Cocktail Chemistry at Under The Armpit

by Indira Ichsan
22nd December 2023
Seasoned bartender Imammudin Azzai channels his experimental approach at Under The Armpit in Senopati. Embracing lab-grade machinery and local ingredients, Imam showcases his Indonesian-inspired cocktails that are unpredictable in look and taste.

Seasoned bartender Imammudin Azzai’s recently opened experimental cocktail bar in Senopati easily escapes notice (the lack of signage doesn’t help either). But once found, Imam and his small team would greet “everyone who comes like a friend as if I’m welcoming them into my own home with a hug,” said Imam. Hence, the oddly suitable name, Under The Armpit. 

Within the living room-like space, a shelf of high-tech cooking equipment behind the bar appears rather incongruous. Yet the shiny-steel sight of a centrifuge beside the peculiar Buchi Vacuum Pump, a lab tool for pressure control and distillation, clues one into the types of creations that emerged here: “well-balanced cocktails that deliver the correct proportion of flavour combinations” as written on the menu.

The menu itself is a direct funnel into Imam’s expertise as a bartender, reflecting his experience of participating in competitions, honing his craft in Dubai, and serving as the head bartender at Arrack & Spice. Entitled “Perspective”, descriptions of each concoction are accompanied by an excerpt of the making process or reflection on his bar philosophy. 

One can come to appreciate the drink more after knowing the Junior Bartender, Adam Saputra, unfailingly dashes to Pasar Kebayoran Lama straight after closing shop to swipe the freshest ingredients for the day’s prep. Onion, garlic, chives, fruits, and limes become staples in the bar as much as they are in the kitchen, and they are incorporated into each drink where Indonesian flavours are put front and centre. 

Take the Martabrak for instance; the perennial local street dessert martabak in liquid form. First, take a bite of the parmigiana tuile (cheese crisp) and allow the salty tangs to fully satiate the tongue—a pertinent step to prep the palate for the intricate layers of salted pina gum, whey, and citrus that come after. The full-bodied taste of the serundeng rum base is also attributed to its elaborate creation process: shaved serundeng coconut is mixed into rum, then sous-vide for an hour to extract its essence. The now-infused and fragrant spirit is further strained and run through a centrifuge, giving way to a thin and clean texture that juxtaposes its buttery creamy taste. 

For a fruity refresher to cool off on one of Jakarta’s many hot days, an Es Teler To the Moon 3.0 is duly in check. The “legendary” drink was invented by Imam back in 2018, which has since then been constantly refined, and presents itself today as its third iteration. An emulsion of albumin from egg whites and lacto-fermented jackfruit is thoroughly blended into an aromatic coconut gin, pandan gum, and a touch of citrus. Ungarnished, the flavour speaks for itself. 

There’s also the curious Pletox. Inspired by Bir Pletok, arguably Indonesia’s oldest (and possibly only) signature cocktail, Imam’s sunset-gradient interpretation takes the already spice-complex drink a step further. Every single ingredient is processed in a way to extract their essence in full; from the 2-day smoked galangal, house-made grape-infused gin, secang soda, and magic limo, crowned with a Jeruk Medan (mandarin orange) foam.

“The world turns faster when you live outside Indonesia,” insists Imam, recalling the already widespread use of lab-grade gear in bars across the world. With this technology in his arsenal, Imam and his tight-knit team at Under The Armpit strive to look for new ways to capture the Indonesian tongue within a cocktail glass, like a pioneering scientist would. Coupled with friendly faces and unfiltered knowledge of unique cocktail-making, it’s no surprise why they’ve already got customers coming back eager to try the entire menu.