Good Food Month: Private Dinner Canberra, October


Pod Food at Pialligo

Pod Food at Pialligo

A gourmet dinner experience with craft Gin cocktails to match? Oh yes!

I’m delighted to be working with the talented team from Pod Food and spirit distributors, Nip of Courage to present this very special evening on Friday October 24.

With a perfectly dry Martini on arrival mixed by yours truly, guests will experience a degustation dinner with specially crafted Gin cocktails to match.

I’ll be sharing my expert insights on the premium Australian craft Gins we’ll be using and all things related.

Its going to be a swell evening, so please book now directly with Pod Food, there are limited places, and tickets just $100.00 per person.





Floriade 2014: Shaken not Stirred Presentations

floriadeI’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been invited to present two sessions on Friday 26 September at this year’s Floriade festival in Canberra!

I’ve been asked to demonstrate how to craft the perfect Martini.

There will be two sessions: one at 10am to 10.30am (never too early obviously) and the other at 7.00pm to 7.30pm as part of the Nightfest program.

The sessions themselves are free to attend, and run for 30 minutes, and will be in the Inspiration Hub, but you’ll need to purchase tickets to get into the Nightfest session, there is no charge during the day.

Three lucky participants will get to try the Martinis I create each session.

Once you’ve bought your ticket for Nightfest you can just come along, no need to RSVP, but get there on time!


I’ll be working with some special Australian craft Gins which are provided with the generous support of boutique spirits distributors, Nip of Courage. Thanks! xx

Hope to see you there!








How To Videos: in the pipeline….suggestions sought

cropped-img_0732-e1383518834934.jpgAs  promised in my recent post I’m going to produce several videos for those of you wanting to make the perfect Martini at home.

I’ll be covering all the basics, plus some of my own tips of the trade, and I’m after suggestions as to other things you’d like me to cover too.

So please add some suggestions below, or comment via facebook or twitter.


Also, I’m open to which Gins you’d like me to work with, so feel free to suggest which ones using this list as the basis.

Looking forward to your input.

Work in Progress: 14/7

IMG_5601Just a quick update on some of the things in the pipeline you can look forward to on the blog.

          • A ‘How-to-make The Perfect Martini at Home’ video due to popular demand.
          • A review of the new Gin from Tasmania, McHenry + Sons.
          • Details of my guest appearances at Floriade festival in Canberra on Friday 26 September.
          • Details of a special one-night-only craft Gin experience in Canberra on Friday 24 October.
          • Plus, hopefully, a look at some of the newish Australian craft Dry Vermouth on the market to update my Vermouth survey,

At the end of the year I’ll be travelling to Berlin for a holiday and have lined up some Gin experiences there, so that will be fun!

Thanks for tuning in as always!

Review: 5 Melbourne Cocktail Bars

Since I’m IMG_5675on tour here for professional reasons, I’ve done my best to sample some of the best bars in the cocktail capital of Australia for you.

Before I give the scoop on five of them I’ve experienced, a general observation: the vibe in every bar I’ve been to has been positive, welcoming and they all care about their craft.

Being just a regular joe customer I’m consistently pleased how they look after you and aim to cultivate you as a regular.

They play the long game here in my experience.

The cocktail scene is buzzing with innovation, new local ingredients and even if its a casual vibe they’re aiming for in the fit-out they still know how to mix a cocktail.  Its just a question of find the bar that suits your mood, company and style.

I’ve been sampling widely the many bars about, and there are few top shelf ones I’m yet to experience like The Black Pearl, and The Everleigh, but in the meanwhile, so in no particular order, here’s a short list to get you going.



Lily Blacks, 12 Meyers Place, City

They didn’t know it at the time, but it was here I workshopped the recipe for the Centenary Martini a while back since they had all the ingredients I need to work out the mix…. they must I was bit of a lush on the night.

Tucked in an alley way off Bourke Street, I like this bar early in the week when its quieter.  Something of a deco vibe decor wise with the staff behind the bar looking the part in cashmere, pearls, and lovely makeup, or stylish beards plus some serious ink.   Cool, calm and collected.

They also love their bitters here and have a great collection, so if you want to explore the dark arts of these in your Martini, this is the place. They also place a huge bit of iceberg on the bar and chip away at it over several days for ice.  Website here.



