For Melbourne, right now might just be a golden age of cocktails. As the city’s appetite for quality drinks has surged, we’re now looking for better, more nuanced and niche creations. Bartenders are sharing knowledge and have access to high quality products, and customers unafraid to try something different. The result is better bars.
Here’s our guide to trying some of the best cocktails in Melbourne.
Hihoutini 11 at Hihou
Featuring simple wooden block tables, concrete buttressing along its ceiling and a large black marble centrepiece group table, Hihou elegantly reflects Japanese minimalist design philosophy – along with a dash of retro-futurism.
That aesthetic is reflected in Hihou’s cocktail a menu. “Obviously we wanted them to have a Japanese feel but to also have a classic nature,” says Hihou’s Simon Denton. “They need to look beautiful but be simple and delicious. We always try to use a Japanese ingredient, but never just for the sake of it.”
One of the cocktails that best represents this approach is the 11th edition of its Martini, the Hihoutini 11, which combines vodka, plum and orange liqueur, green-tea shochu and orange bitters.
Corpse Reviver No.2 at 1806
1806 is accepted as the year the word “cocktail” was first used as a reference to an alcoholic drink in print. It’s also the starting point for the cocktail menu of this grand Exhibition Street bar with the same name. The menu moves through different cocktail traditions and cultures, giving each drink a distinct story.
The recipe for the bar’s Corpse Reviver No.2 was adopted from the famous Savoy Hotel Cocktail Book, first published in 1930 and something of a bartenders’ bible. 1806’s version features Tanqueray Gin, triple sec, fresh lemon and an absinthe rinse.
The Priest’s Lament at The Rum Diary
When The Rum Diary first opened on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, the concept of rum bars barely existed in Australia. Five years later specialty bars are being eagerly embraced, and The Rum Diary is still among the country’s most influential.
The bar’s huge rum list is sorted by region (as well as by stories from famous rum drinkers), as are its cocktails, which either riff on the origins of their ingredients or honour old classics.
“We generally try and keep it simple,” says bar manager Andy Strachan. “We have so many great products on hand. As long as you understand the way their flavours and aromas work it doesn't take much to design a great cocktail around them.”
The bar’s latest list is based on a pirate/naval theme and includes The Priest’s Lament, featuring Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 Rum, Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch Whisky, spiced pineapple syrup, Angostura bitters, lime and soda to top.
Foreplay at The Alchemist
Just like the arcane craftspeople the bar is named after, The Alchemist prides itself on experimentation and wacky innovation. They’re known to serve hot cocktails, drinks that make your mouth pop and unusual takes on the classics.
“We love playing with the elements of fire and smoke in our cocktails,” says owner Lucia Glaudo. “We really enjoy combining different infusions and offering new experiences to our customers.”
Its standout new cocktail is the Foreplay, a smoky build of forest-fruit and apple-infused gin; blood orange and blackberry liqueur; dandelion bitters; smoked lavender; and fresh mint.
Shinshu Julep at Hot Sauce Laneway Bar
The QT Hotel’s new 60-seater laneway bar is an accumulation of all the best food and drink trends Australia has witnessed over the past few years. The food is an unpretentious mix of Korean, American and Japanese; it plays ’90s hip-hop at brave volumes, and the cocktails blend Korean and Japanese liquors with theatre and panache.
John Ross-Jones, beverage operations manager at QT Melbourne, says Hot Sauce’s cocktail list is heavily influenced by the Tokyo cocktail scene, in particular the vibrancy and fun of the Shibuya and Harajuku districts.
Chief among their offerings is The Swashbuckling Samurai, which Ross-Jones says is Hot Sauce’s twist on a Dark N’ Stormy. It features Japanese plum wine made with brown sugar and dark rum stirred with freshly squeezed lime juice, yuzu and a homemade Korean plum and ginger beer.
"I’m always amazed to see how the scene’s creativity and innovation has progressed,” says Ross-Jones of Melbourne’s current cocktail climate. “Homemade syrups, bitters, shrubs and infusions are being made using more exotic ingredients, as well as locally sourced products. Bartenders are creating some spectacular twists on classics. Overall it’s become more experiential and the customer more adventurous."
This article is presented in partnership with World Class.