, Gabriel Lowe, both of whom began their cocktail-making journey in California since around 2007. When the duo found that there weren’t many great cocktail bars focused on these spirits in Singapore, they decided to go ahead and create one themselves.



The extensive collection at Cat Bite Club certainly reflects this passion. At the moment there are about 150 different agave spirit expressions, many of which Jesse was proud to say, were hand-carried by himself directly from palenques in Mexico, which means you probably wouldn’t be able to find them in Singapore outside of the Club.



Jesse’s team has been pretty committed to quality and authenticity, ensuring that the tequilas used at Cat Bite Club are made from 100% Blue Weber agave, steering clear of mixtos, that is, tequilas that are blended with other sugars.

The diversity of mezcal

As we delved deeper, Jesse's enthusiasm shone through, with a narrative that took us through the remote towns of Mexico, where centuries-old traditions of distillation thrive, often under the radar of the commercial spirit world.



He likened mezcals to French wines – they’re terroir driven. Just as how a pinot noir wine made in different regions can exhibit different characteristics, different palenques (distilleries) using tobala agave can produce different mezcals – factors such as elevation, season and the age of the agave plants can influence the taste, aroma, and body of the final product.

There are about 80 different varieties of magueys (another term for agave) used for making mezcals, not all of them officially registered. Then there’s several hundred madre agaves (specific plants identified for their superior genetic qualities for propogation), with hundreds of thousands of hybrids and variations beneath them.



It's literally a rabbit hole that you could go down forever,” said Jesse.“If you have a chance to travel around Mexico too and you go to these different towns," he said, painting a vivid picture of his own experiences, "they'll be making something that their family's been distilling for generations… Or they'll even have a different name for the spirit – they may not call it mezcal."


Pictures from Jesse's recent trip to Oaxaca.


"Still so much is undiscovered," Jesse mused. "There is still a lot of newness for the category if you are to compare it to Scotch or Cognac."

Rice is currently writing the future of mixology

Soju, shochu and baijiu – Asian spirits that feature rice – are particularly exciting to Jesse too.



It surprised Jesse and Gabriel that there aren’t many cocktail bars in Asia diving deeper into Asian rice spirits like soju and rice shochu and rice baijiu, categories which Jesse firmly believes would feature very strongly in the future of Asian mixology, considering how widely they are consumed.

What excites us about the rice category is that, the future of drinking these spirits in modern cocktail bars is being written right now. We don’t know what a classic cocktail with soju is going to be. It’s exciting, it’s interesting, and often when we talk about these spirits with guests, it’s really their first time understanding them.

A menu to bridge the gap for agave and rice spirits

I asked Jesse what was Cat Bite Club's strategy for introducing drinkers to the less familiar realms of mezcals, shochus, sojus, etc. In response, Jesse whipped out Cat Bite Club's cocktail menu, which I realised was very well thought-out.


The cocktail menu is designed to be simple and accessible, intentionally avoiding the dense technicalities of how mezcals or rice spirits are produced. Beyond two signature concoctions, the Soju Sprint and Cat Bite Margarita, guests receive a simple choice: They could start with a comforting classic cocktail—think Negroni, Espresso Martini, or Brandy Crusta. For those who wish to explore further, the menu tempts with two intriguing alternatives: an agave twist on the classic cocktail, or a variant inspired by rice spirits. This approach provides a reference point and a comfortable starting place for guests.


According to Jesse, drinkers around the world are increasingly appreciating these spirits that were once considered esoteric. Back in the 2000s, mezcals were unknown in the States and tequilas were generally so bad you had to do them in shots taken with salt and lime. But California’s cocktail scene was first to warm up to mezcals. This trend later spread to New York, and eventually, he witnessed a similar curiosity growing in Singapore.

Jesse’s observations are corroborated by market research firms. At least in the US, sales of agave spirits (notably tequila) have been accelerating and are projected to outpace vodka sales within the next couple of years. Describing this trend as “mindblowing”, Jesse confessed that early on he wouldn’t have guessed vodka could be overtaken by any spirit category, much less something that isn’t whiskey or gin. 

It’s coming, it’s only a matter of time that it would become popular here,” Jesse promised, “and Cat Bite Club is here to be a conduit for that.


