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The Maker - Eddie Brook of Cape Byron Distillery

Brookies Gin - Eddie Brook.jpg

What's your background?

When I finished school, I started as a kitchen hand before becoming a chef. I moved to Brisbane when I was 17 and that was when I started working in bars. I eventually took up a brand ambassador position then moved to Sydney where I worked for (local spirits distributor) Southtrade. That's where I stayed for a good few years before chucking it all in to come back to Byron.

Leaving the bright lights of Sydney? Why?

My parents started the Brookfarm* business 17 tears ago and I'd always grown up around that - my mother started baking at home using nuts grown on our family farm and we would sell at the local markets. (Brookfarm produces quality food products using macadamias grown on their land) My parents have always been passionate about rejuvenation and using native flavours. I grew up on our farm in Byron where they started their business and I've always had an affinity for the area. So even when I left the family farm, I knew that I wanted to come back and start something. I just didn't really know what. I thought about starting a distillery about 4 years ago but parked the idea until I met Jim McEwen whilst working at Southtrade. 

How did you meet Jim?

I was working for Southtrade, which distributed the Bruichladdich range of whiskies and Jim came out to Australia on a promotional tour as he was the master distiller of Bruichladdich at the time. (this was in 2015 or so) Whilst taking him round, we started to get to know each other and I told him about my family background, what my parents were passionate about and my idea for a distillery. Those conversations were the catalyst for me biting the bullet. When I rang my parents and they were supportive of the whole idea, I knew I had to do it.

Are you still a family business?

Yes, it's very much  family business. My parents, my brother, Jim and I are all part owners of the business. Jim came out to get us established and help us work out the recipe for the gin but otherwise my brother and I run the daily distilling and blending operations. We have a part time sales team and some people coming in to help us bottle and do the distillery tours but otherwise it's pretty much a family affair. Jim will be back next year though (2018) and we'll be looking at some new products we can develop.

Brookies Gins.jpg

What this about a slow gin - surely that's a typo and you really mean sloe gin?

Sloe gin is well known to bartenders. But where I grew up, we always picked the Davidson plum and would preserve it, and it made me think why no one was using it instead of the sloe berries. The sloe berry and Davidson plum are quite similar in characteristic but the latter is native to our area. It's amazing the amount of native produce that has gotten pushed to one side in favour of their European cousins and it's really only now that we are starting to embrace it.

Our slow gin is so named, in part as a reflection of the slower way of life in Byron but also to the patience required to develop the gin, which takes about 7 months to mature and develop. (The Brooks steep the plum in the gin over a prolonged period of time, then bring it back with a little bit of sugar to calm down the tartness). Everything is about speeding up and efficiency nowadays but when you think about it, the best things in life takes time.

The slow gin isn't quite like a liqueur as we don't use that much sugar but it retains a freshness whilst still staying true to being a gin.

Best cocktails you've had using the Slow Gin?

I've had a couple of Charlie Chaplin cocktails at Rambling Rascal, which were great. We also do a Blackthorn cocktail as the slow gin goes well with sweet vermouth. And of course, drinking it on ice is great. There's a recipe on the back of the bottle that's a play on a Pimms Cup. 

 

 

 

The Founder - Tom Baker of Mr Black Spirits Co

Tom Baker Mr Black

In the same way that London is associated with gin and Scotland with whisky, if Australia were to have a signature spirit, we wager it would be coffee related, such is the Australian love for all things caffeine. And although there's no shortage of coffee liqueurs out there (Kahlua anyone?), it was only a matter of time before Australian had one it could call its own. Whilst there's now a plethora of Aussie coffee liqueurs in the market, we've long had a soft spot for Mr Black. In fact, one of the first few events we ran involved a parallel tasting of some coffee spirits out on the market (including Mr Black) and the unofficial consensus from guests on the night was that such was the quality of the Mr Black, it was the best one to be sipped straight.

