Liz and Steph, who only have your best interests at heart, recently attended the From Bush to Bar Cocktail Workshop held at the Immigration Museum as part of North South Feast West. We were promised native ingredients, which sadly didn’t appear, but we did get local spirits, a very interesting history of spirits and grains, a whole lot of ideas for cocktails, and a tiny bit squiffy. It was for science.
It began with free seeds, grilled corn and a brief visit to the museum shop, and ended with grape fascinators because WHY NOT.
Crop Up! is a celebration of grains, berries and seeds across cultures, and is a part of North South Feast West. NSFeastW celebrates cuisines from across the world with a variety of festivals, workshops and events. As part of Crop Up! there was a Peruvian chef talking about techniques, a Pimms bar, seedling stalls, and a couple of food stalls. These were all very charming – Steph purchased a slice of carrot cake and a can of chipotle sauce, Liz purchased some grilled corn, and we were given friendship bracelets from the Peruvian chef. But we were really there for one very important thing: the cocktail workshop.
There was SO MUCH HISTORY we learnt! Fermentation is easy peasy, but it was Muslims in the Middle East who first got onto the distillation game, leading to perfumes, mostly. Then Catholic monks, who were the only ones who could read and therefore the only ones who could translate the recipes from Arabic, did it and turned it into alcohol, bringing it into Europe. Thanks, Catholics.
So those monks are kind of why we have herbal liquors as well. The addition of juniper berries came from when people thought the berries could combat the Black Plague, which, way awkward.
Spoilers: gin does NOT cure Bubonic Plague.
But, in general, herbal liqueurs were originally derived from medicines. This is a very longstanding tradition — more recently, the gin and tonic evolved as a way of making quinine palatable for British colonialists in malaria-stricken areas, and Coca-Cola started out as a patent medicine.
Look, the event facilitator isn’t the only one who is full of useless knowledge about drinks.
Apparently the term ‘Dutch courage’ comes from seeing Dutch soldiers take a shot of alcohol for medicinal/strength purposes before battle. The term Navy Strength is for alcohol that’s 58.1% alcohol, the level at which you can accidentally drop your booze on your gun powder and still light it on fire. This whole paragraph is citation needed but we were a pretty cheerful citation needed, and not just because of the alcohol we’d by this point imbibed.
I certainly walked out with a list of things to look up later on, but I was having too much fun to open Wikipedia right then and there. (Steph says: Who ARE we?) My favourite anecdote was the one about NASCAR evolving out of Prohibition, when the Volstead Act was repealed and suddenly bootleggers had these hotted up fast cars (for escaping G-men on the delivery rounds!) and nothing to do with them.
It has a definite aura of truthiness, I just have some lingering doubts, that’s all.
Relatedly, I also enjoyed the anecdote that in NYC nobody remembered how to make whiskey after Prohibition because the G-men could shut them down so easily and they had to import it all in, whereas those in Kentucky and similar areas had been making it the whole time and so were like ‘boo-yah’.
My favourite truthy anecdote was how early convicts and colonialists in Australia nearly starved to death because, while the farmland was rich, more grain was used for alcohol than food for humans or sheep.
Interesting and truthy facts were accompanied by cocktails created by the facilitator to highlight Australian ingredients, from native botanicals to locally-made spirits. In the interests of science, we tried all of them.
- 30 ml gin (specifically, they recommend Four Pillars Gunpowder Gin) (Steph loves Four Pillars Gin)
- 30 ml sweet vermouth
- 30ml Campari
- Combine all ingredients in a large glass with ice
- Stir until cooled and diluted to taste
- Strain into a rocks glass over ice
- Garnish with a twist of orange peel
My notes say, “Note: I’m not into Campari”. This is something I always forget, until there is Campari in my mouth and I remember how awful it tastes. I like gin and vermouth, but the Campari overwhelmed everything else, just as it always does.
Your fave is problematic: Campari.
We understand that Four Pillars not only runs tours of its distillery in Healesville, but also provides a gin tasting plate and makes jam out of the gin leftovers, and accordingly we have an excursion planned for January. Please stay tuned.