IMG_5677Bad Frankie, 141 Greeves Street, Fitzroy

Only a few months old and its already making a splash with some bright young things going about the business of making a friendly neighbourhood bar.

From the get-go they decided to only stock only Australian products, so if you want to track down the craft Gins etc I talk about, this is the place.

Its very relaxed, food comes in the way of a jaffles, and they know their cocktail craft and offer some innovative talks using garnishes and bitters to add new dimensions to your Martini.

Facebook page here



 IMG_5640Bar Americano, 20 Presgrave Place, City

This is a bit special and it gave me one of the best bar experiences of my life.

By day a hipster, sit on milk crate in alley way set-up. By night in transforms to a speakeasy bar of wonders.

Standing room for about 10 people. No Photos. Period. Don’t even think about twitter.

One talented barman works magic with only a single spirit of each type (one Gin, one Vodka, One Bourbon etc) all in vintage decanters, so no labels. Close your eyes and let him do his thing.

You have a chat about how you like your Martini, a glamorous assistant brings you a bowl of nuts and glass of water and in moments you have one of the best darn cocktails of your life. She also takes care of the money side of things, so its very civilised.

With 1920’s jazz in the background you chat to the fellow drinkers from around the world, and life is good. Facebook page here

IMG_5982Eau de Vie, 1 Malthouse Lane, City

For me, possibly the bar cocktail bar in the country. It pushes all my buttons.

Impeccable table service, staff that remember you and what you like to drink, a beautiful environment in which to drink, interesting clientele and everything geared towards an excellent cocktail experience.

Martini’s shine here, they use liquid nitrogen to chill the glass, and you get your olives in an individual mini jar on the side. Talk to the staff, and let them take you on a journey. There are lots of details all the way around.

Last night I gave a order for about 8 different Martini’s (its a long story) each with a variation, and the chap listened, walked away, then came back in short while with a tray, and matched them perfectly to the guests, pouring them out in front of them.

There are private booths, buy your own bottle cabinets, great food to match the cocktails, and smartly turned out staff. Its hard to find of course, but look for the light above the door with no signage and be prepared to lose track of time. Website here.



The Gin Palace, 10 Russell Place, City

Something of sacred ground, and a pioneer in both cocktail craft and spirits in Australia.

I’ve always had exceptional Martini’s here, and with well over 200 Gins on stock it feels like going to the Louvre.

With table service, lots of nooks to sit and people watch plus jazz music that is not too loud, its rounded out by a polished and friendly service style, you cannot but love this bar.  Its also worth keeping an eye out for their special events.

A must-do experience for Martini lovers, and again, let them steer you towards the new stuff and expand your horizons. Website here


Lily Blacks


Bad Frankie


Eau de Vie


Gin Palace

Review: Lucky’s at the QT Canberra


SIMG_5836o there I was, in the dark, with my girl, with a drink.

When I consider a bar I try and get past my biases and judge it on what it sets itself up to be.

Regular readers may recall my reflections on the types of bars when I first experienced the QT Canberra a few months back when it launched.

On the night I was there the showcase bar, Lucky’s, wasn’t open, so I was keen to experience it when I was back in town.

Besides, its always best to wait a month or two before heading to a place, especially for reviewing purposes, its nonsensical to rate a place on its first day or week when they are out to impress, or haven’t got organised yet.


At the time I wondered aloud if their artistic aspirations for the guest experience could be achieved locally, and maintained at the standard the brand has set itself up to achieve, but I’m all for ambition and excellence in bar experiences.

So, its Friday night, I’ve been out of town for several weeks and haven’t seen my lovely wife for quite a while, so I’m a rather good mood. A quick response from the QT people via twitter made me choose the place over some of the other Civic bars I was considering and so here we are.

Through the barber shop and into the bar.

It’s loud, and its dark with spotlights effects that wouldn’t be out of place in the DMZ. A few roped off areas for groups and its just past 5pm and still plenty of empty tables. We’re greeted at the door and shown to a table. One is in the dark, the one next to it is under said spot light, not very romantic, so I opt for the dim version.

We’re informed there is table service and considered the drinks menu.

Then we wait.  We also get the torch app going to read the menu its so dark, and then give up and move to another table closer to the bar with some light.