Since then, Mr Black has gone from strength to strength, launching in the UK and US market as well as teaming up with Campos Coffee to release two limited edition liqueurs made with different beans (including the rare Panama Geisha variety). This year, they've added the special edition Mr Black Coffee Amaro to their lineup and if you're wondering whaaaa.....read on as we speak to co-founder Tom Baker about the whats and the whys.

What's your background?

I'm an industrial designer by trade and training. After graduating, I worked for an innovation agency with brands such as Absolut, Nestle, Chivas Regal, Jameson and KFC.

How did you go from industrial design to...booze? 

In 2013 I was looking into the craft gin category so I found a guy who made the best gin in Australia and walked into his distillery on a quiet Sunday afternoon. That was how I came to meet Philip (Moore from Distillery Botanica in Erina, Central Coast NSW).  He already was committed to producing a gin with another company but then he asked me that #1 question - "do you like coffee?" He whipped out a sample he was working on - different ABV and a different name to Mr Black - and it was love at first taste. I honestly thought “this shit could change how people drink”. Four years, four countries and many, many bottles later, we’re getting there.

How many months/years of testing did it take before you were able to publicly launch Mr Black? 

Phil legitimately spent 6 months and 240 different iterations creating Mr Black. We launched it in two weeks. No plan. No strategy. Just ‘lets walk into a few bars and see who wants to buy this’. 
We used Pozible (Australian Kickstarter) to see if people - like normal punters - wanted to pick up what we were putting down. Thankfully, they did, and we sold 250% more than we anticipated and set the stage for a number of distillers to follow in our footsteps - Four Pillars and Poor Toms to name but a few. 

The focus has been on Mr Black as a coffee liqueur (the limited editions in the past focussed on utilising different beans) - why amaro?*

What people might not know about Mr Black, is our coffee roastery is also a world-class gin distillery. Philip Moore is Australia’s highest awarded gin distiller [being the only Australian to have won Gold at the London International Wine & Spirits Competition]. We make coffee by night and distill botanicals during the day. 

Sure, Australia might not have booming amari culture, but our coffee amaro is the extension of my love and worship of coffee and Philip’s 30-year botanical obsession. I get it - it’s esoteric and a little left of centre, but if we don’t show the world what coffee can be in the bar, who will?

*Amaro is Italian for "bitter" and used to describe the category of bittersweet Italian herbal liqueurs that are traditionally drunk after dinner as a digestif.

Most memorable cocktail you’ve had with the coffee amaro?

I’m still in that ‘new parent’ phase - so it’s going to take a few months to get beyond anything other than a lump of ice the size of your fist.

The Mr Black Coffee Amaro is now available to purchase from www.coffeeamaro.com. We're working with Mr Black on the fulfilment of this one so not only will you be supporting a great little Aussie distillery with every bottle you purchase, but also our mission to influence better consumption in Australia!

Connect the Gram - Matt aka The Amateur Mixologist

The Amateur Mixologist

In this instalment of Connect the Gram, we meet Matt H aka the Amateur Mixologist, the Mixing Brit who we've also had the pleasure of connecting in real life with at London Cocktail Week 2017. Affable, charismatic and a smooth talker when it comes to cocktails (he also has his own channel on YouTube), Matt has impressed lots of 'grammers with his creative concoctions, made all the more impressive when we find out they're mostly conjured up within a 20 minute window, between juggling a full time job, a kid and organising Insta campaigns such as #peacepours and the upcoming #brancamentaday on 2 December 2017. Want to know how he does it? Read on to find out!

 
What’s your IG handle and tell us a little bit about yourself

My name’s Matt but I’m also known as @theamateurmixologist on Instagram. I’m from the UK; a Londoner born and bred…it’s a city I’m hugely passionate about and thankful for in how it's helped to frame my view of the world. Nowadays, I live in Southend, an hour East from London on the coast, with my Northern Irish wife of 11 years and our hilarious three year old boy.

