Meet Mark Watkins, Master Distiller, Botanic Australis

Since I launched The Gin Queen a little over two years ago, I’ve been very fortunate to meet many of the local Australian distilling talent. One of the very first distillers I met was Mark Watkins, Master Distiller of Botanic Australis. Mark has been a fantastic supporter of my events and when Tourism Queensland helped me with a visit to Far North Queensland to visit the distillery, it was the perfect opportunity to sit down and chat properly with Mark and find out more about his path to creating one of the most awarded Australian Gins.

Botanic Australis Gin

How long have you been distilling?

Since I was 16 when I made vodka in my cubby house. I naively thought vodka was made from potatoes and as my mate was a potato farmer we thought we’d give it a go. We ended up making something that can only be described as repugnant.

I went off to Uni to study environmental science because I wanted to save the dolphins and turtles but by the time I got to the end of my degree, I knew I didn’t want to pursue a career in that field. I got into wine science but I couldn’t handle the cold climate down south. I dry out like a lizard!

I came back to Queensland and built a 50litre stainless steel still then a 100 litre, before choosing a Holstein copper still, called Helga. Copper makes a massive difference in the flavour profile of spirits, it adds a smoothness that isn’t there when using stainless steel.


So what did you begin making?

I started out making fruit liqueurs while the rum was ageing, before finding this old recipe for London Dry gin and thought I’d have a go.

Why did you decide to take the recipe and replace all the ingredients with Aussie natives?

Obviously, I could I wanted to make a quintessentially Australian gin. I imagined a settler arriving on the first fleet, wanting gin but not being able to find the traditional ingredients and having to use bush foods instead of traditional gin botanicals.

How long did it take to decide which native botanicals would work?

It was no easy task. Aussie natives are so strong – so “bush-ey” that it took about 2 years to refine the recipe, using lab wear before approaching a still. I did a bit of botany at Uni and was keen to use as much local produce as possible. River mint and ginger grow like weeds around here and lemon scented gum and anise myrtle are readily available.


Native ginger

Once I had a feel for the potency for each of the botanicals I opted for cold maceration technique where the botanicals are agitated in alcohol for 48 hours before being removed. The remaining liquid is then run through the still. There is a lot of finesse involved in the process to make sure we get the flavours without the roughness of the bush.  Olida (strawberry gum leaf) is really strong, in 1200 litres of alcohol we only use 400g!

London Dry usually has between 5 and 12 ingredients, Botanic Australis has 14 how did that happen?

The recipe I worked from has around 11 or 12 ingredients. While some natives could be swapped fairly easily, – bunya nut replaced bitter almond for instance, some botanicals needed two natives. For the lemon component, I’ve used lemon scented gum and lemon myrte. Lemon myrtle can be very overpowering so I balanced it with the lemon scented gum. For the mint we used River mint and Peppermint gum, both of which have a bad back taste, but together give a freshness, which is also achieved by cutting at the right time. I love working with wild ingredients but it is tricky. There was no Maggie Beer book to help!

So what’s next for Mount Uncle Distillery, are there any new gins in the pipeline?

We’re planning a Botanic Australis Navy Strength and I have another idea but that’s top secret for now!

Botanic Australis gin can be purchased direct from Mount Uncle Distillery. Click here for more information.

Support Movember with a Negroni

Long time readers will know about my love for Negroni, in all it’s forms. Bitter, sweet and utterly delicious, Negroni is the perfect sipping cocktail and having bottled versions available is both a blessing and a curse. It’s difficult to deny oneself when all you have to do is open one bottle. Yup, I am THAT lazy.

One of my great finds last year was The Negroni Project Barrel-Aged Negroni, made with Melbourne Gin Company gin. You and read more about bottled Negroni here.

A couple of weeks ago, Matt and Jesse, two of the Negroni Project team members, invited me to taste test the contents of this year’s barrels.


How could I refuse?

First we tasted to see how the mixture had developed, before deciding to add fresh vermouth to lift the drink prior to bottling. Very handy that Matt is one of the best sommeliers around!


I love the oaky notes that the barrel-aging process imparts. It’s not a bitter-sweet Negroni but rather more mellow making it an approachable option for those Campari haters.

The added bonus with buying a bottle of the The Negroni Project is all the profits go to Movember, the men’s health charity. Last year they raised over $4,500 and are hoping to top that this year.

Enjoy a delicious, ready-made Negroni AND support a good cause? Win/win.

How can you support Movember with a Negroni?

To find a stockist near you click here.

To donate to The Negroni Project November campaign click here.


Meet the Bartender, Aaron Gaulke, Bennelong

I first met Aaron at a Hendrick’s event hosted by Leslie Gracie. This involved gin, racing beetles and wearing tribal headdresses. I have a picture somewhere, but I’m not sure he’d thank me for sharing it!

Where do you work?

Bennelong restaurant at the Opera House

How long have you been mixing drinks?

11 years and the previous 10 working as a chef.

