Thursday, December 8, 2011

Richard Patterson - The Virtual Nose Comes to Town

Richard Patterson with The Dalmore Trintas 64yo single malt Scotch whisky
Richard 'The Nose' Patterson is a coming to town. Well sort of. The newly revamped Bellevue Hotel in Paddington have been holding a series of whisky tasting events and launches recently including the launch of the new - to Australian shores at least - Johnnie Walker Double Black. But next week, however, they're pulling out all the stops.

For one night only, The Bellevue will be hosting a Scotch whisky master class with Mr Patterson via a live telecast from Scotland. Patterson is the master blender and master distiller for Whyte & Mackay and the Dalmore. He's also behind Spencerfield Spirits’ tasty blends - Sheep Dip and Pigs Nose (get into the Sheep Dip 'Old Hebridean' - it's a master stroke).

Patterson, I can tell you now is a singular character in the malt whisky world. I've been stuck in a room with him before at the old Star City for an interview for Bartender magazine just weeks after I'd started the gig. I was just hoping for a quick quote for a news item, and two hours later I'd run out of tape and batteries for my dictaphone. I didn't have the heart to tell the man I was no longer recording - but hey we were drinking malt, I was having a grand old time and the gentleman left a lasting impression. I'll drink any whisky he's behind any day of the week.
At any rate the evening is going to be a real doosey. It kicks off at 6:45pm on Monday 12th and for just $60 you'll get a cocktail on arrival, a whisky tasting plate (including Dan Wolley's renowned whisky jam), as well as samples of the Dalmore Highland single malt Scotch whisky range including the 12 year, 15 year, 18 year and the rare and highly prized King Alexander III.

If I were you I'd email my interest to right now. Seats are strictly limited. 

Visit for more info on upcoming events at their superbly appointed Whiksy Room

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Evil Empire

In an attempt to turn a bad experience in to something good I decided to formulate a cocktail to mark my run in with Australia's own evil empire - Telstra. So last night behind the bar I whipped up - as I often do - a cocktail or two lubricate the busy service for Porteno's head honchos.

My beloved Branca seems to have sinister intentions for planet Earth
Only two of my favourite ingredients behind the bar, rye whiskey and Fernet Branca, could possibly sweeten the appalling service and down right ineptitude of Australia's premier telecommunications company. And looking at that bottle of Fernet in my hand I knew I had made a righteous choice - that eagle of theirs seems intent on world domination sweeping away all obstacles in it's path with a dark tide of saffron tinged amaro.

Inspiration for this tipple I'm about to share with you came from the Sputnik Cocktail - an unusual blend of vodka, lemon juice and Fernet. Rittenhouse 100 proof rye whiskey - a favourite of mine from the American empire - was but an obvious improvement and I did just add a little vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg syrup to less the Fernet's bitter, pepperminty blow. Here's how:

The Evil Empire
60ml Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye whiskey
20ml lemon juice
10ml Fernet Branca
5ml Vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg syrup

Start by offering your customer something you have not intention of giving them. Over promise, under deliver, fiercely maintain your monopoly on the country's phone lines and snigger when customers are left no option but to wait two weeks for another technician or sign up to your evil empire. Garnish with contempt for the people paying you good money to stay in a job. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Booze Braggart is a Booze Hound

Your common booze hound - image poached from
I know. There hasn't has been a single post by Booze Braggart for nearly a month. Well I've been busy alright! But I've moved into my new digs in Glebe and BB now has a fancy new office. What I wasn't bargaining for was the four weeks it would take me to set-up an internet connection thanks to the evil empire that is Telstra. Hmm I feel a cocktail needs to be spawned for this...

But enough of that. I haven't been idle over the past few weeks. Booze Braggart is now SMH Executive Style's Booze Hound. 

Here's a few links to my recent fortnightly posts:

Bubble Trouble
Cocktails of Distinction
What Not to Drink
Who's Who in the Bar-room Zoo?

Check 'em out.


Booze Braggart/Hound

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Time Out Sydney Bar Awards

Barry Chalmers 'en-trophied' at last year's Time Out Sydney Bar Awards  
Bartenders - they're a sordid bunch.What with the boozing, rubbish chat and... no that's about it really. But boy howdy are they a fun bunch to party with! Having your own drink in hand not only makes them tolerable but a heck of a lot of fun too boot. And this coming Monday (October 24) you'll get you're chance to raise a glass with them and to them at the Time Out Sydney Bar Awards held at Sydney's latest live entertainment venue The Standard.

It's a great chance to celebrate Sydney's dynamic and quite frankly booming bar scene with a load of great bars and fine chaps nominated for a gong. Stand outs include Shady Pines Saloon up for, well everything, Gardel's Bar for Bar of the Year and Best Bar Food, Eau De Vie for Cocktail Bar and Bar of the Year and of course all those up for the People's Choice Award - an award voted for by the people for the people. The Finalists for the People's Choice Award are: Corner House, Eau De Vie, Grandma's, Love Tilly Devine, Pocket, Passage, White Hart, Shady Pines Saloon, Stitch, and Time to Vino.  

Even if you don't care a hoot about who wins on the night Lennox Hastie (Etxebarri) is doing a pop up restaurant at the event, not to mention the fact that you'll be able to drink your skin full of Buffalo Trace cocktails with amazing bands and DJs pumping out some beats. There will also be the unveiling of the Time Out Bar Guide 2012 which includes a couple of reviews by yours truly.

It will be a gas. Grab your tickets ($99 for snacks and drinkies - $69 for Time Out subscribers) here

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Sex Panther

It's got real bits of Panther in it so you know it's good...
Here's a couple of things you might not know about me: I'm a huge Anchorman fan and I like Stingers. The way I see it when Ron Burgundy isn't enjoying three fingers of Glenlivet with some pepper and some cheese he'd surely be sipping on a brutally cold and minty Stinger (brandy and white creme de menthe you philistine). Or even more likely - he'd be sipping on a Sex Panther.

Inspired by the deadly feline grace of the panther (actually it's meant to be a puma) embossed on every bottle of Meukow Cognac, The Sex Panther is a predatory beverage found stalking the bar at Gardel's. It's a well know fact that 60 percent of the time this beverage will get you laid every-time - it's that good and it's powers are only enhanced by it's not-so-secret secret ingredient - Branca Menta - Fernet Branca's minty sibling.