Cocktails are a hobby for me, hence my IG name, but for a day job I’m an Information Architect and UX Strategist, running my own agency with my wife. I love exploring, culture, travel, football, good coffee, books and collecting antique maps that I customise and sell on Etsy (and sometimes feature as props in cocktail photos).

Do you remember how your interest in cocktails started?

It all started with gin (which could sound like the start of a therapy session). I don’t recall exactly when, but I began drinking G&Ts with my wife, which led me to discover the huge range on offer, all made possible by the distiller’s choice of botanicals. This realisation that the flavour of spirits wasn’t limited to broad categories of rum, gin or bourbon took me on a journey that slowly saw me buying different bottles to pair with my gin base: vermouth, bitters etc

When did you start your Instagram account and what was the motivation for it?

My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2016 and duly, my siblings and I threw a big party for friends and family to celebrate the occasion. As part of the day I created a choice of two cocktails for the guests inspired by ‘Gold’ for their Golden Anniversary.

On a whim, that same night, I decided to put photos of my two drinks up on Instagram. I have a private Instagram account for day-to-day photos and I’d become increasingly aware that my friends might not want to see every photo I took of a rocks glass with ice cubes in it. With no plan for anything more, I picked a random name for a new account and posted the photos there.

From then on, I perhaps made a cocktail and posted a photo every couple of weeks, slung in a few hashtags for good measure but never really engaged with people. Cue the third week of January 2017 with 400 followers, I realised I didn’t have a new year’s resolution, so in a room with a bunch of friends announced that I resolved to be more purposeful with my boozy account as a creative outlet. Three months later and I’d posted a cocktail photo every day since that night and discovered a generous community of global drinkstagrammers I am glad to be a part of.

How often do you post and do you have a process for deciding what to make/feature on each post? 

I try to post as often as I can, but posting daily has become increasingly difficult in the balance of running a business, parenting, being part of my local community etc. The majority of the time there’s a small window of opportunity between the end of work and my son’s bath/bed routine when I can take 20 minutes to mix a drink and take a photo. I like to imagine myself as the 1980s American action hero, MacGyver, able to perform any cocktail related task in a tight window of opportunity with only a paperclip and some lemon zest to either make a Sazerac or stop a mineshaft from caving in on itself.

My choice of what to make is often governed by the practicalities of which ingredients I have in the house but I try to be thematic wherever possible as there are countless days dedicated to different spirits, many of which I take part in. I see making a cocktail as a combination of being like a chef when it comes to ingredients and an artist when it comes to narrative. Anyone who has ever drunk or mixed a craft or classic cocktail will see the art that has gone into it and all art can tell a story, so if something happens in the world that impacts people, a drink can be made in response to that can bring inspiration or comfort; if there’s a national day for pancakes, or flowers, or MacGyver, a drink can be inspired by that too,

 One of Matt's creative use of ingredients and props - thematic is the name of the game!

One of Matt's creative use of ingredients and props - thematic is the name of the game!

Beyond those themes, I don’t own a lot of cocktail books but regularly search Diffordsguide and spend a lot of time crafting ideas in the Notes section on my phone. I’m also passionate about supporting local producers, so try to highlight spirits and mixers made in the UK, often by people like me, starting their own business and trying to make a living out of something they’re deeply passionate about.

What has been the weirdest/strangest cocktail you’ve made or drank, where you thought on paper, all the ingredients wouldn’t mix together well, or it used a particularly insane ingredient? Did it work?

I washed a cocktail in Marmite (vegemite) once, I drank it but I was definitely too heavy handed with the yeasty goodness. I also began attempting fat washes earlier this year and used paté washed overproof gin with a lemon shrub and chartreuse; this was pretty special, but again I wish I’d used less of the fat.

I’ve taken part in a few cocktail competitions and reached a couple of finals. In these environments I’m increasingly aware that amateurs have a freedom to experiment with weird and strange ideas in a way that many full time bartenders aren’t able to, simply because they’re working every night behind the bar, mixing the drinks that are set by their menus.

