Shawn San Juan Wins Dewar's Whisky Highball Challenge

Shawn San Juan shares his exciting experiences in Japan and exquisite cocktail recipes as the Philippine winner of this year’s Dewar’s Whisky Highball Challenge. 

Bartenders are magicians in their own right, transforming spirits into fantastic cocktails that capture and transcend the imagination. The best bartenders are those who truly understand the ingredients they work with, moving swiftly with an expert hand to turn a blank canvas into a masterpiece infused with personality, the way an artist might sign their name on a work of art. Shawn San Juan of The Spirits Library is one such bartender, having recently emerged as the winner of this year’s Philippine leg for the Dewar’s Whisky Highball Challenge. 

During the prestigious competition, bartenders from Southeast Asia and India showcased their skills in creating highball cocktails using Dewar’s Scotch whisky. They’re then judged based on their creativity, presentation, flavor balance, and technique in crafting the perfect highball. It’s an event that not only celebrates the art of cocktail making, but also highlights the versatility of Dewar’s whisky in creating refreshing and flavorful highball drinks. 

Shawn San Juan, the winner of this year’s Philippine leg for the Dewar’s Whisky Highball Challenge

Beyond the accolades, the competition often serves as a platform for bartenders to showcase their talents, learn from each other, and gain recognition within the industry. This year, Shawn joined his fellow winners from other countries for a Dewar’s Trip to the Highball Capital of the World, Japan. The Philippine winner graced us with the story of his experience, and also shared a few of his amazing cocktail recipes for Lifestyle Asia’s readers—one of which won him the Dewar’s Whisky Highball Challenge, while the other is a special cocktail that takes inspiration from his trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

READ ALSO: Opulent Repository: A Wider Array Of Whisky At Your Disposal 

Stories of Home

Shawn’s winning cocktails for the Dewar’s Whisky Highball Challenge are aptly named “Probinsyana” [referring to a girl who hails from or lives in the province] and “Manileño” [referring to a man who hails from or lives in the metropolitan area of Manila]. In a way, they carry the stories of home, more specifically the two worlds that the bartender cherishes. 

The Probinsyana Highball cocktail takes inspiration from his hometown, the province of Quezon. “Growing up, I saw mango trees and chili plants and remember snacking on these all the time. To pay homage, I thought of using these ingredients to highlight where I came from,” he recalls fondly. 

Meanwhile,  Manileño is a homage to his life when he moved to the big city, where he began his career in bartending. “I took inspiration from the caffeinated energy of the busy and bustling city, a stark difference from the pace of my provincial life,” he added in a statement on the cocktail.

Shawn has come a long way in his professional journey, as he was once a young student who took interest in his craft when he saw college seniors practicing bartending. His first visit to The Spirits Library in 2019 would further ignite his passion for mixology. “From then on my vision and perception of the industry and the craft broadened. I just fell in love with the world of spirits, cocktails, bartending and its endless possibilities for creation,” he shared in an exclusive interview with Lifestyle Asia.

Below is the winning recipe for Probinsyana if you’re looking to try it out from the comfort of your own abode: 



  • Mango Chili shrub
  • 200 grams of siling haba (green chili)
  • 200 grams of sugar
  • 100 grams of mango meat
  • 100 ml of white wine vinegar
  • 100 ml of water


  1. Cut the green chilis in the middle and scoop out the seeds
  2. Slice the green chilis into shorter strips, then set them aside
  3. Peel the mango and cut its meat into thinner slices
  4. Add ingredients in a container with a lid or a mason jar.
  5. Add the water, white wine vinegar, and sugar
  6. Give it a stir until all ingredients are combined
  7. Let the mixture sit in room temperature for at least 24 hours
  8. Stir ingredients from time to time for sugar to melt correctly 
  9. Strain, rebottle, and enjoy!

Behind the Counter

Inspiration can come from anywhere, as Shawn sees it. When glimmers of it begin to appear, he starts to research, delving deeper into concepts that catch his attention. “If the inspiration was a place, I research about the history, culture and also by exploring it’s local food and flavors which I then try to translate in my own way,” he expounded in his interview.

Like any craft, the tools of the trade are incredibly important starting points, which is why Shawn favors the versatility of Dewar’s Scotch whisky range, from citrus to spice notes with a sweet honey-like finish. “Not only is it good neat, but it’s also great for creating unique flavor combinations or magnifying flavors,” he elaborated.

Lifestyle Asia asked Shawn what piece of advice he would give to those creating their own cocktails at home, from beginners to more seasoned mixologists, to which he replied: “Be yourself. Do what makes you feel good.”

“A cocktail that you make and serve to others represents a part of who you are,” he explained. “It is also a way of communicating with a guest. So being yourself is the only advice I can share with everyone who dabbles in making their own creations. When you have mastered that, then you can go on and expand your repertoire.”

The Pearl of the Orient Meets the Land of the Rising Sun 

During their trip to Japan, the winners of Dewar’s Whisky Highball Challenge not only visited some of the top highball bars in Japan, but also participated in captivating workshops designed to take their bartending skills to the next level. 

Some of the workshops included an ice carving workshop at Mori Bar and a visit to one of the oldest knife factories, Tsukiji Masahisa. There was also a market visit where Shawn was able to explore other ingredients and garnishes for potential cocktail recipes. Creating beautiful cocktails is a process that extends well beyond the actual drink, as bartenders must also be well-acquainted with their indispensable tools. As such, Shawn and his fellow winners took a trip to Sokichi, a glass shop where they learned how highball glasses are made. 

For Shawn, there was just as much to glean and learn from everyday life in Japan as any workshop. “From how they take immense pride in serving even the simplest of drinks and dishes, to the value imparted on simple gestures like a bow or the way something is served or handed to you. This really opened by eyes to how else I can improve,” he shared.

For example, one of his key takeaways from the journey is the idea of ikigai. “It’s a Japanese concept referring to a person’s sense of purpose. It does not only refer to the big things in life: [it is] purpose in everything, even the little things we do. A reason to live and continue growing,” he stated.

A Tribute To New Experiences

Of course, the trip was made all the more special with Shawn’s company, as he found himself surrounded by equally dedicated and skilled people in his industry. The camaraderie among the winners was a valuable experience for him.

“Aside from learning from the workshops, we also learned and got inspired from each other’s recipes. This is truly something I will cherish forever,” he explained. “It was a great opportunity to share our collective experiences, tips, and best practices from when we were doing market visits, trying on local garnishes, and collaborating.”

Shawn also came up with a special recipe inspired by the trip, “Saigo No Odori” [“The Last Dance”]. If it sounds a bit poignant or bittersweet, it is; it serves as a tribute to Shawn and his co-bartenders’ last day in Japan (at least for now). 

“Visiting bars I realized that a lot of them had food pairings no matter how simple they were, even with small bites,” he expounded. “I thought of incorporating avocado since it was always a part of the menu or garnishes we had. I also found that the avocado’s richness complemented the spicy and fruity highball.”

Below, Shawn shares his new recipe for readers to try out for themselves as well:

Saigo No Odori (The Last Dance )

  • 45 ml of Dewar’s 12 Year Old
  • 20 ml spiced avocado shrub
  • Top off soda water
  • Glass: Highball
  • Method: Thrown
  • Garnish: Toasted bread and avocado paste


  • 100 grams of avocado
  • 100 grams of white sugar
  • 100 ml of white wine vinegar
  • 10 grams of black pepper


  1. Peel avocado and cut into thin slices
  2. Combine all ingredients and place them in a container with a lid or a mason jar
  3. Give a light stir until all ingredients are combined
  4. Let it sit for at least 24 hours, check and stir every 4 or 5 hours
  5. Strain, rebottle, and enjoy!

Cocktail culture continues to evolve and innovate with events like the Dewar’s Whisky Highball Challenge, giving both new and seasoned bartenders the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise, experiment with flavors, and contribute valuable knowledge to their profession. Whisky enthusiasts also have much to discover and gain from the event, as it allows them to enjoy Dewar’s Scotch whisky in refreshing and approachable ways. 

Bartenders looking to join the Dewar’s Highball Challenge 2024 can submit their two cocktail entries before June 3, 2024, at 12:00 PM UTC+08. For more information , including competition mechanics and scoring criteria, visit its official website at, or scan the QR below.

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