Anyone who knows me, knows I’m obsessed with drinks. The sheer variety and multitude of them, and their vastly differing flavours boggles my mind. I’ve spent the past 25 years reading, learning and of course imbibing in as many of the world’s unique drinks as possible.
I respect drinks so much that I’d go as far to say they represent at least half of any decent meal. I see little point in great food without great drinks. Give me any opportunity to discuss drinks and I become a veritable boozehound with verbal diarrhoea.
Drinks should be respected, revered, admired and enjoyed in the same way as food.
A good drink, no matter what it is, poured at the right time, in the right glass, with the right dish has the ability to turn lunch into a legacy, a meal into a miracle and an evening into an event. Here are a few tricks, ideas and insights to help you improve your drinking pleasure, add cachet and pizzazz to your next dinner party and help you identify which restaurants and bars are really looking after your needs!
The Australian wine industry has spent considerable time, effort and money over the past 40 years convincing us that the only way to emulate the aesthetic sophistication of European cool that we so crave, is by drinking wine.
WINE is a truly brilliant drink – but it’s just one of many. Far too many of us just go straight for a glass of Shiraz before we even think about what we are going to eat or how we feel. We have been brainwashed. Nothing makes a dinner party more exciting than a designer meal, slaved over by the host, featuring artisan produce, cooked with respect for all ingredients, featuring unique and playful flavour interpretations, all showcased by intricate attention to detail. However nothing makes the same dinner party seem quite so hollow as being served bad or inappropriate wine. It certainly doesn’t need to be either hard or costly to serve wine of the same quality as the meal you enjoy.
Any wine guide or your local bottle shop staff member should be able to help you out – whatever your budget.
My “drink yardstick” for all bars and restaurants has always been a CAMPARI AND SODA – one of the world’s greatest aperitifs – that’s sadly far too often butchered. When made correctly, this is the liquid equivalent of sitting in a Venetian piazza in springtime. Campari is not a spirit, but part of group of aperitifs called ‘bitters’ and they require a minimum of 45ml or 60ml (not 30ml) when poured – otherwise the drink is watery, limp and insipid with an imbalance of proportions, that creates a bitterness not present when made properly. The human perception of bitterness is quite acute and increasing the dilution of Campari will not change this much. But by minimising the Campari our palate will detect the increasing lack of sweetness (as Campari is both bitter and sweet) – essential to balance the bitterness and to enjoy the drink. The photos on the previous page show you how to make a Campari and soda correctly (any tall hi-ball type glass will suffice).
ICE is virtually free, yet so often we get our drink in a tumbler with just a couple of ice cubes sweating themselves into an early grave. Quite simply – the more ice the better. Ice cubes keep drinks at the temperature they are intended to be served at. The more ice – the longer it will stay at the desired temperature. Ice cubes should be solid – never hollow, and preferably spherical, thereby having the minimum possible surface area so the melt speed is slowest. The bigger the ice cubes the better. Crushed ice dilutes drinks very quickly and has few uses in drinks outside slushies at fast food stores and cinemas – though it’s mandatory for Brambles, Mojitos, Mint Juleps and a few other classic cocktails. When shaking a cocktail always fill the shaker with solid cubes and shake it furiously and with such intensity that it feels like the skin on your fingers might peel off with frostbite. The key is to get the cocktail very cold, very quickly. The outside of the shaker should be covered in condensation when done. And here’s a tip for home – If making ice cubes for a special event, try using mineral water (unbelievably pure and clean).
Gone are the days when we were forced to use badly formulated sugary MIXERS from profiteering multinational companies. There is now a vast array of unique and interesting artisan soft drinks and mixers on the market. They make such a huge difference to the quality of your mixed drink.
Use a quality tonic water and you can actually taste your gin’s botanicals, and not just sugar and quinine. Many of the best mixers have much less sugar than their supermarket counterparts and are therefore less cloying on the palate, as well as allowing the flavours of your chosen spirit to flow through. When you GARNISH a drink always remember you should always be able to squeeze the juice out of any fruit garnish. A decent chunk of lemon, lime, orange, cucumber or whatever your preference, shouldn’t be flaccid and drowning hopelessly in the drink.
It should be sitting upright, substantial, proud and erect like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic.
With the amazing array of local and imported CRAFT BEERS available out there now, it still beggars belief that so many restaurants and cafes still offer the same range of mass marketed corporate lagers. Even a small section of a fridge devoted to a selection of great local craft beers and inspired and interesting brews from around the world shows that you care about your customer’s or guest’s many modern and varied drinking tastes. You wouldn’t have just 10 chicken dishes on your food menu, or only Shiraz on your wine list, so why have 10 bland Euro styled lagers on your beer menu. Attica in Ripponlea is widely recognised as Australia’s best restaurant. It also happens to have one of the country’s best beer lists. Whilst modest in numbers, stocking just 16 different beers from around Victoria and the world, each one is an absolute cracker; the styles and prices are varied and each beer has an individual tasting note. There is something for everyone’s palate and all of them could be favourably matched to their amazing food. Every restaurant owner should check their list, as it’s a shining example of balance, quality and integrity.