But what about the real bits of panther? Well that comes from the coffee beans that this wee beverage is stirred down with - a technique I've seen ol' Chris Hysted rock out a couple of times this year. And it works a treat. Thanks Chris.  

Here's a Sex Panther spotted in the wild
The Sex Panther
60ml Meukow VS Cognac
10ml Branca Menta
1 doz. fresh coffee beans (we use Vittoria's Cinque Stelle)

Stir down and serve up with a fresh slapped mint leaf and the roar of a wild jungle cat.

The beverage has a formidable scent that stings the nostrils - fresh mint with lifted citrus, chocolate and coffee. It goes down smooth with just enough minty freshness from the Branca Menta to refresh the slightly sweet palate. It's perfectly balanced by a little tannin provided by the coffee beans.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Happy 5th Birthday to Gazebo!

Gazebo is one of the first bars I ever visited in Sydney. October 2006 - I had just come fresh off winning New Zealand Bartender of the Year and David Spanton - Bartender's editor had kindly invited me over to Sydney to judge the Australian Bartender of the Year Competition alongside the likes of Dale DeGroff and Angus Winchester.

It was a beautiful spring day - one of those Sydney stunners - and sitting outside at the brand spanking new Gazebo Wine Garden drinking German Riesling I thought to myself - yeah I could live here. Of course I wasn't to know that Gazebo's space was unique in Sydney, in fact, this town was place that really under utilised it's near perfect climate. Why aren't there still more places which understand alfresco drinking and dinning in Sydney?

But I digress. Gazebo was a fore-runner and inspiration for the many wine bars now opening up in this fair city. Enomatic wine systems, Mosel by the glass, casual, but knowledgeable and slick service this place was always going to be a winning. Hats off to Gazebo for five fine years. You might just be of age to go to school, but you've been schooling Sydney-siders on how to drink for years. I wish the team many happy returns for the next five.

Here's what the birthday guests will be drinking this evening as Gazebo cuts the cake:

Gazebo's Giggly Rose
The Giggly Rose

(Makes 6)

Bunch of mint, leaves picked
Petals of 3 unsprayed roses, plus 6 small unsprayed roses to garnish
3 shots (90ml) gin
1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice
Ice cubes, to serve
750ml bottle sparkling white wine, chilled
Rose syrup:
150g caster sugar
1 Tbsp rosewater

Chill six tall glasses in the fridge. For the syrup, place sugar and 100ml water in a pan over medium-high heat. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve sugar, then remove from heat. Stir in rosewater, then chill until it has cooled completely. 

Bruise the mint leaves and rose petals in your hands to release their aroma, then stuff them into the chilled glasses. In two batches, combine gin, lemon juice, rose syrup and plenty of ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake well, then pour into the glasses and top up with sparkling wine. Tuck in a rose to garnish, then serve immediately with a straw.

NB. For the month of October $1 from everyone of these beauties sold will go in aid of the Wayside Chapel.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pale or Pure - Either Way it's Cascade this Summer

Mmm... Pale Ale
I love beer. And it ain't no secret. Indeed half of you have probably caught me mid-flight in a beer rant on several occasions. Beer has popular appeal, it's ancient - likely the first alcoholic beverage enjoyed by Man with brewing perhaps even pre-dating the invention of baking. Wine is infantile in comparison. And spirits barely even a zygote in the grand scheme of things.

Beer has a wonderful variety not often enough enjoyed in the Australian market which is awash with insipid, flavourless lagers. It's not that there's anything wrong with the majority of these mainstream brews - they're just inoffensive - deliberately so. But they are oh-so-boring. Imagine a world where you could only order Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and vodka - well the majority of Sydney's pubs & bars which offer only mainstream lagers are doing exactly that to beer drinkers.

Fortunately there is a way to combat this. Drink good beer - vote with your mouth. The beer revolution in Australia is already here - Fosters has given up any pretension of being Australian (a shame, but great for the shareholders I guess), mainstream labels are shedding market share and the choice of quality, flavour driven brews is almost as good as it was in Australia before Federation (no kidding).

This revolution isn't confined to small owned and operated 'micro breweries' - the big guys want a slice of the boutique brew pie too. And some,of Australia's oldest breweries like the independent Cooper's or Tasmania's Cascade (incidentally owned by Fosters) have always offered drinkers a flavoursome alternative.

Cascade's Pale Ale (pictured above) dates back to 1832. Indeed at this time it lager style brews were unheard of. It's one of the world's oldest continually brewed beer brands winning its first award back in the 1880s.

But what does it taste like? Well it has a light citrus and hay aroma, with a fruity mid-palate, light to medium malt weight and a cleansing bitterness. It's not revolutionary, but a great stepping stone for someone want to get a little more adventurous with their choice of brews. It's a what you'd call a great session brew - perfect for quenching your thirst around the barbecue this summer. It is, however, very lager like - I must question whether or not this is still a true top fermented ale.

Another release from Cascade for summer is the Cascade Pure. Unfortunately it's low carb, but fortunately its certified carbon neutral, but unfortunately it's low carb - I've said that twice haven't I? I really want to like this brew - but the lack of residual sugars means that there is no palate weight. No palate weight means that you you can't balance the beer with that really pleasing bitterness found in the Pale Ale. Look I think that commercially this will be a success. But this is a beer for your lady. 

Kudos Cascade for the environmental sensibility but can someone please invent extra-carb man beer? There's still men's men in Australia despite what the focus groups might tell you! 

Cheers for the beers Cascade. I look forward to future releases.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Woodford Reserve Rock Lily Private Selection

It wasn't so long ago that I was bragging to you about being involved in a rather unique tasting. And it's with great please that I'm able to share with you now the fruits of my labour - sitting in front of me is a one litre bottle of the Woodford Reserve Rock Lily Private Selection.

If you recall my previous post on this subject I was invited by the inimitable Dan Woolley to be part of a tasting panel to determine a private blend for for The Star's new(ish) Rock Lily bar and live music venue. Whilst Woolley has moved on to The Standard the Woodford Reserve Rock Lily Private Selection can still be found behind the bar. And boy howdy is it a doosey.