We wait a bit more -say over 15 minutes- and eventually I head over to the bar (mind I can see the staff chatting away, presumably getting organised for the evening- I hope) and ask if I order. The nice chap says, ‘there is table service and they’ll be right over’, but then takes the order anyways, I have the impression its happened before.

IMG_5839So we wait some more, its not busy yet about 5.30pm now, we’ve a bit to catch up on, but its loud like I said, sort of night club volume, I presume to create atmosphere, but all it does it make it hard to communicate to each other and the staff.

As I looked about, I noticed that the promised table service wasn’t happening for many others (see pic left) with about a dozen people placing orders at the bar, noting also there were little lights at the bar so people could read the menus. Perhaps an after market modification.


IMG_5841Guests had occupied the our original table next to us and had their torch app out too in order to read- blurry pic left sort of shows this….  not the contrasting light vibe a few metres away.

Our drinks arrive after about 10 minutes and they are excellent (dry Plymouth Gin Martini for me, and barrel aged Old Fashioned for her, about $38.00 for both as I recall).

Really good cocktails- so full points there.


So there is design  and considered ambience, and then there is practicality and customer comfort. One is winning out over the other there in this case.

Oh, and what I can’t show you here, but if you head over to the Canberra Martini facebook page you’ll see a quick video of our wobbly table.


Underwhelmed is one word that comes to mind, not at all as advertised you might say.

So an off night, or a case of promises not kept by the brand that aims to be an exclusive and polished bar experience?

The 10 Must Have Gins for Home

Now, this is obviously going to be a subjective exercise, we all have our favourites, and some have deeper pockets than others, but here’s my list of what I have on regular rotation that covers 90% of my Martini drinking scenarios.

The list also covers the key bases of the modern London Dry style experience, so if you wanted your collection to represent a spectrum of expressions of this most noble of spirits, then this will point you in the right direction.

Caveat:  this is not a statement about quality vis a vis others not listed, they are all excellent in their own way, and there are hundreds to discover.

You’ll note it’s a mix of craft and mainstream labels from a few countries.  Personally, I look for finesse, personality and versatility in my Gins.

The more exotic types like Monkey 47 or the American Few range, are terrific in their way, but they aren’t necessarily more than special purpose / occasion options in my humble opinion, and can be a one shot wonder come drinking time if you follow me.

So here we go.

1. Aviation, USA

aviationA lovely craft Gin from the USA that launched in 2006. One of the first US craft Gins that made it big internationally, due its finesse and discrete use of botanicals.

Side note: Some years back I had read about this Gin but never had it, until a few years ago in Manly, Sydney I was in a small bar that listed it… excited I ordered a dry Martini, and loved it. When I went to thank the bar person as I always do, they said sorry, they’d run out and had given me a generic English gin!!!! No one then said anything. I was shocked. But I got my money back, but finally had some a year later and have been hooked ever since.

I find it feminine in style, it is refined, has a soft perfumed nose, and I find it hard to stay with just one cocktail when working with this, something of a date night Gin.  It is restrained in its botanical notes, but has its own personality.

All-round alluring, I guessing its a brunette with her hair in a pony tail, or perhaps a redhead in glasses…librarian type if you know what I mean.


2. Beefeater, UK

beefeaterYes, really.

Not only the cheapest, but one of the oldest labels around pretty much.

Always overlooked, but if you are looking for a solid, spicy dry Gin that offers depth of flavour, this is it.

You can’t break it and you can make a decent Martini out of it. I opt for a wetter style.

Besides, its been made with same recipe since 1862 and you have to know your Gin roots.

They also make an interesting range of boutique style Beefeater 24 gins, and have a fabulous new visitors centre in London and that city is always the edge of fashion.


3. Botanic Australis, Australia

Gin Botanic AustralisThis exotic newcomer from far North Queensland (see my review here) is a real crowd pleaser.

If I’ve people who are keen to try a Martini but are shy this is a great place to start – generous interesting flavours.

Go easy on the vermouth and let it do the talking.


4. Four Pillars, Australia

Four PillarsCurrently making quite the splash since it arrived in 2013 (see my review here), on this list it’s the most flavoursome with its zesty orange notes.