Tell me a bit about your bartending journey

I started  as a 14 yr old bakers assistant before getting an apprenticeship at 16. I worked in hatted and Michelin-starred restaurants, then got an opportunity to move behind ‘the pine’ to learn the front of house side of the business.  It helped me understand what takes numerous items on a plate, to be distilled into one mouthful in a glass and still hit a harmonious balance. From there I spent time in a true modernist cocktail bar, distilling tinctures, bitters, and spirits, using Adrian Ferrian and Harold McGee as inspiration.
Since coming back to Australia I have worked with the truly gifted Eau de Vie (Sydney) team, before opening the Intercontintal Double Bay and now Bennelong.

What is the best thing about your job?

The nuanced, numerous and varied world of flavor, balance and texture, plus the wide-range of bars and the drinks within.

Who/what inspires you?

Drinks-wise it doesn’t take much to get inspired. It might be a key ingredient, a flavour, a sight, or a sound. Often smells, conversations, or a memory are trigger points for getting the creative juices flowing.

In life- good times, good food, good conversation, good humour, and of course good drinks inspire me!

Aaron behind the bar at Bennelong. Look at the view!

What’s your favourite gin and why and how do you like to drink it?

Currently something like Ferdinand’s Saar gin or The Botanist.

If I’m at home in the backyard, it’s 3 fingers of gin to 3 fingers of Mediterranean tonic and a herb like rosemary, sage or mint. If I’m out and about, it’s a Last Word.

A customer has never tried gin before, what gin-based drink would you recommend?

A South Side.. or an East Side.. both are refreshing, safe combinations that a non gin drinker can enjoy and appreciate gin’s versatility and character.

Your favourite gin cocktail, and why?

The Last Word, gin, chartreuse, maraschino and lime!

Which are your favourite bars (anywhere in the world)?

Employees Only, Dead Rabbit, Experimental Cocktail Club, Boilermaker House, The Everleigh, Trailer Happiness,  Eau De Vie Sydney, Henrietta’s, Baxter Inn, The Barber Shop… to name but a few!

What’s next? Any future plans?

Finish the end of month stock take!


Meet Nik Fordham, Master Distiller Bombay Sapphire

It’s an exciting time at Bombay Sapphire, not only with the newly opened Laverstoke Mill, but also with the launch of Star of Bombay a super-premium (and mighty delicious) gin.

I visited the new distillery in June and it was a fantastic experience (if you get the opportunity to go, you MUST) not least because I got the chance to meet and interview Nik Fordham, Master Distiller, who was very generous with his time and even gave me a sneaky peek behind the scenes, once I’d ditched my phone and camera!

How long have you been a distiller?

Since 2008

Was it something you always wanted to do?

My journey into distilling is not a traditional one. I did a biochemistry degree and ended up in a laboratory. Then worked for Unilever and Johnson and Johnson. My area was chemical engineering, logistics, and engineering project management. I got fed up with corporate life and went off to build houses for a couple of years.

I met my wife soon afterwards and she suggested I got a proper job and about the same time I saw Beefeater advertising for a distillery manager.

I was with Beefeater for 5 1/2 years during which time I qualified with the Institute of Brewing and Distilling (taking 2 years instead of 3) and won two awards; in the first year I won a gin and vodka institute award and then in year 3 I won the Worshipful Company of Distillers award for excellence.

I’m immensely proud of my time at Beefeater where I refurbished still No. 12 and was involved in creation of Burroughs Reserve.

How did you get the job at Laverstoke?

They poached me!

Laverstoke Mill Distillery (image courtesy of Bombay Sapphire)

Congratulations on the opening of the distillery, it’s amazing!

Thank you! I think Laverstoke is great, how could you not love it? Look outside, that’s England’s purest chalk stream!

Everyone on the Bombay Sapphire has worked really hard to get everything right here. When we came online everyone was watching. We had so many sleepless nights.  It took 9 months of running the stills to get the gin perfectly consistent, which is an absolute must. Our relationship with our customers means that when they go to a venue and a bottle of Bombay is opened, it tastes the same as the last time they tasted Bombay at a different venue.

Tell me more about The Star of Bombay

It’s been very much a team effort and it was great to be given the trust to develop a new project, the first new gin for Bombay since we launched Sapphire East. Working with Ivano (Tonnuti, Bombay’s Master of Botanicals) was excellent.

We knew we wanted to something different over and above just adding a new botanical, so we used 2 different types of juniper, regular juniper communis and juvenile (younger berries) greener juniper, which give more pine notes. We have also added bergamot and ambrette seeds.

The gin had to be smooth enough to drink over ice even at 47% ABV and we’ve achieved that by using 100% vapour infusion as with our other gins. We are also running the stills at a different rate, first at 40% then up to 60% before dropping back down to 40%.

Star of Bombay

With the use of juvenile juniper, how do you maintain the quality of the next year’s harvest?

Sustainability to is very important to us so we look to different suppliers ensuring that we maintain quality and consistency. Ivano has a great relationship with these people, many of whom have supplied Bombay for decades.

