If Xander Stucken were to have a signature, it wouldn’t be a single cocktail, but rather an approach to making them.

As a child the Perth native remembers packing spices with his dad in the family spice business. This early flavour influence didn’t lead him straight to making cocktails, though. After leaving school he trained to become a massage therapist.

“I couldn’t get a job and ended up picking up glasses in a really dodgy nightclub,” he says. “I finally got behind the bar after about eight or nine months and found out I really liked it. So I figured I’d leave massage behind and do something I actually have a more natural affinity with.”

That initial experience with ingredients came back into play and Stucken soon had a reputation as – in his own words – “that bar geek who makes bitters”.

Now head bartender at Bar Lafayette in Perth, Stucken says it’s difficult to name his signature cocktail because he tries to have a new one each week. “Over the past two years I’ve been looking closely at reworking the classics,” says Stucken.

One of his signature creations is the Copperthorn. The cocktail takes his close reading of cocktail history by combining two historical recipes in the same drink.

The origin of Stucken’s Copperthorn is known as Blackthorn, which he says has variations in England and Ireland. “The Irish version calls for Irish whisky, dry vermouth, aromatic bitters and a rinse or few drops of absinthe with a twist of lemon,” he says. “The English version calls for sloe gin, sweet vermouth and orange bitters with either a twist of lemon or orange.”

Stucken has combined the two strains and added his own spin. For the Copperthorn he uses the slight honey and smoke from Scotch, and a bit of sloe gin to add tartness.

From dishes to drinks
Sydney bartender Jon Carr had a similar low-rung introduction to the cocktail world. “I did work experience when I was in high school at a local cafe,” he says. “I started doing the dishes, and by the end of the week I was out on the floor talking to people.”

Carr says prior to those shifts he was a “book-reading recluse” but the experience brought him out of his shell. “Then 18 came round and it seemed like a natural step to move towards the bar,” he says. “Straight away the allure was making cocktails.”

The allure proved strong. This year Carr was a Top 25 finalist in the Australian World Class Bartending competition, and now creates cocktails at Sydney’s Kittyhawk.

“We are really focussed on our rum and our rye,” says Carr of Kittyhawk. “So working with those in our cocktails is what I’m interested in.”

Carr’s Rum and Rye Old Fashioned has become his staple. “We use an equal measure of a lovely aged rum, and another of a nice spicy American rye, brown sugar syrup and equal Angostura and orange bitters,” he says. “You get a sweetness from the rum, spice from the rye and it all ties together really nicely.”

Try these recipes at home:

The Copperthorn by Xander Stucken
Serves one. Makes approximately 1.6 standard drinks.

Ingredients:
40ml Glenkinchie 12-year-old Scotch Whisky
10ml Dolin Blanc vermouth
10ml sloe gin
Absinthe rinse
Medium sized lemon twist for garnish

Method:
Build the Scotch, vermouth and gin in a mixing glass and stir over block ice. In a chilled coupe, lightly spray Pernod absinthe into the glass for aromatics and to complement the subtle smoke from the whisky. Single strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a twist of lemon, releasing the oils over the drink. The oils will cut through the sweetness and balance out the drink and brighten up the nose.

Rum and Rye Old Fashioned by Jon Carr
Serves one. Makes approximately 2 standard drinks.

Ingredients:
30ml Ron Zacapa Centenario 23
30ml Bulleit Rye
10ml brown sugar syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
1 orange for garnish

Method:
Stir ingredients over ice in a mixing glass until optimum dilution is achieved. Strain into glass over a large piece of ice. Zest with orange and place zest into glass with stirrer.

This article is presented in partnership with World Class.