Here's what I reckon: The nose offers a decadent and heady aroma of cacao, drunken apricots, maple and marzipan with just a wee hint of oiled leather. Sweet breakfast cereal grains quickly give way to complex and chewy, bitter chocolate and almond flavours with the profile also featuring popcorn and beurre noisette. This palate staining drop finishes feisty and spirity - the lingering warmth providing evidence of this drop's 90.4° proof kick. Go buy yourself a dram at Rock Lily now. It's that good!

She's such a beauty that there wasn't simply no option except to make a Mint Julep post haste - especially considering the fact that I've been staring at the mint going crazy in my garden whilst I've been typing and tasting away. And yes it is before midday.

McGoram's Cordial Mint Julep

3 oz Woodford Reserve Rocklily Private Selection
(it's important that you use a bottle hand signed by Chris Morris the master distiller with 'Simon McGoram' engraved into it)
1 heaped teaspoon castor sugar
1/2 oz water
8 freshly plucked mint leaves (common mint not spearmint)
Crushed ice
1 or more large sprigs of mint
1 teaspoon of Inner Circle Green Dot or Holey Dollar Gold Coin 

For the preparation of McGoram's Cordial Mint Julep it is proper that a gentleman wield a rolling pin or wooden mallet to pound a canvas bag full of cracked ice with reckless abandon. Upon creating your crushed ice as fine as snow measure one teaspoon (rounded) of castor sugar into a pewter (or if you can afford the extravagance silver) tankard or julep cup. Add your freshly plucked mint leaves still glistening from the morning's dew and add to this one half ounce of pure water draw from an ancestral spring.  With skilful manipulation of a spoon dissolve the sugar whilst lightly pressing the mint to the sides of your chosen vessel. Add your private selection whiskey and fill two thirds full with crushed ice. Again employ the spoon to combine the ingredients. Cap with further crushed ice crown with a teaspoon of high ester rum and garnish extravagantly with a pristine mint sprig.   

Friday, September 23, 2011

BarShow Week that Was

Yep you haven't seen me post for while. The reason being - Sydney BarShow Week was epic. A epic week of networking events, parties, boozey catch-ups, bartending comps and oh yeah - a trade show.

'ere we all are: Ben Shipley, Tim Philips, Booze Braggart, Sven Almenning  and Matt Mason
Ironically I even hosted a smashing talk at the show on 'Bloggers, Bars and Brands'. My panel included Mr Ben Shipley from Everyday Drinking, Tim Philips from Drinktheshitoutofit, Sven Almenning from Eau De Vie and Matt Mason from Social Tap. It was one of those talks that despite itself and its rag-tag panel actually turned out a treat. It was informative and inspiring both. And with the stack of interesting booze I have building up expect to hear a little more from me over the coming weeks.

A couple of quick highlights from the week:

Well there was this guy:
David Wondrich - a gentleman and actually a scholar  

And then there's this guy who just keeps coming back:

Philip Duff - photo courtesy of 1995
 And what about this guy:
Tim Philips - not just a little funny guy but a bartending genius

My liver is bouncing back in bounds so I'll see you on either side of the bar soon.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Johnnie Blue's Clued

The savvy relaunch of Scotch whisky's iconic luxury brand

The James Craig moored in Pyrmont. Ship built in 1874.
Every month I get sent media releases from brand 'x' about their revolutionary new look. We're told how its chic 21st century-style will have greater shelf presence and appeal to a new generation of drinker. But fortunately I've usually slipped into a micro-sleep before all the übers, unqiues, ultimate luxurys and super-premiums send me into a rage.

So it was with no small amount of scepticism that I attended last week's Johnnie Walker Blue Label new packaging launch. To be fair it was the promise of free mid-day Scotch that go it across the line - that and the fact that the event was on a boat moored only minutes away from Booze Braggart HQ. 

Excellent canapés, mighty fine drinks, and superlative company aside this relaunch was successful in my mind due to the re-telling of one of Scotch whisky's most fascinating stories - the Walker story. It's a tale told admirably here by Robert Carlyle:

Whilst Mr Carlyle was unable to attend this particular launch we were lucky enough to have Jonathan Driver - Johnnie Walker's global brand ambassador - on hand to take us through the brand's history and the thinking behind its new look.

Jonathan Driver, Johnnie Walker's global brand ambassador
Created in the 1980s, Blue Label's hue was developed by its then distributor whose top of the line wine brands also predominately featured blue. The liquid was designed to be the pinnacle of the Johnnie Walker range - it was to be powerful and structured not at all like its dandy competitors in Cognac. The brand has seen considerable success since its launch a couple of decades ago, but the real story starts in the 1820s.

John Walker - a young farmer's boy was left a modest inheritance from his father. It was enough however for the lad to open a grocers store in Kilmarnock that purveyed products from the four corners of the world - rum from Virginia, tea from China and spices from India and the Caribbean. In the 1820s it was tea that was the luxury drink of the day and as such John Walker and his sons practised the art of tea blending before that of whisky. It just so happens, however, that flavour profiles for tea and whisky are almost identical- a point well demonstrated by the smoky lapsang souchong tea placed in front of us by Driver. "Tea is the DNA for Johnnie Walker's whiskies," driver tells us. "We learnt from tea how to make whisky."

 "Tea is the DNA for Johnnie Walker's whiskies. We learnt from tea how to make whisky." -Jonathan Driver, Johnnie Walker's global brand ambassador. 

The Blue Label itself is based on the 1867 Old Highland Cask blended by John Walker's son Alexander. Blue Label, whilst not a replica, is a form of liquid archaeology - a robust blend, inspired by tea of all things, to be reminiscent of the whisky that the Walkers began shipping around the world during the second half of the 19th century

Sitting below deck on the James Craig - a restored 1874 squared rigged trading vessel - Driver finally explains what we're doing on an antiquarian ship. You see the Walkers weren't content with just being a success domestically but wanted to spread to the four corners of the world where their grocery products came from. They convinced ship captains to do the work for them and one of the whisky's first stops was Sydney - perhaps even the James Craig itself bore a cargo of the Walker's Old Highland Cask to Australia. At any rate the whisky established itself in the colony quickly - becoming the New South Wales leading whisky brand by 1889.

