There is no shortage of great pubs and bars in Brisbane. But two in particular are raising the standard.
Maker, in South Brisbane, is known for a cocktail list that includes nitrogen-chilled Martinis and house-infused spirits. Now it can also claim a World Class bartender in Ed Quatermass.
Bartending was a natural progression for Quatermass, who graduated from uni with a Bachelor of Science but preferred “flavour and the experimentation side of things”. That combination led him to the 2016 Diageo Reserve World Class Australian finals, where he beat competitors from around the country to take out the food-pairing individual challenge. Quatermass’ winning combination matched “a little whisky stir-down drink”, featuring white chocolate and “blood” (made from lemon oil and orange bitters), with a smoky tartare.
Quatermass was pleased to represent Maker in the competition. The bar, he says, is “pretty unique” in Brisbane for setting a standard in sourcing seasonal Australian produce (such as desert lime and quandong).
A short way away across the Brisbane River from Maker lies The Gresham, a heritage-listed former bank turned bar known for its cocktails and impressive range of whiskies. Kal Moore, bartender at The Gresham, says the venue is “more of a classy pub” than whisky bar, striving to create an unpretentious, corner-pub atmosphere in the middle of Brisbane’s banking district.
Like Quatermass, Moore also excelled in the individual challenge at the World Class Australian bartending finals. Moore’s attraction to cocktails began when he came across the bartending bible Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. “All of a sudden I’m reading about drinks more than 150 years old, using spirits I’ve never even heard of, let alone seen on the back bar somewhere,” he says. “That was when I started getting really involved. There is a lot of history behind the profession.”
His respect for the profession helped Moore take home the against-the-clock individual challenge, judged on timeliness and how the bartender behaves and operates behind the bar. Moore says the judges look for “cleanliness, efficiency of movement, and interaction with clientele. They’re the things that make you trust a bartender and the quality of drink they will produce.”
From their vantage point behind the bar, Moore and Quatermass both agree Brisbane is still developing its drinking culture. Quatermass puts this down to the city’s smaller population compared to Melbourne and Sydney. But he thinks things could get “pretty crazy” in three to five years time, given south-east Queensland’s growth.
Moore says the drinking culture is expanding already. “You see people willing to spend four or five dollars more [than a standard drink] on an 18-year old whisky,” he says. “Which is very different from the culture that was around when I started drinking”.
Both bartenders have also noticed the rise in “like-minded” venues popping up in and around Brisbane – from the growth of niche bars (such as The Gresham, Cobbler and Alquimia Tequila Bar) to the increase in smaller suburban bars in areas such as Rosalie, Stones Corner and Nundah, where Moore says Fitz and Potts is “fantastic”.
The only thing missing? A 24-hour dining culture. “We don’t get fed properly after work”, says Quatermass wistfully.
You can’t have it all, just yet. But a growing cocktail scene is a good place to start.
This article is presented in partnership with World Class.