Knowing where the food on your plate comes from is fast becoming the norm for savvy diners. So is it only a matter of time before the same applies to cocktails?
Championing local produce, supporting our farmers and sourcing sustainable ingredients is fast gaining momentum, with customers willing to pay a premium for produce that’s slicker than your average.
Mindful bars have been popping up around the globe in recent years — think recently closed White Lyan in London — and have recently started mushrooming in Australia. Archie Rose, Bulletin Place, Charlie Parker’s and Oriental Teahouse are just a handful of the venues contributing to the home-grown phenomenon one drink at a time.
Plucking the fruits of the Aussie landscape wasn’t ever a question for Sydney’s first distillery in 160 years, Archie Rose. Putting local ingredients on the map — and in the drinks — is what gives the venue an edge on the world stage.
“More and more consumers are interested in the provenance of their food and drink, so yes, we think it’s very important to highlight and promote the use of local ingredients,” says Archie Rose’s Nigel Weisbaum. “We’re very fortunate to have access to Australian native ingredients.”
Thanks to Australia’s bounty of botanicals, Archie Rose is able to create products that are unlike anything else. “Botanicals including blood limes, lemon myrtle, river mint or Dorrigo pepper leaf are not available anywhere else in the world,” says Nigel. “This gives [us] a huge point of difference, especially as they are so prominent. Lemon myrtle is 90 percent citral, whereas lemons and limes are 10 percent.”
Along with scouring local markets for ingredients and collecting honey from their rooftop bees —found in the Distiller’s Strength Gin (and subsequently showcased in the Last Laugh alongside strawberry, rhubarb and smoked lemonade for a fruity tipple) — the distillery places emphasis on giving used materials a second chance at life. “We always do our best to recycle or reuse our ingredients,” says Nigel. “We recently distilled yuzu skins [Hokkaido (Northern Island) Archie Rose Horisumi stirred with Absinthe, yuzushu, saline] and didn’t need the juice, so our friends MC and Thor from PS Soda and our neighbours Gelato Messina grabbed the skinless fruit to create new flavoured sodas and ice creams.”
So what’s the most Australiana cocktail you can get your hands on? “Probably the Shane Collins — an Australian version of the Tom Collins — with Archie Rose Signature Dry Gin, fresh local lemon juice and lemon myrtle syrup topped with soda.”
THE NEW NORMAL
Charlie Parker’s is all about a leaf-to-stalk philosophy. Headed up by Palmer & Co. alumni Sam Egerton and Toby Marshall, the menu centres around seasonality teamed with a chef’s approach to making drinks.
Opening its Paddington doors, sustainability and education has always been front and centre. “In the process of developing Charlie Parker’s, it has become apparent there needs to be a greater amount of awareness when it comes to asking where locally sourced ingredients come from,” says Sam. “The opportunity is for the bartenders to share their passion about the drinks and the products that go in them.”
Ethically sourcing local ingredients for drinks is another concern for the venue, especially when using Australia’s rural and unusual produce. “The explosion of ‘foraging’ took off before the social awareness of the [environmental] impact when taking local ingredients,” says Sam. “This was a learning curve for me, and now the team work closely with providores to ethically source ingredients for the drinks. We have long-standing relationships with a few suppliers, but are constantly asking questions about where produce or products are sourced from.”
The drinks offering showcases the best the seasons have to offer, but there are a few cocktails that won’t budge from the menu. “One of the mainstays from the first menu is the wattle seed highball Toby created,” says Sam. Comprising wattle seed Vermouth and citrus skin soda, it’s “simple, elegant and represents our affinity with local produce and the end-to-end approach to using all elements of the produce we bring in.”
There’s no phone and no bookings at Bulletin Place, with the five daily offerings influenced by the strictly Australian produce the team source from the markets. In between selecting the crème de la crème of seasonal produce and using ‘crap puns’ when naming drinks, Bulletin Place’s ethos is simple: less is more.
“We try to keep things as local as possible,” says Paul Hammond, general manager. Our wines, beers and food suppliers are all solely Australian, and as far as fresh produce goes, we’ve partnered with several local purveyors who keep us firmly in the loop with what’s good and where it’s coming from. We always want to be offering a genuine reflection of what the local season has given us.
“Some of our favourites include but are not limited to Poltergeist Gin, Archie Rose, The Mountain Lagoon Trading Co. (Wollemi Honey), Starward, L’Artisan Cheese, Yarra Valley Dairy and Matt Brown’s Greens.”
Bulletin Place takes great pride in promoting locality and sustainability as a business, leaving consumers to reap the benefits. From reducing usage to cutting down on plastic or paper products, every little bit counts.
But Bulletin Place doesn’t push its own agenda, with Paul citing business awareness as more important than going overboard on menu descriptions. “I think it’s more important that as a business, you’re aware and happy with where things come from both from quality and ethical standpoints. You need to be careful not to overdo things on menus, and you can always talk a customer through where something comes from and what makes it different. The provenance of ingredients can be quite contentious and become a form of advertising or needless value-adding on a menu. As much as possible, we want to know what we’re getting and who we’re getting it from — but then display it in a no-bullshit, unfussy manner.”
Melbourne’s Oriental Teahouse is more than just yum cha. If you can push your way past the trolleys of steaming siu mai and prawn dumplings at the Chapel Street restaurant, Zhou Zhou Bar awaits upstairs. The presence of tea is heavy in the drinks menu, which is a credit to founder David Zhou’s signature handcrafted blends. But more importantly, Oriental Teahouse makes a real effort to support local industry.
“It’s very important to use local products as the people making them have gone to a lot of effort to set up their production in the first place, often involving a lot of costs,” says beverage manager Aidan Mongor. “We use local fruit and veg suppliers and order a lot of products from local distilleries and breweries.”
The house special is any cocktail using Starward whisky, with its Melbourne production serving as the cherry on top. Another local special is the Outback Nergroni, which “features all-Australian ingredients including Four Pillars Dry gin, Maidenii sweet vermouth and Applewood Red Okar [Campari substitute],” says Aidan.
This article originally appeared in the August edition of Hospitality magazine.