The topic turned to the question of whisky, and specifically, its evolution in America into bourbon. As Steph mentioned above, Rye whisky was common in the north-eastern states of the US, but the skill of making it was largely lost in Prohibition. Bourbon, made from corn, became dominant, because it was made in the South, where people were more isolated and the government less able to police home distilleries.
This brings us to Melbourne Moonshine, an un-aged white whisky made from local corn.
(Liz happened to mention its existence to Friend of No Award Brittany, an Actual Southerner, who was appalled and amused by its price — her uncle gives the stuff away. We’re after Brittany to write a post for us about the appropriation of southern food culture by Melbourne hipsters — if anyone wants to sponsor Brittany to travel to Melbourne and eat food, feel free. She’s only in the US, it’s not that expensive!)
- 60ml Melbourne Moonshine
- 30ml fresh lime juice
- 15ml sugar syrup
- 2 chunks of cucumber
- a handful of mint leaves
- Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake hard for 10 seconds.
- Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with cucumber and mint.
My notes here say ‘cucumber ruins everything’, which I stand by.
You are quite wrong on that fact, although I’m quite okay with people being wrong about cucumber in cocktails, because it means I get to eat their cucumbers.
My notes say, “I can only taste mint and lime — nice, but I’ll try the neat moonshine later.”
I did try the neat moonshine at the end, and it was amazing — strong, obviously, but unexpectedly smooth.
We understand that the Melbourne Moonshine company runs tours of its distillery, and will investigate accordingly.
(We also understand that Melbourne Moonshine uses local Victorian corn, and that the spent corn is sent back to the farm from whence it came in order to feed the cows there, and we are into this food miles and reuse business.)
- 50ml Starward Wine Cask Australian Whisky
- 20ml Olorosso sherry
- 10ml Native spice syrup
- Combine all ingredients in a large glass with ice.
- Stir until chilled and diluted.
- Strain into a rocks glass.
- Garnish with a twist of orange peel.
Native Spice Syrup
In a pot, combine:
- 250ml Australian honey
- 100g pink peppercorns (local immigrant ingredient, from Londoners originally)
- 250ml brewed eucalyptus tea, strained
- 10 dashes Australian bitters
- Allow to simmer for 15 minutes, then strain and cool.
Note: we have no idea how to make eucalyptus tea, but we understand that eucalyptus is poisonous to humans in high enough quantities. Please do your research and don’t sue us if you end up in hospital.
The flavour will vary depending on the sort of honey you use, so the facilitators recommend experimenting. Provided that your dietary preferences include honey, of course. Honey-free vegans can substitute sugar.
My notes say, “Smells of pepper and sherry. Very strong taste. Lovely to sip.” It’s a heavy one, though — with no ice melting in your glass, you’re basically drinking a whole lot of neat spirits.
My notes say “Starward, Essendon, old aircraft hanger.” We understand that this old aircraft hanger has been painted black and remains uninsulated in order to make the environment hot hot hot and as a result to speed up the traditional whiskey aging process, which? what. Tell us more.
(Liz says: Isn’t this another place that offers a tour? Let’s go to that place.)
Steph: This was a fun and interesting session at the Melbourne Immigration Museum. It was nothing like what we actually expected, but I would do it again.
I enjoyed the touching on immigrant ingredients (ie, England, Europe) and the talk of food miles and sustainability, and would love to do a session focused on that. The presenter was very knowledgeable, and although my early notes say ‘?? mansplainer?’ I later crossed them out, because it felt more like he just REALLY wanted you to love alcohol AS MUCH AS HE DOES, because it’s SO COOL, which I can’t relate to in anyway at all, obviously.
Liz: Indeed, such was the infectious enthusiasm of the facilitator that, after Stephanie politely asked them to hush, even the posse of bearded old white men at our table got into it, and started listening instead of oldsplaining amongst themselves.
This was a very fun afternoon that left me extremely enthusiastic to support the local spirits industry, and to learn more about using native ingredients in cocktails. (And also to create cocktails to suit different regions of Melbourne.)
It was an educational and interesting way to get a teensy bit squiffy on a sunny Sunday afternoon. A+ would cocktail again.