The Australian Home Bartender 2018 Top Nine
As 2018 draws to a close, here’s our Top Nine highlights of the year for home bartenders - what we drank, how we drank it and how we liked it.
For those who play on Instagram, you’ll know the drill come end of the year - around now is when you see a proliferation of “Top Nine” on everyone’s feed, which is when users post up a collage of their most popular nine posts for the year, generally of drinks they’ve had or made. Never one to limit ourselves, we thought we’d go one step further and explore our best nine highlights of the year when it comes to the amateur drinker. Is this trend spotting? Call it what you will, but we’d never be that naff ;)
In no particular order….
Classic liqueurs got a sexy Australian makeover (and we lapped it up)
Corner any drinker and they’d be able to rattle off a slew of Australian whisky, gin, vodka and (obviously) rum. But until the past year, you still had to look to a foreign brand when it came to the likes of liqueurs such as orange curacao or creme de cassis, all of which are staples in classic cocktails such as the Kir Royale, Cosmopolitan, the Mai Tai….you name it. Enter Marionette. Made in Melbourne by a bunch of seasoned bartenders, the range of liqueurs aim to make the best use of Australian fruit to redefine the traditional liqueur. So far they’ve released a orange curacao, creme de cassis (made from blackcurrants), apricot brandy, groiselle (made from redcurrants) and creme de mure (blackberries). We’ve got them all and they’re hands down the best to mix with (and drink on their own). Try it in this Gin Cosmopolitan cocktail
Drink Pink is in!
Yeah, anyone seen the sea of pink in the gin aisle of late? When you’ve got heavyweights like Beefeater and Gordons releasing pink gin, you know that colour has arrived (if it ever left). Let’s not even talk about the pink bubblegum flavoured vodka that’s floating around somewhere. Like it or not however, we’ve definitely drunk more pink this year and they’re not all gimmicky - the Fever Tree Aromatic tonic gets its pink hue from the addition of Angostura bitters, the Adelaide Hills Distillery Sunset gin uses rosella and the Poor Toms Strawberry gin uses strawberries and a touch of hibiscus. WE BEEN DRINKING PINK AND PROUD OF IT.
We adopted the term conscionable drinking and started working towards zero waste at home
You’d have to be living under a rock to not be aware of the zero waste movement - anyone who hasn’t watched War on Waste should go onto ABC iView NOW. Amidst growing calls to ban single use items, principally plastics, the most common measure has been the phasing out of the plastic straw. A Home Bartenders challenge on Instagram however, got us thinking about a more holistic way of trying to reduce waste. There’s no denying there can be a lot of it when it comes to making cocktails at home - sure it’s fashionable to have that lemon rind garnish, but lemon juice aside, there’s still a lot that gets thrown away. The key to closing the loop? A bit of planning and a lot of cross over with the kitchen - see how we did it with our Ginger Kiss cocktail
We returned to simplicity in drinks making
Ok, we’ve got to put our hands up. We’ve been guilty of making those complicated drinks ourselves with over the top garnishes. You know the ones - where there’s ten ingredients that have all been individually sous-vide(d), fermented and kombucha-ed within an inch of their lives, with a couple of esoteric ingredients thrown in. Squid ink infused bitters? Ding. Saliva from the sperm whale? Ding ding ding.
Perhaps linked with the rising awareness of minimising waste in the home, this year has seen a return to simplicity (for us anyway). We’ve been crushing on books like Three Ingredient Cocktails by Robert Simonson and One Bottle Cocktail by Maggie Hoffman, both of which espouse a return to simpler drinks without sacrificing the flavour. The result is we’re making better use of what we have at home, instead of going out to buy 15 different obscure bottles to make the one drink. One Bottle Cocktail in particular is great in that each recipe calls for one base spirit alone with some good suggestions on incorporating pantry staples such as olive oil, tofu and spices in a very approachable way. And the garnish? Unless its necessary or adds something to the drink, we’re going without (see going zero waste above)
We experienced a rum revolution
We drank more rum this year. Fact. Truth is, trend forecasters have been predicting that rum will be the next big thing for some time now, but for the first time this year, it FEELS like it could be happening in Australia. Sydney’s first rum distillery Brix flung open its doors so after what feels like an eternity, we finally have another specialist rum bar to complement the likes of Lobo Plantation. The rum festival Sugarcane Sunday returned to Sydney, followed swiftly by iHart Rum in Melbourne. On top of that, for the geeky rum drinker, choices have expanded exponentially with the domestic arrival of the likes of Velier, Clairin and Foursquare special releases, all of which you would probably have had to source directly from Europe or America previously.
We mixed it up with the best (and the weird and wonderful)
Fever-Tree was famous for coining the phrase, if 3/4 of your drink is the mixer, then mix with the best. In much the same way as no two gins are alike, so too is there equal diversity in the tonic market. And boy, did we explore (and prove) that with gusto this year, with a couple of tonic tastings and our Tonic Advent Calendar. It wasn’t just tonics though, this year saw great variety in the soda game, led by Strangelove with their Grapefruit and Basil low sugar soda and a Salted Grapefruit soda that we have been drinking A LOT. No more boring Sprite or Coke. We did have fun incorporating mixers into our drinks ranging from the Zero Paloma to the Violet Fizz, which uses a beautiful Violet Blossom tonic from the recently launched Artisan Drinks Co.
We got more bitter
It’s no exaggeration to say that Campari is the one brand that springs to mind when any drinker is asked to name a bitter liqueur (or “amaro”, as the Italian term used to describe the category). It’s a very European thing, this bitters thing. But it seems in the past year, us Australians might have cottoned on to it if the new releases from our Australian distillers are anything to go by. Applewood kicked it off a few years back with their Okar and Red Okar (although never officially confirmed, the two were seen as local interpretations of Aperol and Campari respectively). Last year saw the release of the Mr Black Amaro and the bitterness shows no signs of slowing down - 2018 has welcomed the Imperial Measures Distilling Ruby Bitter Aperitif, Poor Toms Imbroglio Amaro and Applewood released its new look, new formulation Okar Amaro (retiring the Okar and Red Okar that it initially launched with). Whilst it might be a while before we’re chugging bitter spirits like we’re drinking whisky, we’ve certainly been incorporating more bitter into our drinks this year. Check out our Chocolate Boulevardier recipe here
We’ve been spritzing it up
Blame it on Aperol, blame it on our doctor who think we should be drinking less or blame it on the weather, but we’ve embraced the spritz more this year, This in part may be linked with the rise in low alcohol/no alcohol drinking and alongside it, the local alternatives to bitter liqueurs (see no 7 above). Originating in Italy, the spritz commonly comprises a bitter liqueur, sparkling and soda and is traditionally drunk as an aperitif (or at the start of an evening/before a meal). The bitters element is key, principally as it stimulates the gastric juices that “opens up the stomach” to get you ready for the meal ahead.
The obsession with ice continues
Ah, ice. A key component of every cocktail drinker’s arsenal. Whilst in the past, it may have been seen as simply a means of diluting and/or chilling the drink, in recent times, ice has taken more of a central stage in the presentation of drinks. Cue those big sexy ice cubes/balls that look impossibly clear. We say impossibly clear, because as a home bartender, they are notoriously difficult to achieve, mainly because most of us don’t have a stand alone freezer dedicated to ice making alone. It’s got something to do with directional freezing, which sounds simple enough but requires a lot of space. We’ve experimented with those ice kits and all, but it’s not been 100% successful as yet. In the meantime, we’ve contented ourselves with making flower ice cubes that look pretty. Stay tuned next year.