First published on 4 Mar 2012. Updated on 12 Mar 2012.
Gin: the preferred tipple of artists. dilettantes and other bohemian drunkards throughout history. The potent spirit was introduced to England from Holland in the 1690s, and has been a staple spirit for the discerning drinker ever since. Minus, of course, those 130 or so years where every man, woman and child became so pickled on the stuff that it was considered the scourge of society.
Melbourne took to the liquor a tad more politely, but with no less enthusiasm. So, ahead of their comedy festival show ‘The Revolution Will Be Sexual’, Londoners, seasoned gin enthusiasts and EastEnd Cabaret stars Bernadette Byrne and Victor Victoria rampaged through Melbourne on a mission to find its best purveyors of Mother's Ruin.
BB: Victy and I stole our first bottle of Gordon’s from my parents’ bar aged nine and have not looked back. We wrote our first song that night and ran naked through a field.
VV: It was beautiful. Wherever we travel in the world, I always like to top up my gin-related knowledge – and Bernadette needs to be reassured that a ready supply of Dutch Courage is always close at hand. Happily for us, Melbourne seems to be the gin capital of Australia.
Melbourne Gin Distillery/Car Park
VV: We had heard rumours that Australians could indeed craft a good gin, so we decided to search for a gin distillery in Melbourne. We heard rumour that a well-known British gin company, Gilbey’s, had actually built a distillery in Moorabbin in the 1930s.
BB: Unfortunately, when Victy and I got there, we found that the Gilbey’s Gin building had been demolished in June 2000 and a Westfield shopping mall had been built in its place.
Top Tip: Always carry a hip flask for emergency car park gin drinking.
970 Nepean Highway, Moorabbin.
BB: Here, the bartenders are beautiful, and intrigued us with their knowledge as they allowed us to sample our first Australian tipple.
VV: Distilled in Western Australia, the West Winds is deliciously complex gin, utilising uniquely Australian botanicals. There are two styles – the Sabre, with a more traditional, juniper-led palate; and the Cutlass, infused with Australian bush tomato and coriander seed. Our delightful new friend Will (the tall one) introduced Bernadette and I to the Cutlass – he had us at “50% ABV” – and our G&Ts were served with a slice of green capsicum. Delicious.
Best for... the perfect gin and tonic
Crown Entertainment Complex, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank.
VV: These maestros of mixology will cleverly play with the ways in which you understand your cocktail, let alone how you drink it. The Nitro Martini is a classic; crisp and clean Tanqueray 10, chilled with billowing clouds of liquid nitrogen – and made as dry as you can handle, with a garnish of your choice.
BB: But when you bite into the olive darlings, ensure that it is completely confined within your mouth or you may face the awkwardness that is the moment you squirt olive juice into the face of an attractive bartender.
Best for... the Martini Experience
438 Swan St, Richmond.
The Wigs Cellar
VV: A bottle shop where you can not only purchase good old British standards like Plymouth and Bombay Sapphire, but Wigs also stocks a number of specialised gins, including an admirable range of gins crafted here in Australia. Tasmania’s Lark Distillery Pepperberry Gin is disarmingly quaffable with a delicately peppery aftertaste, distilled with water straight from the highlands of Mount Fields National Park near Hobart.
BB: The knowledgeable staff of Wigs Cellar are happy to discuss their list of delectable libations with you – and if you need a little palate cleanser between gins, they also have the largest range of absinthe in Australia. Oh yes.
VV: My recollection of events following our extended sampling session at Wigs is somewhat hazy. I know that we left – at some point – clutching various gin-shaped bottles. I remember lying on some fake grass, inside a very opulent building. I remember drinking something out of a test tube, and a lady with a fox on her shoulders thrusting a jar of anchovy-stuffed olives towards me, with a crazed look in her eye.
BB: There was dancing. There is always dancing. Gin can do strange things to a person, or lead a person to do some strange things.
Best for... a haven for the serious spirit drinker
172 Queen St, Melbourne.
BB: Here – here is a place where the gorgeous barperson will welcome you in at 7am, smile knowingly, and understand that you may need a moment before deciding between a coffee or a Clover Club.
VV: Their minimalist menu offers their own personalised espresso blend, alongside a handful of well-crafted cocktails – and a spirit shelf that features a large, handsome bottle of Broker’s Gin.
Distilled in a traditional pot still in Birmingham, this smooth-drinking, well-balanced gin is a stylish drop, topped with a small bowler hat as a lid. One perfect espresso, paired with one large snifter of gin, and our spirits are restored. When an evening on the ritz becomes a morning on the fritz, I cannot recommend this
particular pick-me-up high enough.
BB: Melbourne, you have certainly passed the test.
Best for... the perfect way to start the day (or end the night)
20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne.
Victor Victoria and Bernadette Byrne can be seen performing their critically acclaimed cabaret show, The Revolution Will Be Sexual at Red Bennies as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.