The new look Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Walker has always been a company happy to evolve. The new look is not so much a revolution as a continual evolution of the brand. The iconic square shape - four cornered to symbolise the whiskies inside coming from the four corners of Scotland as well as the brands global reach - and diagonal label has been preserved, but the glass has lost its cobalt tinge (found in glass bottles during the late 19th century). The bottle is considerably heavier and larger demanding more shelf presence - aye it is a powerful new pack.

And what's inside the bottle? Well it's the same smart dram as always- a nose of orange citrus and dried apricot with a black tea complexity gives way to a buttery, toffee-like and mouth-filling palate. A rich textural finish that yields subtle warming smoke. In short, eminently quaffable. 


Friday, August 12, 2011

Il Patio - Bourke Street’s new bar & Italian bistro ain’t your garden variety

A little excerpt from my latest on Agenda. Go check this place out and say hi to the lovely Sarah Clare. 

The word ‘patio’ is hardly inspiring when intoned with an Aussie drawl. Add a little southern Italian gusto, however, and you might just find yourself with something much more evocative.

Il Patio (that sounds much better, right?) is nestled at the back of Bourke Street’s Centre Courtyard, offering eclectic modern-Italian fare by Naples-born chef Francesco Armillis. In summer, you’ll wile away warm evenings dining al fresco, but while that chill lingers, surrealist touches like a Mediterranean vignette (with real vines) brings the outside in.

Read more on Agenda... (and sign up why don't ya!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I'm Now a TOY

So just over a week ago I officially became a TOY. Before you get too carried away it means that I am now part of this motley crew that forms the [TOYS] collective (it stands for 'Taste of Young Sydney'). My induction event was Issue #7: Old Dogs, New Tricks held on my home ground - Porteño and Gardel's Bar - and boy howdy was this event a doosey.

Seven courses developed by gun chefs and their mentors were paired with wine and cocktails for a one night only feasting event. The menu was insanely good and how it came and worked together to form a cohesive and inspired meal - masterly. Rather than wax lyrical about each course I've dropped in the menu so you know what you missed out on:

What I would like to share with you though is this little creation that I contributed to the evening entitled: 'Till the Bitter End.

Looks like a double esspresso huh? 
I'm a huge fan of bitters as this post from Mr Ben Shipley attests. Serving this drink at the end of the meal - well it's obvious where my inspiration came from - the humble espresso. This digestive drink combining the lovely banana and clove notes of Goslings 'Black Seal' with the rich and complex flavours of Antica Forumla vermouth, Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Fernet Branca (of course) and bespoke liquorice bitters - was dark, brooding and delicious. It already had the look of a black coffee before I was inspired to heat the mix and crown it with a cool coffee sabayon to complete the look. 

Should you be so inclined here's how:

'Till the Bitter End  

30ml Golsings 'Black Seal' Bermudian rum
30ml Antica Forumla vermouth
10ml Gonzalez Byass 'Nectar' Pedro Ximenez
2.5ml Fernet Branca
1.5ml Bespoke liquorice bitters (highproof spirit, gentian, wormwood, liquorice root and citrus peel)

Bring the ingredients above to the boil (to lose a touch of that alcoholic kick). Allow to cool to about 65° C . Pour into a heated demitasse cup and float a little coffee sabayon* on top.

* The coffee sabayon nice and easy once you know how (thanks for the recipe Elvis). Soak 2 gelatine leaves in iced water.  In a double boiler combine 200g egg yolk with 100g sugar and 200ml of fresh espresso (whisk as you pour in the coffee if it's hot so as not to cook the yolks). Cook on a low heat, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the gelatine and continue cooking until the mixture thickens to a pouring custard consistency. Allow to cool to room temperature, pour into cream canister and charge for easy dispense.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Finally a Reason for Bartenders to Shower

Finally soap scents every bartender can understand
Sandalwood, rose and shea butter, vanilla & ylang yalng, coconut & jojoba. Although I only know what half of those things are there is one thing that is certain: I don't want to smell like them. Fortunately, there is a remedy to your aroma malady that won't have you smelling like a fairy. And it gets the Booze Braggart seal of approval to boot. It's called 'Allsorts Prohibition Liquor Scented High Lather Soap Bars'. That's right - booze scented soap.
Those of you are particularly web savvy may have already come across this one - I found it thanks to the Urbandaddy newsletter myself (worth subscribing to folks - lots of snazzy stuff on there) and have just been a bit slack in putting up a post. But here it is people - liquor scented shower goodness.

Currently there are four drink options to choose from - not the most well stocked bar but what the hey - you've just got out of bed and it's 12:33pm. Go for a Screwdriver, a Gin & Tonic, a Whiskey Sour or a Spiced Rum spiked with cinnamon and anise. It's a convenient way to explain why you still smell like booze at one o'clock in the afternoon on a Monday when you're meeting your mum for lunch.

Check out the snazzy Chicago Prohibition History Bike Tour packaging...
The soap producers Ethically Engineered are currently experiencing a bit of a back log. But, if by any chance you are female and reading this, you can put in a pre-order to plan ahead for Father's Day and or Christmas. What would we do without the fairer sex huh?

Anywho - the easiest way to order is via their page on Esty. There'll be more on this awesome site soon too.



Monday, July 4, 2011

Congratulations to an Ex-Work Accomplice

Last Monday I had the singular pleasure of attending the inaugural Time Out Shake Down – a boozey battle of bartending brawn. The five finalists had to deliver their competition drinks to a thirsty sell-out crowd of punters at King Street Wharf’s theloft. They needed to show charm, wit, deft ‘tending skill and a drink with no small amount of punch to win over the judges – which in this case was the bloodthirsty revellers themselves.

Burlesque performers, Bella Pistol and Holly J’aDoll, made for excellent ring-side entertinment 
The barkeeps were each given a station where they had to bust out drinks for the Shakedown guests who would decide their fate. As if this wasn’t enough the contenders had to enter the ring (litterally) and entertain the crowd for a round – giving them the chance to sway the audience with a knockout performance.   

Victoria Room's LPC (“yeah you know me”) had a throng five deep in front of his bar station. His drink – the Louisiana inspired, Sazerac Rye laced, Turtle Soup – was a delight. I remain unsure, however, if the rabble in front of him was dazzled by his amazing chat or in a mild state of hypnosis due to his mesmerizingly slow production of drinks. Next to him was the itinerant Irishman Mr Ben McFarlane (Rockpool B&G) who together Stitch’s Matteo Fabbris had the ladies swooning with their exotic accents and potent potables. Max Grecco, from Eau De Vie, was thankfully tucked around the corner where his sabring of Champagne bottles was least likely to take out somebody’s eye. 

