Perched 80 floors above Melbourne, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if visitors to Cameo were only there for the view. But, like a handful of other specialty cocktail and spirits bars around the city – The Everleigh, Gimlet at Cavendish House and Whisky and Alement, to name a few – Cameo is a place for those in the know who are there for something rarer than the panorama: antique spirits.

“Cameo is a bar that has two distinct cocktail menus,” says Cameo bar manager Joshua Hampshire. “The first one focuses on antique classic cocktails utilising vintage spirits that span the first half of the 20th century.”

Cameo’s menu, like other vintage-leaning contemporaries, boasts aged spirits that you just won’t see at your local bottle shop: American rye whiskey produced during the Prohibition era, Johnnie Walker and Cointreau bottled during World War II, and Gordon’s gin and Campari that pre-dates rock’n’roll. A Manhattan with 1931 rye whiskey could set you back $400, or a half-serve of another vintage cocktail can cost $100 (though some drinks from the Fine & Rare menu start at $35) – but the quest to taste a drop of living history has been slowly building in popularity.

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“Antique spirits have been quite popular in the UK in the last 10 years at places like the Savoy Hotel,” says Hampshire. “If you look at some of their bar programs, they utilise antique spirits. And someone like [bar consultant and spirits expert] Salvatore Calabrese, for example, he's very well known for making the oldest Martini in the world.”

The appeal of antique spirits differs from, say, very old wine. For a start, wine will deteriorate rapidly once the bottle is opened, whereas spirits will generally keep well owing to their relatively high alcohol content. And while wine will age and change over time and eventually degrade, tasting old spirits is more like opening a time capsule; antique spirits let us taste how the production methods of the time impacted the drink’s quality and strength, and how it's changed over the decades.

“Where the differences do come from is time periods,” says Hampshire. “All alcohol comes from agricultural products, and those agricultural products are going to differ over time. Not just from the environment, but also from the way people farm, cultivate, harvest, produce, ferment and distil them. The types of distillation techniques used, the stills used, everything. It creates a completely different product.”

It means that, for those sipping a 1950 Negroni at Cameo (that’s sweet vermouth mixed with Gordon’s gin and Campari, both from 1950), there’s a unique experience of history that can’t be found in a Negroni made with contemporary ingredients, even from the same producers. And, with only finite numbers of these antique spirits remaining, the experience is one that may never be repeated.

“We can’t get any more 1970 [Gordon’s gin], for example. We’re only getting 1950, and we might be able to get some 1960,” Hampshire says. “Then you’ve got truly exceptional stuff on the menu like the 1922 Hine cognac. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”

With the trend of antique spirits charging on, Hampshire suggests that those looking to taste the past with a nip of 100-year-old whisky or a mid-century cocktail will find Cameo an ideal place to start. “Working closely with [bar experts] Michael and Zara Madrusan, we were inspired by the Everleigh’s personalized service and intimate, New York speakeasy style,” says Hampshire. “At Cameo, you’re sitting in a plush armchair, there’s 1920s jazz playing, you’re 80 storeys up with nothing to distract you. It really lends itself to historical storytelling.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne.