We were very excited to be quoted in the LIFE lift-out of The Weekend Australian at the start of the month. We were in the humbling company of some of the country's most creative and independent bartenders, discussing what to expect in an Australian cocktail in 2015/16.
BY ANTHONY HUCKSTEP for THE AUSTRALIAN | OCTOBER 31, 2015 12:23AM
As long as we can remember, Australians have had a thing about a drink: white and blue collars uniting to bend the arm before supper, with beer as our aperitif of choice. But just as we’ve changed our tastes in food since the old days, so too we’re now looking for a little more variety and sophistication in our pre-dinner drinks.
Cocktails aren’t new but our attitude towards them has changed, thanks to an army of world-class professionals taking the art as seriously as any commanders cooking in our finest restaurants.
Back in the 1980s bartenders were performers with bags full of showy tricks, a la Tom Cruise in the 1988 movie Cocktail. Today, simplicity, seasonality, technique, attention to detail and respect for tradition are the trends driving a revival in the tipple’s popularity. It’s fair to say that in certain circles — particularly if you’re under 40 — a sophisticated mixed drink has become the norm before dinner.
No coincidence, then, that four Australian bars made the recently announced World’s 50 Best Bars 2015 list. Sydney whisky den the Baxter Inn rang the bell at No 6 in the world, with Melbourne’s Black Pearl in at 10th. Melbourne art deco bar the Everleigh placed 25th, and at No 28 was Sydney’s new sweetheart, Bulletin Place.
Mike Nicolian of Continental Deli Bar Bistro in Sydney’s Newtown believes our cocktail scene is evolving rapidly: “Australian cocktail trends, much like horses in the Cup, move very fast. We’re seeing more and more simple, classic cocktails hitting lists as opposed to elaborate concoctions.” It means more homemade bitters and the use of rotary evaporators and smoke machines; more martinis, manhattans, sherry cobblers and sazeracs. It’s like we’ve suddenly grown up. “It’s refreshing to see more emphasis on simple drinks and cracking service,” says Nicolian.
Restaurateur Mykal Bartholomew, of Melbourne’s Coda and Tonka, has experienced the boom in cocktail consumption like few others. “Coda was really based around our wine culture,” he says, “but when we opened Tonka [in 2013] cocktails were becoming more important and so we made a purpose-built cocktail bar.
“Now we have a five-page cocktail list — at a restaurant! At nearly every table someone will order a cocktail and on Fridays and Saturdays almost every person orders one to start their meal.”
Cocktails have become intrinsic at Tonka: the sommeliers and chefs work together to create drinks that match the food. “We couldn’t have done that 10 years ago,” says Bartholomew.
Marshall King, owner of Adelaide newbie Pink Moon Saloon, believes ours is one of the world’s most mature cocktail cultures. “Appreciation of classic drink structure, families and history is now considered the industry standard, which is wonderful,” he says. “What stands out most to me, however, is the embrace of chef culture and technique by bartenders. There is an understanding that you can only read or follow so many recipe books. The real magic is in technique, preparation, sourcing great seasonal produce, in understanding drinks as a whole organism rather than a series of measurements.”
Luke Ashton, co-owner of This Must Be The Place in Sydney’s Darlinghurst and 2013 winner of the Diageo Reserve World Class title, says it’s great to see local bars winning international recognition.
“With this comes a great diversity of offerings, from the brown-spirit classic cocktails of speakeasies and whisky bars to the more contemporary produce-focused bars like Bulletin Place and TMBTP,” he says.
“I can see a move towards more nuanced and finessed flavours that you would associate more with wine … bartenders striving to create new flavours rather than just following the old spirit, juice and syrup formula.”
In Melbourne, Nick Darling of Trumpy Bar says bartenders are both well versed in traditional cocktails and adept at infusing them with contemporary playfulness.
“Cocktail drinkers, now more than ever, are educated and interested in the story of their drinks, yet yearn for nothing more than good service and recognition that drinking is supposed to be fun,” he says. “The strength of the cocktail today is its versatility.”
So it’s not just pre-dinner any more. Cocktails are being consumed as digestifs and even as accompaniments to dinner. “As Australians’ tastes for different drinks become more evolved,” Darling says, “cocktails will continue to solidify their place in the repertoire of fine establishments nationwide, taking their rightful place alongside beer and wine while complementing both.”
The culture of wine and mixed drinks is in constant conversation with itself, says Angus Burton, bartender at Franklin, Hobart and owner of importing and online retail business Spirit People. “So we’re always taking notes from those [wine] guys but trying to bring a little something special and independent as well,” Burton says. “Most importantly, spring is here — grab yourself something delicious and fresh, and get out there.”
Hear, hear. So in the run-up to the race that stops the nation, we’ve challenged some of our leading professionals to create a cocktail that sums up the glory of the Melbourne Cup.
Giddy-up: the carnival has just begun.
45ml The Clumsy Bear
15ml yuzushu aperitif
30ml unfiltered white or orange wine
60ml turmeric, pepper and Lake Pedder honey soda.
Build in a stemless glass over good cold ice.
Garnish with a neat celery stick.
Finish with a dash of grapefruit bitters on top. The aroma is key!
For the soda:
10g turmeric (freshly grated is good but powdered works)
two pinches of black pepper
100g white sugar
100g Lake Pedder honey
600ml water. Charge twice in a soda siphon; chill