A victorious Nielsen Braid
Ultimately, and surprisingly given Grecco’s charismatic on-stage performance, it was Nielsen Braid (my ex-co-worker at Gardel’s Bar at Porteño) who took home Shakedown Heavyweight belt. And he did it with a blazer no less. It's a challenging drink at the best of times and an impressive feat of ‘tending prowess to deliver it successfully to so many people. 

When asked about how sweet it was to take out the comp Braid said: "Awesome! I've never won a comp before. It's was just surreal." 

For his efforts, Braid, who can now be found tending bar at The Corner House, scored a $600 bottle of Armand de Brignac and ‘a day in the life of a rock star’, starting with a chauffeur-driven tour of Sydney in a classic Australian cruiser, the 1964 EH Holden Premier and ending with dinner-for-two at Neil Perry’s Spice Temple restaurant.

I'm proud to count Nielsen among my acquaintances
My High Tea 
(serves two)
120ml Junipero Gin
20ml Agave nectar (cut 1:1)
4 Large swathes of orange zest
Ditto of lemon
4 Cloves 
1 Cinnamon quill
1 teaspoon Earl Grey tea
6 Dashes chamomile bitters 

Add gin and agave nectar to a Blazer mug or (steel milk frothing jug in a pinch). Ignite the liquid with a kitchen blowtorch and add other ingredients before passing from on jug to the other. Try to get a bit of height whilst doing this as aeration will aid the burning of the alcohol.*

*NB. This technique requires a bit of practice with un-ignited liquid before attempting live.And yes the burning of the alcohol is essential in bringing the drink down to a palatable proof.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Remedy to Social Malady

Alas, this post has been once again scooped by the dastardly Mr Shipley - always one step ahead of the game. So if you don't already read Everyday Drinking you should. But those of you still loyal to the Booze Braggart cause I salute you, your good taste and your sporting nature - indeed the last time Mr Shipley and I publicly met he did not allow me such quarter. Indeed, the cad bit his thumb at me!

It's is after this experience that I was made aware of remedy to such social maladies. Hendrick's, an unusual and eccentric gin, are offering a Refined Courtship Clinic this week. This clinic aims to sharpen etiquette and deportment in all its guises to ladies and gentleman looking to court a significant other. For those already spoken for there is hope for you too as the surgery is open to all offering further tips on the lost art of chivalry and general advice on appearance for ladies.

Well now that you know the what and why, here's the where and when of it.

WHERE:  387 Oxford Street, Paddington, Sydney 2021.

It seems only fitting that Hendrick’s Refined Courtship Clinic is located in an area that was once full of the baseless morals of the working class - an area that was rife with prostitution, razor gangs, and other nefarious hoodlums. The area, whilst to some might be significantly gentrified, could still do with a good serving of class!   

WHEN: Public opening on the following dates –

Thursday, 23rd of June (2pm-8pm); Friday, 24th June (2pm-8pm); Saturday 23rd of June (12pm-8pm)


Find Hendrick's Gin on Facebook:

For further information go to:

Monday, June 20, 2011

An Ode to the Dark Mixer

Ben Shipley, Olivia, Guest, and Simon McGoram. Photo from Daniella Alhadeff on Eat Drink Play
 In the house of Secretary Macleay,
Did braggarts come to bray,
Of a new dark mixer,
Known simply as the 'Elxir'.

To a Victorian era transported,
Guests behaved with fine deportment.
Even with potent potables aplenty,
They still managed to behave like gentry.

But what of this mixer,
The aforementioned elixir?
With the finest ingredients of the colonies,
There was no need for hyperboles.

Caramel, vanilla, chocolate and coffee,
These enticing flavours will not be found in the offy.
An only on-premise potion,
Who could think of such a notion?

Why Schweppes who supplied the Empire with tonic,
Are the ones responsible for this frolic.
Festooned with top hats, gloves and canes,
The 'tenders continued to feed us Batangas for our pains.

With ruddy cheeks and tales tall,
Arrant boasts were made to all.
From gentleman to cads did one see us fall;
We weren't roguish knaves before this ball.

Arising early on the morrow,
Surprised to not find heads filled with pain and sorrow, 
The 'Elixir Batanga' was proclaimed a cure -
A proven panacea with a dark allure.

The Elixir Batanga 

3/4 pony (45ml) Jose Cuervo Tradicional Reposado Tequila
Schweppes Elixir
Orange wedges
Black pepper salt rim

Build in a fancy bar glass rimmed with black pepper salt and filled with chipped ice. Squeeze an orange wedge or two over your concoction, raise a toast to the Queen and the glory of the British Empire then enjoy. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A World Class Hangover

Nielsen Braid making 'My High Tea' at the Time Out Shake Down
Last week was epic. I'm talking in excess of 70 cocktails in three days kind of epic. So what the hell could inspire me to get so soused? Well a couple of things actually: a) I drink for a living and b) it was a hell of a lot of fun.

You see the week gone by was no ordinary week for folk in the bar-tendering/cocktailian clique - last week hosted the Australian final for the Diageo's World Class program - a global bartending comp that's building some serious street cred on the global highway. This gruelling final was played out over three days - and I was lucky enough to be invited to judge.

L-R: Ben, Nielsen, Lee, Matteo and Max at The Time Out Shake Down
Of course you can't dive head first into a competition of this sort of leviathan nature without a little warm-up and fortunately Myffy Rigby, Time Out's Food & Drink Editor, offer me the perfect chance to limber up my one working cocktail swilling arm at the inaugural Time Out Shake Down. The event held at one of Sydney's best small bar spaces - Downtown at The Commons - tested the 10 top recipes submitted to Myffy's critical gaze over the month of May. We whittled these recipes, mighty tasty all, down to five with Matteo Fabbris (Stitch), Ben McFarlane (Rockpool Bar & Grill), Nielsen Braid, (Gardel's Bar at Porteno), Max Grecco (Eau De Vie) and Lee Potter Cavanagh (Victoria Room) making it through to the final which will be held at theloft on June 27.