Jesse’s Recommendations in Tequila, Mezcal, Soju, Shochu & Baijiu

For those looking to explore some interesting spirits at Cat Bite Club that you probably can’t find elsewhere in Singapore, Jesse has given us a quick run-down of a couple of highlights from each category, and what makes each one special to Cat Bite Club!


Cascahuin Tequila Blanco 11 Brix, 53% ABV

Cascahuin is a very beloved tequila producer amongst tequila lovers, and Brix refers to the measurement for dissolved sugar. It’s a blanco tequila which means it can be aged up to eight weeks in neutral containers.

This is one of my personal favourites – it’s just the taste of agave. It’s really intense, it’s dry, it’s spiced, it’s super herbaceous and spirit-forward. The texture’s also really nice with the oils, fatty acids and lipids working really well in there, and to me, that’s a sign of a really well-made spirit.

It’s not for the novice tequila drinker as it’s 53%... but it’s a really beautiful expression.

Siete Leguas Tequila Reposado, 40% ABV

The story goes for Siete Leguas, that one of the nephews of the guy who started Patron was working with Patron, but then wanted to make his own brand. So he started Siete Leguas meaning Seven Leagues as he is an avid horse racer. Just a nice Reposado that is usually aged in used Bourbon barrels anywhere between 8 weeks to 364 days – on average most Reposados are aged 6 to 8 months. 

With the oak you’re definitely gonna get more vanilla and some of that spice from American oak.

While most avid tequila lovers including myself prefer it unaged or blanco for the complexity of the agave, I like aged tequila when I want something a little richer, spiced, soft and easier to drink.”

Tapatio Tequila Extra Añejo, 40% ABV

Tapatio, like Cascahuin, is also a very beloved producer of tequila. They launched their distillery in 1937, and they’re on to the 4 th or 5thgeneration of distillers in the family. This Extra Añejo has been aged for over 3 years.

This one’s really confectionary, a ton of cinnamon, cloves, nice vanillin. This one’s for when you’ve had a great week of at work, hit all your KPIs, d you reward yourself by pouring a nice glass of Extra Añejo.

I actually remember Extra Añejo being introduced as a new category of tequila back when I was bartending in San Francisco. People asked whether it was a bullshit category, but now it’s an established category that everybody understands.”



Mayalen Wild Tobala Mezcal, 47% ABV

Tobalas are wild agaves, so they can’t be cultivated by a farmer. They grow in hard to reach places like thick foresty areas or sides of cliffs. It’s extra difficult to find, and the sugar content is lower.

I love this for being super balanced. I get habanero, jalapenos, a little bit floral, a nice medium-body rich coating. It doesn’t go too far in any one direction. You get a hint of everything, it’s not one dominating flavour. It’s so easy drinking.

Madre Mezcal Ensamble, Espadin & Cuishe, 45% ABV

This is an Ensamble, which means there’s more than one maguey. This one’s made with both Espadin and Cuishe.

Cuishe is from the Karwinski family of maguey, which tend to be more intense, robust, rich, earthy with intense minerality, but this one’s blended with the Espadin, so it’s not overly intense.

Espadin are the most common maguey used to make mezcal. It has a really high sugar yield, so just the smartest business decision to cultivate mezcals from Espadin. It’s the most common and most affordable, so almost always what’s used in cocktails. It doesn’t mean it’s not good of course, but it’s just more common.

Macurichos Mezcal Joven Tepeztate, 48.65% ABV

This is another wild agave mezcal. When I went to Mexico last year, I literally hand carried this bottle from a tiny distillery that’s a three hour drive from Oaxaca. That’s why I’m sure this is the only bottle available in Asia! These guys at the distillery are amazing – it’s all ancestral, hand-crushed.

I should mention that while whiskies age in barrels, the aging of agaves happen in the ground as they grow. For Blue Weber and Espadin agaves, you usually let the agave plant grow for 4 to 7 years before pulling it up. For Tobala and Tepeztate agaves, you can harvest them from 8 years or up to 12, 15 or even 20 years.

Tepeztate tends to taste a bit more funky and raw.



The SG Shochu Kome (Rice), 40% ABV

“This is the SG Shochu, a brand started by Shingo Gokan, the world famous bartender, bar owner. His brand has not officially launched in Singapore but would be coming soon, so he actually gave us these bottles as a gift when we opened Cat Bite Club.