Amateur Mixologist mixing

The flip side of the competition experience is that I fall behind in my technical abilities when compared to people who shake and stir for 30 - 40 hours a week. The day after a regional final, where I’d been mixing in front of judges with clipboards, I took out my Boston Shaker set at a social event with friends and proceeded to smash the glass can into a million pieces smothering people with egg white and shrapnel. As I picked the shards from my hands and albumen from my hair, I was relieved it hadn’t happened 24 hours earlier.

Introduce us to the one cocktail ingredient you cannot do without and tell us what you love so much about it

A while ago I started using a 50/50 splits for mixers in a lot of my tall drinks. Inspired by the ginger ale and cola used in Summer Cups. If any drink calls for Tonic or Ginger Ale, try going 50/50 with them both. The combination of the quinine and the ginger is wonderful but it also looks pretty good when you simultaneously pour from two bottles.

Aside from that, vinegar has become a go to. I make a lot of homemade shrubs: generally equal parts vinegar, fruit and sugar, but I’ve also begun adding dashes of vinegar on its own. Try out just 5ml of apple cider vinegar in a tall gin or rum drink and you’ll be amazed by the transformation it makes.

Tell us about 3 bars you'd recommend to a fellow enthusiast visiting your hometown

London and Belfast are my primary cocktailing locations and there are so many different kinds of vibes and experiences and views, but here’s three for each but if you’re ever visiting, message me and I’ll give you the long lists.....

LONDON:
 - Dandelyan Bar
 - Duck and Waffle
 - Coupette

BELFAST:
 - XXX Liquor
 - Berts Jazz Bar
 - Muriels

We’re throwing a cocktail party at home! Throw me some of your cheat sheet tips for making cocktails for the masses (and still have a good time!)

Firstly, BATCH. If you can pre make a cocktail in a large batch, then all you have to do is pour…or let your guests help themselves from a punch bowl or tap.

Secondly, BLEND. If you want to make cocktails with egg whites for large numbers of people, your life will be transformed by your blender. Throw all your pre-chilled ingredients in with the egg whites and a little water to simulate the dilution from ice, then press a button. Just make sure you pour quickly to share that foamy goodness around all the glasses.

Thirdly, PREP. If you’re planning extravagant garnishes or even just a few citrus twists. Cut them all in advance and keep them in the fridge. This will make the finishing touches a whole lot easier.

Thanks for speaking to us Matt! You can find him on Instagram as @theamateurmixologist and on YouTube here
 Head over to Matt's Instagram for more inspiration. Branca Menta Day kicks off on 2 December 2017 so make a cocktail featuring Fernet Branca Menta and stick it up on Insta! The above is Matt's contribution; a delicious mix of Banks rum, Branca Menta, Belsazar sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur...garnished with an Aussie twist - the eucalyptus branch!

Head over to Matt's Instagram for more inspiration. Branca Menta Day kicks off on 2 December 2017 so make a cocktail featuring Fernet Branca Menta and stick it up on Insta! The above is Matt's contribution; a delicious mix of Banks rum, Branca Menta, Belsazar sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur...garnished with an Aussie twist - the eucalyptus branch!

Connect the Gram - Sasha S aka Sashadallasgirl

sashadallasgirl.png

In our next instalment of Connect the Gram, we meet Texan spitfire Sasha better known to drinkstagrammers as @sashadallasgirl. Based in Dallas (duh), she's been amassing a growing following on Instagram for her beautifully composed cocktail shots, to-die-for collection of vintage glassware and bringing sexy back to shrubs aka that thing you know as drinking vinegar. You might also spy her dehydrated fruit garnishes popping up on the accounts of other drinks enthusiasts, courtesy of her generosity in sending those to other cocktail lovers. Here, she takes some time out to answer a few questions.

Do you remember how your interest in cocktails started?