After a late night feast and dominoes match at Waterloo Street's new El Capo 'Latin street food' restaurant to 'debrief' (read enjoying a couple of $11 El Dorado 15 year old rums) - I called it a night. Slipping tipsily into slumber I dreamed of the potions that would be await me over the following days (seriously I dream about cocktails - messed up eh?).

The World Class Australia finalists at Rockpool
The Australian World Class Finalists arrived from around the country and got straight to work on Monday night whilst I was losing (badly) at dominoes. They were busy taste testing dishes with Rockpool's Chef, Phil Wood, to prepare cocktails for the food matching event the following night. The judging element, however, didn't start until the Tuesday morning at Sydney's Zeta where the contestant's cocktail mastery was given a real work-out as they presented two cocktails apiece to the panel of judges.

Krystal's Ice luge did some damage at Gastro Park
Whilst there was some debate between the judges on who was standing out after this round, highlights included Krystal Hart's Tanqueray No. Ten ice luge and Martini ritual, Chris Hysted's Old Mayan with Ron Zacapa, Russian Caravan tea flavoured agave nectar, Guatemalan coffee and a bourbon, sherry and Pedro Xiemenez flavour fog and that amazing smelly French cheese and truffle honey served to us by Phil Gandevia (what was that by the way? And your drinks were cracking too!)

After working our way through 20 expertly prepared and thought-out creations we dusted our brains, revived our corpses and moseyed on down to George Street's Rockpool for the evening event. This in my mind was the most challenging aspect of the competition and whilst I did have some favourites from the evening like Dr Phil's pomegranate, gin and sherry number, having tried only five of the drinks on offer at this event it was way to hard to make a call on who might be nudging ahead.

The third and final day of my cocktail judging bender saw me judge the speed and taste round held at Victorian Room. The contestants were given a few minutes to acquaint themselves with the bar before being given an order of five drinks to knock out lickety split. This round really saw Tim Philip's from ivy's Level 6 stand-out for his slick, tidy and lightening quick performance. And while all this was going on another set of judges were testing the the competitors' knowledge of classic cocktails to put the finalists through there final set of paces before determining the winner.

Dr Phil, Tim and Macro. And yes that trophy does weigh more that Tim.
With judging over finalists, judges and the Reserve and Behind Bars teams had a brief interlude before reconvening at Roslyn Place's new Gastro Park (it's amazing - go there). Treated to a stunning meal and wine (a blessed change from cocktails) we were all able to relax - well almost. The contestants developed slightly strained smiles and acquired the odd nervous tick in the build-up to announcing the winner - who those of you in the know will know was Tim Philips - the man responsible for the development of the microwaveable Johnnie Walker Hot Toddy goon (available at all good quality liquor retailers now). Worthy of mention too are the two runners up - in 2nd Place Phil Gandevia from Eau De Vie and in 3rd place 'The Performer' Marco Nunes from Brisbane's Canvas.

Tim will now go take on the world in New Delhi. Best of luck mate!  

This post has blown out of proportion significantly, but for further reading on the World Class Australia and other stories related to this post visit:


Friday, May 27, 2011

The Zen Art of One Armed Bartending

Radial head fracture - ouch!
Last Friday I broke my arm. To make matters worse I was stone cold sober at the time. Whilst the fracture is minor it has been a severe hindrance to say the least. I’ve had to learn, over the past week, to do everything one handed. 

I’ve had to learn how to shower and groom (according to one colleague something I struggle with already), how to dress, prepare meals, keep writing using voice recognition and, yes, how to whip up a cocktail with only one limb. To be fair, I’ve had a couple weeks off from my bar job, but it has only made it all the more necessary to get up to speed with the Zen art of one armed bartending to keep myself well watered. 

I compiled a quick list of bartending techniques/ activities that are perhaps best avoided when ‘tending with a singular appendage:

  1. An obvious one to begin with – avoid carrying heavy items like boxes and kegs etc. In fact, I find this sound practice even with two working arms.
  2. Fine straining – a technique deplored by some as like having a baby and then killing it – is definitely out the window, though still possible, when bartending with one hand.
  3. Being in charge of cutting the bar’s garnishes before a Friday shift
  4. Blazing drinks a la Jerry Thomas or throwing cocktails like Boadas in Barcelona.  Spirit soaked bandaged limbs burn like flares.
  5. Carrying a tray laden with cocktails – how will you put them down?
  6. Flamed orange zest Dale DeGroff style
  7. Using a jigger – well you could, but you’re slow enough already pal!
Anyone has worked bar with me before might wonder why I’m making such a fuss as they have only ever seen me use one arm behind the bar anyway. Well I guess that is why I’ve been able to adapt so quickly to my current situation- smartarse.

At any rate, I’m not going to natter on for too long, but rather leave you with a one-handed beverage the concocted the other night in honour of having the night off.  

The One Armed Sour

45ml Appleton Estate Extra rum
20ml Pedro Ximenez Sherry
20ml Fresh lemon juice (this was the tricky part with one arm)
One dash of icy cold Fernet Branca straight from the freezer (where else would you keep yours?)
2 dashes of The Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole bitters (good stuff if you have never tried it – now available in Oz through Suntory)
The white of one egg

Add all ingredients into a Parisian, cobbler, or two part tin shaker – perfect for one armed shaking. Crack your egg on the side of your shaker – easy now – and slowly split in one hand to allow egg white but no yolk into the mix. Ice and give the mix the Kiwi Hard Shake™. Strain into a frosty glass and serve with a side of pork scratchings or biltong (I just love that stuff).

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Masterful Ms. Vásquez

Lorena Vasquez at Grandma's, Sydney

A couple of weeks back I had the singular opportunity to interview a grande dame of the rum industry – one Ms. Lorena Vásquez – Master Blender for Ron Zacapa on her first visit to Australian shores. 

Fellow Aussie booze Blogger Mr. Ben Shipley from Everyday Drinking has covered in depth the highly complex ageing process for this famous rum. So I thought rather than cover this well trodden path with Lorena I would enjoy my deliciously fruity, sweet and complex Solera 23 rum and delve more into the curious nature of Zacapa’s use of sugar cane honey. Besides, despite the various Ron Zacapa tutorials I have attended I must admit the subject of solera ageing still gets me thoroughly confused especially after a couple of drams...