It’s a kome shochu so it’s a 100% rice distillate. Shingo believes that these spirits can and should be used in cocktails today. This one is 40% ABV – generally most people drink shochus and soju that are around 25 – 30% ABV. The ones that are 40% are a bit more modern because they’re built for cocktails.

This is more or less a sake that is distilled. That’s why kome shochus – the 100% rice shochus – are going to taste most like sake.

The Hachi Imo Shochu (Sweet Potato), 30% ABV

"What’s quite common across shochu as a category is using rice koji starter. So even if some of them do not use rice spirit as the distillate, they would use a black rice koji – similar to making sake.

These guys are doing some pretty cool stuff with the category of shochu. It’s aged 4 years and 4 months in an ex-brandy cask and it’s at 30% ABV. It’s unique and delicious – made from rice koji starter, distilled from sweet potatoes and aged in brandy cask.

You don’t often come across many spirits that are aged for 4 years in a cask and comes in at 30% ABV – it’s different.



Tokki Soju Black Label (Unaged), 40% ABV

This is a brand that’s made a splash recently. Before we opened this bar, we did pop-ups, guest shifts around the world including Seoul where we travelled with the guys at Tokki. We took a 3-hour drive to rural South Korea to the rice paddy fields.

This is distilled twice, using 100% Korean glutinous rice as a base. We use Tokki Soju for many of our rice based cocktails including our signature drink the Soju Sprint. When you taste the drink, you can taste the spice, along with fresh citrus, peach, Sherry, salt and soda. It’s refreshing.

Tokki Soju Gold Label (Aged), 46% ABV

This is the same thing as before, but it’s aged in charred American oak. This is a soju-bourbon if you will. This is something people [unfamiliar with soju] can kinda wrap their heads around more, because people are familiar with the taste of whiskey.



Shi Wan Pai Yu Bing Shao “Six Cellars Aged” Baijiu, 40% ABV

Baijiu doesn’t always have rice incorporated and most traditionally it’s made from sorghum. That said, we were at a bar called Bar Sanyou in Guangzhou [opened by Hope & Sesame Group] which focused on locality, where everything’s Chinese from the ingredients they use to the music and the bar’s setup.

We got to try a ton of baijiu there and found this 100% rice baijiu – definitely not something you’d commonly see. The standard ABV of baijiu is 52%, but could get way higher than that.

Usually when you taste baijiu it’s “boom!”. But this one’s 40%. So for a baijiu, it’s one of the most mellow, easy-drinking baijiu you’d come across. It definitely has some nice floral qualities and spices as well.



Sotol Coyote Vibora, 45% ABV

When we think of Mexican spirits we think of agave. Sotol is not technically agave, it’s made from the Desert Spoon plant indigenous to the northern states of Mexico that is very desert-like. Most sotol spirits are from the Durango state of Mexico, but some are also from Coahuila and Chihuahua .

This particular style is called Vibora (Spanish for the viper snake) because it’s distilled with a viper carcass in the still! It’s like a Perchuga mezcal (mezcal redistilled with poultry breast). In making sotol, when they cook the plant, they put volcanic rocks around it so it gets a lot of minerality.

It drinks a lot like mezcal, it’s delicious, it’s complex, it’s a beautiful spirit. You’re drinking the soul of the snake!


88 Bamboo would like to thank Jesse Vida for giving us a peek into the fascinating world of agave, rice and sotol spirits!

Cat Bite Club Now Holding Agave and Rice Spirit Masterclasses

For those interested in learning more about agave and rice spirits, Cat Bite Club is currently holding two new tasting masterclasses where you can join Jesse and his team to experience a range of agave or rice spirits, learn about their histories and how to pair them in cocktail!



Each 45-minute session will feature a tasting flight of four agave spirits OR four rice spirits curated by Cat Bite Club’s expert team, paired with light bar bites.

Each masterclass attendee will receive a Certificate of Completion and be inducted into a club of spirits enthusiasts. This means exclusive insider's access to future events such as product launches, masterclasses and more to continue their spirits education!

Available for groups of two to eight guests, reservations for Agave La and Rice Academy (S$75++ per person) may be made on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, from 5 - 8 pm.

For more updates, follow the socials of Cat Bite Club and cofounder Jesse Vida!