Steamy seasonal potions

Barry Chalmers prepares cocktails for the Nitrogen trolley at the Roosevelt Bar.
Barry Chalmers prepares cocktails for the Nitrogen trolley at the Roosevelt Bar.

Despite toting waxed moustaches, bracers and sleeve garters, bartenders are more on trend than you might imagine.

Professional bartending is a trade that constantly seeks to refine its offerings, with many bars' drinks intelligently styled to current seasons, the availability of produce, as well as national and global bar trends.

All this is a win for you – the affable bar fly. So here's a style-guide for you on some of the current and emerging trends to keep to in good stead for the approaching spring.

Theatrical drinks

A good barkeep has always possessed a little showmanship. Some bars have now taken this to the next step by making the drinks themselves something of a spectacle. With use the liquid nitrogen, dry ice, fire and unusual techniques and vessels customers can be found oohing and ahing at what's being served.

This is no new technique. The Blue Blazer – a fancy mixed drink created by the father of bartending Jerry Thomas – involves throwing flaming spirits in between two tankards.  The story goes that it was invented in 1850 at a saloon called the El Dorado, in San Francisco.

A bewhiskered giant strapped with pistols and laden with gold dust stomped up to the bar and bellowed at Thomas to mix; "some hell-fire that will shake me right down to my gizzard!"

Thomas measured his man and told him to come back in an hour whereupon he delivered flaming mix of Scotch whisky and boiling water hurled between two tankards to a bedazzled crowd. The 'bewhiskered giant', after a moment of shock finally whispered: "Right down to my gizzard! Yes, sir, right down to my gizzard!"

Even to this day it's an impressive spectacle and an excellent potion to warm you right down to your gizzard over the last few weeks of winter.  Melbourne's EDV (Malthouse Lane) offers two rifts on the original drink on their menu. EDV's general manager, Greg Sanderson, recommends you try their Ron Zacapa Blazer #2 – a mix of Guatemalan rum, banana glaze, porter beer reduction and walnut liqueur.

Bottled Cocktails

Irony. When employed well it makes for a decidedly novel drink ingredient and the new wave of bottled cocktails certainly contain a healthy dash.

You see mass produced bottled cocktails – or alco-pops – have always suffered a bit of an image crisis. They're not considered premium for starters, they're blamed for many of Australia's alcohol related issues and are thought to attract underage drinkers. It's ironic then that some of Australia's fanciest cocktail bars have taken to bottling their own.

Brisbane's The Laneway (181 Mary Street) offers the Terra Rosa - their classy take on an alco-pop and a twist on the classic Americano cocktail. Their recipe combines Tamborine Mountain Distillery's Quandong  and Gentian bitters, Cynar (an artichoke flavoured Italian bitter liqueur) and still water. The mix is then carbonated and bottled before being popped open for punters. Watch for this trend popping up in bars around the country.

Seasonal Menus

Bars are starting to offer more seasonal based menus – not just giving their list a refresh once or twice a year. Fresh is best is the motto and bars with a real seasonal focus work closely with the kitchen.

Sydney's Rockpool Bar & Grill update their list once every three months. Ryan Gavin, the bar's head bartender, works closely with the restaurant's pastry section and providores to refresh his list. Their spring list (out September 1) will feature flavoured smokes, tea infusions, bespoke syrups and sous vide cooked ingredients.

Gavin's top pick is their Spring Paloma Fizz combining 100 per cent agave tequila with lemon, rosewater, egg white and a house-made white grapefruit and dill soda.


Mexican fever is taking Australia's bar scene by storm. Over the past 12 months Sydney has seen the opening of Tio's Cerveceria, whilst Melbourne is boasting four new Mexican haunts with Touché Hombre, House of Maximon, Chingon and Little Blood. And not to be left out, Perth is in on the action with the opening of Beaufort Street's El Publico.

As Mexicana looks set to take hold of Australia's night life you'll find yourself exposed to more Mexican beverages than the ubiquitous Margarita. Get ready for an influx of Batangas (tequila, lime, cola and salt), Palomas (tequila and grapefruit soda) and Micheladas (beer, lime, spices and tomato juice).

All excellent thirst quenchers, these Mexcian mixers are well suited to Australia's long hot summers. James Connolly, El Publico's bar manager, will be offering his patrons a DIY Charola de Micheladas (Michelada platter) where customers will be able to construct a their own Michelada with a can of Tecate Mexican lager, sangrita (a spicy tomato based chaser), a shot of tequila, lime and chilli salt.

What trends would you like to see bars embrace?

This story Steamy seasonal potions first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.