Makes a killer Negroni, but as a Martini if you want to like yours with a (orange) twist or plenty of flavour it’s a good option to have. I was one of the first 500 to get a bottle thanks to a clever crowd-funding campaign, but now you can get it Dan Murphy’s.



5. Haymans, UK

haymansThis is pretty much my go-to Gin most days.

It is underrated I think, though sometimes you find it as a house-pour.

Very good value price wise, soft on the palette, not super dry, and lends itself to all styles of Martini.

They also make eight other very good Gins and keep alive the Sloe (the next big thing) and Old Tom versions.

It is pretty hard to muck this one up, and it really wants to please you, plus its very forgiving of the novice Martini-mixer.

What’s not to love?


6. Martin Millers, UK

image.phpFor my money the best Gin in the world. (There goes the endorsements)

Forget about the pure Icelandic water business and the marketing: its ‘just’ a superbly elegant, subtle and fragrant (I get lavender for some reason) supermodel of Gins.

Always make your Martini bone dry with this, and very cold, and let this beauty make your world a better place.

She knows what she’s doing. It is the most expensive on the list, but in this case you get what you pay for. For the record, I prefer this one over the Westbourne version.


7. McHenry and Sons, Australia

McHenryFrom a mountain top in Tasmania, made from its own spring water, this new release is, I think, one of the most exciting things to come along in the Australian Gin scene for a bit.

Why? Because it is clean, elegant and not in your face flavour wise.

It’s a straight up and down London Dry style that lends itself to a great Martini, or clean G+T all night long. The local scene needed a versatile, quality ‘clean-skin’ style and this is it.

Not a native botanical in sight, not cheap, but seek it out and a detailed review is in the pipeline.


8. Plymouth, UK

PlymouthCurrently making something of a brand come back of late (mind its been around since 1793 ) it is the only Gin on the list to have a category all its own as a unique style, plus heritage listing for its distillery.

Side note: I can’t stand the new (old) bottles, and much prefer the tall Deco style bottles that were changed a few years back. I kept a few and always decant the new stock into those to spite the marketing department.

One of my top 3 favourites, its more fuller flavoured than say, Tanqueray, and offers a richer Martini experience on the palette.

I find it a subtle Gin in many ways, and if you can get your hands on the Navy Strength version, then do.


9. Tanqueray, UK

tanquerayAgain, for some this is an old-school option, worthy of the mini bar or duty free option only.

But for a mass produced spirit it represents excellent value for money and you can mix in all sorts of ways Martini wise (wet, dry etc) and still end up with a quality experience.

There is a reason it has been around for so long and is a must have for everyday drinking with some style.


Mind, I’m not a fan of the Tanqueray 10 version, instead choose #10 below, pretty bottle though!


10. The West Winds Cutlass, Australia

west windsFrom the great State of Western Australia comes this classy + robust expression that takes no prisoners. It has a higher alcohol by volume, 50%, so it packs a punch but in not in a way that is offensive, think of it as a man’s man Gin, or if you like your guys rugged, then take this out on a date.

Using some native botanicals wisely, this Gin offers depth of flavour and spiciness (see my review here).

Martini-wise you’ll get a rich but dry cocktail, and it also lends itself to drinks like Negronis and a solid G+T. Try it with a twist of grapefruit too or capsicum as a garnish.

Review: Maidenii Dry Vermouth

MaideniiWhat do you get when you mix a French wine maker, a top notch mixologist and some fine native botanicals? Something very special.

Regular readers will know I first discovered this Melbourne based range when developing the Centenary Martini last year, using two of them for the special cocktail.

However, the Dry Vermouth was released a few months back and I had looked forward to experiencing it when preparing my survey of available Vermouths in Australia.

Let me say up front, you cannot apporach the Maidenii Vermouth range thinking Cinzano or Noilly Prat et alia, they are essentially a new world style of Vermouth all their own. The flavour spectrum, and finesse in production result in a drinking experience that leaves the well known commercial options to the back shelf, these are so good you can sip them on their own as an aperitif – and offer a rewarding complex experience.

Obviously I’m a fan.


That said, this Dry Vermouth was developed specifically for use in Martinis (very thoughtful of them) and as I’ll explain its complexity means that you have to be on your game when using it: its the Mount Everest of Vermouth- the rewards are there for those who can master the risk.