It must be said before we commence with the transcript, that Ms. Vasquez is charming, sharp of mind and incredibly passionate about her product. I daresay that even without the help of her translator I would have walked away from this interview inspired with a new love for Zacapa. 

Lorena, how long have you been in the rum industry?

26 ½ years.  It’s not that I’m old are but I started very young.

How many of those years have you being at Ron Zacapa?

I’ve been there all those years with them.

But what is it about rum in particular that attracted you to get involved in this industry?

I have always loved to perceive aromas and flavours.  And within the rum industry, in particular with Zacapa rum, I have the opportunity to do that.  To me more than a job it is a game.

What is your favourite aspect of your job at Zacapa?

What I like the most is to do the final blends. And the fact that I can discover how the rum develops.  I can always find something in the glass of rum. One of the things I like the most about Zacapa rum is that it is not a boring rum. It is a rum that develops and allows you to talk to the rum to discover it.

Ron Zacapa is often credited with being the rum that gentrified the rum category. What is it about Zacapa that makes it so refined?

As far as I’m concerned it is the raw material that we utilise.  Because we use the concentrated juice of the cane which is what we call the virgin sugar cane honey.  We don’t use molasses.  For us the raw material is as important as it is to a chef. Another very important aspect is the ageing where we use all the different casks. As I told you, because I don’t like boring things, what we look for in the rum is more complexity in aromas and flavours and foir more sophisticated. This allows you to enjoy and drink the rum without the need of mixing it. This has changed the perception of rum.

For me rum is about a moment of relaxation and pleasure. A good meal and a good drink; a good rum.

So you have just said that Zacapa is a rum that you can enjoy without mixing, but cocktails are without doubt incredibly popular.  How does Zacapa lend itself to mixing?

For me the use of Zacapa rum in cocktails also allows you to raise the category of the cocktail.  Because this rum has enough personality – even though it is mixed in a cocktail the rum still says I am here.  Although I say that the Zacapa rum can be enjoyed without mixing it is the consumer who ultimately decides how they are going to enjoy the rum.

Specifically what difference does the use of the virgin sugar cane honey make to the final product as oppose to using molasses? 

The virgin sugar cane honey – in order to produce it you cut the sugar cane then we press it to take the juice out then by using heat we evaporate the water out of it to concentrate the sugars.  The sugars in the virgin sugar cane honey are the same sugars that are in the sugar cane plant because we haven’t extracted anything. Molasses on the other hand is a sub product of sugar production.  Therefore when they are producing sugar they are extracting sucrose, sucrose and more sucrose.  In the end the chemical composition of the molasses is totally different from the composition of the virgin sugar cane honey.  This is important because in the process the compounds are going to be formed which depend on the chemical composition of the raw material.  The aromas and flavours that are formed in the fermentation of the virgin sugar cane honey are different than when using molasses.

When using sugar cane honey the resultant rum is sweeter and more fruity with flavours like banana, pineapple, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  When the molasses is fermented what you get is drier and stronger, rougher.

How long does the fermentation process take for Zacapa?

We have a fermentation that lasts for more than 100 hours.  Because, and this is very important because when you produce a vodka you are not interested in aromas and flavours just the ethyl-alcohol.  So the fermentation is done very quickly 18 to 20 hours.  For Ron Zacapa we’re interested in the many flavours and aromas that can be developed during fermentation.  That’s why we do a slower fermentation so that the yeast is enough time to consume all the sugars from the virgin sugar cane honey and produce all the other compounds which are the ones which give us all those aromas.

Tell us about the yeast you use at Ron Zacapa?

Every time we ferment a new batch of Zacapa rum we use fresh yeast.  This is very important for the cleanliness of the aromas and flavours. 

And is the strain you use one you have isolated?

Yes. Our saccharomyces cerevisiae comes from the pineapple and is our own.  In fermentation it is very important, how can I put it… to have a relationship between the yeast and the raw material that we are using.  And this yeast works very well with the virgin sugar cane honey.  The reason being that fermenting the sugar cane honey is different than working with molasses.

Has Ron Zacapa changed over the years you have been there?

In terms of the production method we have always made the rum in the same way.  But I always say that the process of making a rum is alive.  The production of the sugar cane is affected by climate change, for example.  In the fermentation process the yeast is alive, in the ageing I say that the casks are alive because each barrel is going to give you different aromas and different flavours.

Production methods aside, obviously the company has grown, so how have you managed to maintain the standards of Zacapa with the company growing?

We have been increasing the amount of rum produced and the amount we age for a number of years.  And we have control of what can be produced each year.  What can be produced in a particular year is that quantity and it cannot be exceeded.  We plan each year for growth, but it is a small growth it will never be a massive product.

Are there other rum producers that you respect and admire?

I think the world of rum is like the world of cooking each producer has his own unique style and each producer makes the biggest effort he can within his rum’s style to make the best rum.

Fantastic a very politic answer!  What else apart from rum do you enjoy drinking?

I like red wine.  I like a red wines are the complex.  I don’t like anything that is flat.

Is there much of a red wine industry in Guatemala?

No.  All the wine in Guatemala is imported.  I do really like wines from Mendoza like Malbec.

What I your typical duties at Zacapa?

To evaluate the different rums. [In English] Tasting and tasting!  And to do some administrative control work.

What do you love most about being in this industry?

To put in time, patience, and devotion into a rum that many other people in the world are going to enjoy.

What would you change about this industry if anything?

I think in the world of rum all producers should work together to raise the level of rum.

If you could share a Ron Zacapa with anyone dead or alive who would it be and why?

A tough one.  I can’t come up with one name but whenever I have a Ron Zacapa I hope to share it with someone who can talk about many different and interesting subjects.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Woodford Reserve's Reserve

The other week I received a call from one Mr Dan Woolley. Woolley is the manager at Star City's latest bar venture Rock Lily, but more than that - he's a man who knows his liquor and the biz. He told me he had a very special tasting for me to attend - the first of its kind in Australia no less. The catch? I needed to be ready to taste barrel proof spirits at Star City at 7:45am.