I've always been fascinated by the alchemy of cocktails. The idea of crafting a medley of balanced flavors, creating a drink that makes someone say "wow" after their first sip. I also adore the pageantry of cocktail creation, from the stemware to the styling to the finished product, I love everything about the process.
 
When did you start your Instagram account and what was the motivation for it?

I was following a number of amazing cocktail professionals and enthusiasts and wanted to be a part of the movement. The Instagram cocktail community is extraordinary and I am constantly blown away (and inspired) by the talent, the mind-sharing, and the sheer art of the craft. I am a laymen compared to many I aspire to.

 No, that's not ants but smoked sea salt rimming the side of the glass. One of Sasha's beautiful creations, this one with sage infused white rum, corn shrub, lime juice and salted simply syrup.

No, that's not ants but smoked sea salt rimming the side of the glass. One of Sasha's beautiful creations, this one with sage infused white rum, corn shrub, lime juice and salted simply syrup.

Your cocktails are always so beautiful! How often to you post and do you have a process for deciding what to make/feature on each post? 

Thank you! I typically post twice a week. And my inspiration comes from a myriad of places: a cool cocktail ingredient or perhaps a new method I want to try my hand at, a new spirit I just picked up, some leftover produce (those typically go in a shrub). And I definitely love doing themes as well as seasonal cocktails (during the holidays it's full-on eggnog or amaro drinks for a straight month). I carry around a notebook and when I'm inspired by an ingredient or have a cocktail idea, I jot it down and work out the specs later.
 
What has been the weirdest/strangest cocktail you’ve made or drank, where you thought on paper, all the ingredients wouldn’t mix together well, or it used a particularly insane ingredient? Did it work?

I'm laughing out loud at this question because I have most definitely had some cocktail concepts I thought would make amazing drinks that turned out to be not-so-amazing drinks. The one that comes to mind was a mushroom number...I wanted to leverage the earthy factor but my specs, well, sucked......

 Another of Sasha's great loves...GINGER! This one combining Irish whiskey, Green Chartreuse, a ginger and cardamon syrup, lime juice and egg white garnished with a kinda sorta four leaf clover. Did we mention the glassware???

Another of Sasha's great loves...GINGER! This one combining Irish whiskey, Green Chartreuse, a ginger and cardamon syrup, lime juice and egg white garnished with a kinda sorta four leaf clover. Did we mention the glassware???


Shrubs. What's your fascination with shrubs and what do you love so much about it? Do you have a favourite you can share with us?

I love shrubs because of the flavour intensity and punch they bring to a cocktail. As far as a favourite, grapefruit vanilla bean shrub (white vinegar base, 1 to 1 to 1 ratio grapefruit/peel to sugar to vinegar) is my shrub spirit animal and, in my opinion, pairs beautifully with most base spirits. 
 
Name 3 bars that you’d recommend for anyone visiting your hometown of Dallas and why

First and foremost: Midnight Rambler. They've been rated one of the best cocktail bars in Dallas for good reason. It's not so much what's on their menu (although their menu rocks and is ever-changing), it's the talent of the bartenders and what they're able to craft off-menu. I'm also a fan of Hide (they do some science-y stuff i.e. centrifuges and other cool techniques) and Rapscallion (they have some incredible Tiki libations). I also really like Jettison (they have some amazing sherry cocktails). Okay, that was 4 but who's counting!
 
We’re throwing a cocktail party at home! Throw me some of your cheat sheet tips for making cocktails for the masses (and still have a good time at your own party!)

For a larger cocktail party, I definitely recommend pre-batching as much as possible so you're not playing bartender all night long or making people wait while you mix them a drink. Also, I try to choose a garnish I can do ahead of time and have ready to go (i.e. orange peel, lemon wheel, etc). To keep them fresh, store them in a container of some sort and cover them with a damp napkin so they don't dry out. 

Thanks Sasha for your time! As a tribute, we've come up with a cocktail made with a...you guessed it...strawberry pepper shrub. Head across to our Instagram to find out what!