Sydney Cocktail Club (now Cocktail Co) was founded to foster a sense of community amongst cocktail lovers, with a bit of learning injected into the whole thing. Although the social gatherings have been a great way of facilitating this, Instagram has proven to be another means by which we have connected with other drinkers from across the globe. Many are home bartenders with nothing more than a mutual love of the cocktail connecting them. As a society formed by drinkers for drinkers, it seemed apt to get to know these people. Inspired by the format of Punch's Lookbook that profiles bartenders and industry personalities, we're starting up a series of posts exploring the people behind some of our favourite Instagram accounts - the cocktail enthusiast at home. To kick off the series, we're starting at square one - with our founder and chief drinker, Inoka Ho. If you've ever wondered what lies at the heart of the club, here's your chance to find out in this piece, written in her own words accompanied by some personal images.
Tell us a little more about yourself and how your interest in cocktails started
I was born in Malaysia and moved to Sydney to study - surprisingly, I wasn't much of a drinker when I was younger, the result of an Asian upbringing I guess. I only really started drinking cocktails after I started working - I like to joke that my work as a lawyer drove me to drink, not in the addictive sense but because the creativity in the drinks I encountered was so different to the mundane dryness associated with the law that it was a relief to step out of work and immerse myself in a completely different world. Gradually, what started off as curiosity developed into a genuine interest in wanting to know what went into my drink, how it was made, and the people who made them. I started talking to the bartenders at the places I frequented and did whatever (little) classes were offered by bars and bottle shops at the time. However, my interest really blossomed when I moved to London - there were so many more events there that were geared towards the consumer drinker.
Why did you start Sydney Cocktail Club?
When I was in London, I was a member of a drinking society called the London Cocktail Society. The society organised social get togethers for the discerning cocktail drinker, often with an educational slant to it via tastings or talks from various ambassadors and brands. When I returned to Australia, I couldn't find anything similar here so I decided to start Sydney Cocktail Club in late 2014. By day I still continue to be a lawyer and whenever I'm not practising law, you can find me either drinking, reading and writing about, planning events on, making and dreaming up cocktails. From its inception, Sydney Cocktail Club has been and continues to be a passion project. I love that I get to freely curate events that encourage people to discover more behind the cocktails they drink, minus the sales push that often accompany a lot of events I've been to before. I don't tend to focus on any one particular spirit and I try and think of ways to present the information in a more engaging way than just sit there and stick your nose in a glass - I guess what I aim to do is recreate the kind of events that facilitated my own learning and hopefully inspire someone else that way. For me, there's nothing more rewarding than being able to be a spoke in someone else's journey.
Do you have a personal Instagram account?
I don't have a personal Instagram account myself but everything you see on the Sydney Cocktail Club account to date has been posted by me. When I started Instagramming, I wasn't really sure what to expect from that platform - I started off just posting about our events and drinks I had when I was out. Gradually, I also started posting up drinks I made at home and over time, discovered some of these amazing accounts from home bartenders like myself, either through comments they leave on the SCC account or from the Instagram discovery section. Regardless of race, religion, nationality or ethnicity, all the drinkstagrammers I've encountered have been very supportive and generous with their feedback and I've even met some in real life when they've visited Sydney! I genuinely think now that wherever I go in the world, I will never have to worry about drinking alone.
How often do you post and do you have a process for deciding what to make/feature on each post?
I do try and post at least three times a week but sometimes life can get in the way and I end up only doing one post a week. I don't have a set schedule for what I feature - I don't actually schedule my posts like some professionals do - the SCC Instagram feed is a mix of events I go to, drinks I've had at bars and cocktails I make myself at home. I am trying to do more posts featuring home made concoctions but in between juggling work, planning and attending events, writing what I can for the website and others (I've also written for Diffordsguide and Barchick) not to mention life in general, I find it a luxury to be able to experiment at home.
What's been the strangest cocktail you've made?
That's got to be the time when I read this article on Punch about this bartender who had used blue cheese in a cocktail without the usual fat washing or infusion methods. Like, he actually used a chunk of blue cheese in the drink. He made a variation of the Ramos Gin Fizz and that got me thinking, could I come up with a cocktail doing the same? I was drinking quite a bit of peaty whisky at that point and blue cheese is often paired with it, so I thought, why not try and make something combining the two? What ensued was a crazy couple of weeks of experiments (and a lot of blue cheese consumption) as I tried to find the right cheese to use, and also the balance between how much cheese vs liquid to use. I can't say I really mastered it but I ended up with one concoction that tasted like stout, with the blue cheese contributing a yeasty malty flavour to the drink. The one thing I learnt from this whole experiment? With blue cheese, "less is definitely more"
Introduce us to the greatest cocktail ingredient you think there is and tell us why you think everyone should be using it
That's hard to pick! I've been working a lot with a locally produced cumquat liqueur made by Baker Williams Distillery out in Mudgee in NSW and it's one of my must haves at the moment. I find it more tart and less syrupy sweet than the usual Cointreau or Grand Marnier, and the hint of bitterness that flows through it, makes it more versatile to work with, whether it is with gin, rum or whisky. It is seasonal so when they do make it once a year, I try and stock up!
Name 3 bars that you’d recommend for anyone visiting Sydney
Only 3??? For me, a great bar is not the one with the most expensive fit out, fancy garnishes or rare spirits - to be honest, with the level of technology facilitating so much knowledge exchange nowadays, I find most bartenders can make a decent enough drink but not many can make you feel like you're "at home" when you're sat in front of them. For that reason, I tend to judge the best bars on whether I would be comfortable drinking there solo. I've always had a good time at Papa Gedes, a voodoo tiki inspired bar - you often find at least one of the owners behind the stick and they do make an effort to get to know you aside from just asking what you want to drink. Maybe Frank is another such place as is Bulletin Place. My best tip when going to all of those places? Sit at the bar if you can.
We’re throwing a cocktail party at home! Throw us some of your cheat sheet tips for making cocktails for the masses (and still have a good time!)
Planning planning planning! And less is more! I tend to work out a few cocktails I'll make and stick them up on a makeshift menu that I offer to guests. I try and limit the cocktails I have to stir up or shake on the spot though - at max, only one of the cocktails will require preparation on the spot. The rest will either be pre-batched or made punch style. I've also been known to make a DIY stand (it's not cheating!)