Fun fact: You pronounce Maidenii this way: MAY-den-ee (maiden-eye)- just so you know!


maideniiMaidenii is a collaboration between wine maker Gilles Lapalus, originally from France, where they understand these things, and Shaun Byrne, who can be found most evenings at the sublime Gin Palace in Melbourne who has a deep passion in producing the perfect product to take his cocktails to the next level.

Gilles is the winemaker at  Sutton Grange Winery and he has worked with Shaun to develop the range using a wide range of native and imported herbs, fruits, spices including strawberry gum, river mint, sea parsley and wattle seed, wormwood and quality wine as the base. This is their latest release.

Fun fact 2: Acacia maidenii, also known as Maiden’s Wattle, is a tree native to Australia (New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria), read more on Wikipedia.


Tasting Notes

The nose offers a fragrant bouquet, herbaceous with a hint of citrus and is very distinctive, good luck trying to unpick the botanicals in the mix, its a lovely garden to get lost in.

It is a pale golden in colour, and reminds me a little of a late picked riesling.

It is not as austere as Dolin, nor as spicy or richer on the palette as Noilly, overall more generous in flavour but provides a lingering taste that you don’t want to lose in your cocktail.


It is very smooth and light to drink by itself, and more savoury than sweet with a bone dry finish. It would be an acquired taste to sip it aperitif style, you’re possible better off choosing one of the others from the range for this purpose.

Martini Time

martiniThis Vermouth was built for my favourite cocktail in mind, and it took me a few goes (all in the name of science of course) to get it right.

My usual ratios using, say Noilly Prat, had to be re-thought to get a Martini that spoke sweet nothings to me.

I tend to make two styles of Martini, a super dry version when working with gins like the elegant Martin Millers, or very flavoured new wave Aussie Craft Gins like Melbourne Gin Company or Four Pillars, the reason being is that you have so much going on flavour wise with the latter two that you’re wasting your time trying to change that with some Vermouth, and with a super fine Gin like Millers, then you want that lady to shine in its purity.

Or I opt for a wetter style with about a 1:4 ratio of Dry Vermouth to Gin (note I don’t pour the Vermouth off in the mixing) for Gins like Tanqueray, Hayman’s, Beefeater et alia.

So when working with Maidenii you need to allow for the respective flavour profiles of the Gin + Vermouth and get your proportions the way you like.

My general rule is that this Vermouth has more personality than your usual Dry Vermouth, so either use less if you want your Gin to be dominant, or if you’ve got a ‘plainer’ style of Gin like Hayman’s or Tanqueray you can up the ratio and let the Maidenii do the talking.

It also works beautifully with the West Winds Cutlass, where that Gin’s depth does the business, Tanqueray 10 would also be a good option too.

Since you’re being adventurous you can also mix it up with the garnish. I used a olive, but I’d think a grapefruit garnish works better, lemon of course, or perhaps a sprig of thyme would bring out some of the complex botanicals.




Martini Masterclass

masterclassWant a bespoke experience to take your team, or patrons, to Martini-perfection?

One of the upsides of mixing and drinking more Martinis than I possibly should is that I know my way around a cocktail mixer and how to make the most of a wide range of Gins.

I’ve been engaged several times now to run these informative interactive, and hands-on sessions for some leading bars and restaurants in Canberra and Victoria, drawing on my over 12 years of fine dining management experience.

The sessions run for about an hour an a half, and can be tailored to suit the experience you’re after.



I can be engaged to run a masterclass in a bar or restaurant setting that covers the following:

  • The making of Gin and the back story of a wide range of labels including the new wave of Australian and imported craft Gins.
  • Introduction to Dry Vermouth and its use
  • How to mix a perfect Martini
  • Garnishes and all the variations such as Dirty and Gibson Martinis
  • Sales and guest interaction
  • How to best use the Gins you have on stock in a Martini
  • The hands-on mixing of cocktails so that participants have the skills and confidence to shine.



If that sounds like a great night in, then please contact me to discuss the opportunity, rates vary on the scale and scope of the session.

There are two modes available:

      • a session of hospitality staff (such as a floor team)
      • an interactive session which is open to the public that they pay to attend at your premises.

Looking forward to hearing from you!