I'm very rarely functioning in any useful capacity before 10am on any given day, but Woolley isn't the sort of man you like to say no to - especially when he's this excited about a project. Fortunately I deemed the early start doable as thankfully I live right across the road from Casinoland

Bleary eyed, and with my usual criminally strong takeaway cup of Joe, I'm escorted through the inner workings of the Star City machine to a brightly lit board room. I was told we'd be doing a live cross with Chris Morris - the Master Distiller from Woodford Reserve Bourbon whiskey and sure enough there he is in his office in Kentucky waving at us from the other side of the world.

The eight barrel proof samples
We take a seat. In front of us lie eight Woodford Reserve full strength barrel samples with the same eight in front of Mr Morris. We are given the task of creating a special Woodford Reserve Private Selection blend for Star City - only the third time this has ever been done in the world with Woodford and an Australian first.

Before we get started Morris gives us an introduction to his Bourbon and warns us about the proof. Each of the samples, from various distillations from the 2004 distilling season, entered the barrels at 110 proof. Unlike Scotch whisky which gradually loses proof from the aging process Bourbon gains a significant amount of alcoholic strength. We're told that the minimum proof would now be at 118 (59% abv) but also go as high as 140. Despite this Morris insists that we avoid adding water at this stage.

"Forget the alcohol," he says. "We want your personal preference. If we add water at this stage you'd start to lose the characteristics that make each barrel unique." 

Thirsty work - cutting down eight samples to our favourite four
As it turns out each sample is worlds apart despite be distilled in exactly the same manner, with the same mash bill, entering the casks at the same strength each with exactly the same char level on the barrel. I'm astounded. The samples vary from marzipan, pecan and walnut dominated tones, to softer honey, tea and star anise like samples through to ballsy, banana and tropical fruit with spicy, chocolate and port like characters abound too.

I can see why Morris said: "Remember too that it's all about flavour and not age. Each barrel is a voice in the choir that is Woodford reserve." These barrels all of similar age have matured in completely different ways - often it's to do with where they're placed in the ageing warehouse. We've certainly got any number of possible harmonies to work with from the samples in front of us - and the first step was to eliminate four.

Samples 3, 4, 5, and 7 make the cut after a round of voting. I'm pleased as sample 4 which displayed loads of interesting characters like pecan pie, maple syrup, tobacco, leather and green nuts was one of my top picks as too was sample 7 - a bold, rich and high octane sample with a rich port, chocolate and a dried fruit like profile. From these four samples we had to create six different blends one of which would become Star City's Woodford Reserve Private Selection.

3 and 4 were both marzipan like samples and together they developed a toasted hazelnut and cookie dough like blend.

3 and 5 (being a the sample which displayed honey tea and star anise) produced a blend with peach and apricot flavours and aromas balanced by leather, tannins and creamy vanilla.

3 and 7 made a blend with almost Cognac-like fruit and spice characters.

4 and 5 developed a delicious combination of pecan, honey, black tea and stone fruit. My favourite blend so far.

4 and 7 offered stewed prunes, and a big chewy spirit with a lick of pipe tobacco.

Our final blend (5 and 7) - and ultimately the winner on the day - showed an interesting combination of rose petal and floral notes with ripe banana, heather and honey - the boldness of the number 7 sample perfectly offset by the more subtle notes of number 5. The decision to go with this sample was unanimous.
Here we are celebrating with our chosen blend
Morris informed us that these two barrels would be married together, proofed, diluted, filtered (through paper not charcoal or chill filtered) bottled and shipped over to Sydney. The last update I received from the Star City team is that this whiskey would be available in about six weeks.

I'm proud that I was able to be a part of creating this blend and will be popping into Rock Lily as soon as it arrives to give it a whirl. I highly recommend you do the same. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Sauvy Wee Pilsner

Four Pines Brew Bar in Manly, NSW
When I first moved to Sydney I was appalled at the state of the country's micro/craft brewing industry - it felt to me as if New Zealand was light years ahead in this regard. Over the last few years, however, my outlook has been greatly improved and not least because I have discovered havens of beery goodness that I had missed with my first precursory glance at the scene. 

My initial perceptions were not aided by the fact that I had landed in New South Wales - a state whose hotels were (and still are) predominately owned by larger concerns operating several if not dozens of venues. This has resulted in Sydney bearing more than its fair share of characterless pubs bound by contracts to large breweries that only offer characterless adjunct ridden brews. But not all Sydney's pubs were or are still content with being bland - shining lights include Clarence Street's Redoak, The Lord Nelson and The Australian both in the Rocks or more recently Four Pines in Manly and the Local  Taphouse in Darlinghurst. 

It's not just these specialty brew bars and micro-breweries that have started to making changes to the way people view beer offerings. Thanks to their example and those of our craft brew loving Victorian neighbours, most Sydney bars now offer more than the obligatory six lagers (insert generic local or imported brands here) two of which may be low-carb. In my mind it's akin to having a wine list that only offers the now ubiquitous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

My views on brews have me often labelled as a snob, an ale-elitist and a hater of all things lager. Whilst the two former comments may be sooth the latter is indelibly slanderous. There is, in fact, one lager that I truly love and count among my favourite beers of all time - Dunedin's own Emerson's Pilsner.

The ambrosial Emerson's Pilsner
For those who haven't been lucky enough to let this golden nectar pass their lips I will divulge that it has a distinct aroma of grapefruit peel and tropical notes like passionfruit. Despite early slander on the varietal, this brew's enticing nose can be described as Sauvignon Blanc like due to the liberal use of Nelson grown Riwaka hops. Much of this fruit passes onto the palate carried by just a little malt sweetness, but before there's any chance of this drop becoming confectionary generous bittering hops dry out the brew to make it utterly thirst quenching and crisp.
This classic Kiwi Pilsner has yet to find a match in Australia although a very close second is the Knappstein Reserve Lager that again uses a Nelson grown hop (Sauvin hops) to create an almost Savignon Blanc like aroma. I highly recomend that you track down some Knappstein as the bottle of Emerson's pictured above will set you back about $10 a pop and that's if you can find it.

So there you have it  - I will drink lager and enjoy it. Under duress (as in the bar being dry of anything else) I will also go for Little Creatures, Trummer Pils, or Pilsner Urquell. Unfortunately these brews have very little of that citrus and passionfruit aroma remaining (especially the last two) which makes Emerson's so appealing, though pouring it into a glass will help somewhat.