How did your choose which botanicals to use for Star?

Our London Dry and Bombay Sapphire have the same 8 botanicals, essentially the same core DNA, (the only difference is the cubeb berries and the grains of paradise), so we used that as our starting point.

Ivano and I then tried all sorts of flavour combinations. We decided on Ambrette seeds and Bergamot. Ambrette is described as “the musk of the plant world” and acts not only as a fixative but also brings depth while bergamot adds a different dimension. Interestingly, the aspects of each botanical changes as they react with each other, so we had to play with their ratios. I am also a big fan of liquorice as I have fond memories of my mum giving it to me. I love the mouth feel it gives to gin.

Who or what inspires you?

I take my inspiration from everywhere and anywhere. Look outside. The nature around me…did you know we even have bats here which fits so nicely with the Bacardi logo.

I also get to work with some pretty amazing people like Sam (Carter) Raj (Nagra), Ivano and Sean (Ware), that’s inspiring in itself.

How much Research &Development do you do?

We do quite a bit. I think about gin a lot, and make plenty of notes. Ivano and I only get together every month or so, but that’s plays a big part in R&D. We always like to have something in the pipeline.

What’s your favourite way to drink gin?

I’m very traditional so I like a martini with a bit of citrus across the top. Or a G&T, I like to be able to taste my gin so I’d go 50/50 with a bit of grapefruit.

Which are your favourite bars (anywhere in the world)           

To be honest, I love my local pub. I row every Sunday and like to have a pack of pork scratchings and a beer or a Bombay Sapphire G&T.

I’ve managed to put a Bombay Sapphire glorifier on the back bar of the pub so I can point at it and say ‘I made that!’

What’s next? Any future plans for Laverstoke?

We have lots of plans in development but overall I want to create a centre of learning. We have a self-discovery dry room where our hosts will take you through the botanicals and I do a masters distiller class which is 4 hours, but we’re very informal and like people to take their time as there is plenty to see and do here. We actively encourage people to sit by the river and relax with a Gin and Tonic!

My thanks to the team at Bombay Australia for making this interview possible.


Meet Ryan Magarian, Aviation Gin

Ryan Magarian is an industry stalwart and one of the partners in the creation of one of my favourite American Gins, Aviation Gin.

Ryan was in Melbourne last week on a flying visit and I was thrilled to be able to interview him and get some insights into New Western Gins.

Talk me through the creation of Aviation Gin

I like to describe the early 2000s as the 4th evolution of gin. (The 1st evolution was Genever, the 2nd was Old Tom and the 3rd evolution was London Dry), although it has taken time for people to articulate it. In around 2000 two brands started doing something different: Hendricks and Tanqueray. Both of them were amplifying the alternative gin botanicals in a way that gins hadn’t been in the past. They were relying on the other botanicals to sell and define their gin rather than the juniper.

I think people began to question whether more could be done with gin other than simply make a tight juniper spirit. Clearly, it has to contain juniper, there should be in my opinion a “responsible amount of juniper” for it to be called gin, but was there room for more creativity?

What they didn’t do, but what we chose to do, and what I consider to be the lynch pin of Aviation was create something that reflected the sensibility and the climate and the creativity that you see in the Pacific North West.

We were determined to make it ours, there was no reason why some gin makers from Oregon should make something that tastes exactly like Tanqueray, it just didn’t make sense to me. Using alternative, and often unusual botanicals offers the distiller the chance to make a gin that is truly theirs.

Why use Sarsaparilla?

I credit my partner with the inclusion of both  lavender and sarsaparilla, our two most unusual botanicals.We like to think we went ‘off-roading’ to create a damp, forest floor flavour profile (rather than a pine tree walk flavour profile).

Aviation Gin is earthy, savoury, rich, unctuous, – to me it’s the Pacific Northwest in a bottle. It’s doesn’t smell like the English country side, it doesn’t taste like Sydney it smells like Portland, Oregon if you ask me!

We’ve even done blind tasting and asked people to guess which gin is from the Pacific North-West and they always pick Aviation, so what ever we’ve done we’ve done it right. I don’t think there is another gin that is as terroir-orientated as Aviation.

How did the term New Western Gin come about?

I’m very much a believer in being a part of the intellectual conversation about gin and not just someone who’s bringing a product to market. Aviation was so different to what was available at that time that it made no sense to just hand it over to a bartender and say “here you are, have some new gin”, so when I started we coined the term New Western dry gin. For better or worse it stuck all over the world, as a moniker to describe gins that are more heavy-handed with the alternative gin botanicals, in creating what I call a botanical democracy.

There was some resistance to the term by traditional gin distillers, but I believe that having a flavour designation term helps grow the category, helps the consumer and more importantly protects the existing dry gin category, but it gives a place for us to be more creative.

When I try a new gin, I always start from the simplest point:

Is it a ‘dictatorship of juniper’ or it is a ‘democracy of botanicals’?

Is it a juniper-centric London Dry or is it balance of botanicals in a New Western style gin?

Do you think being a bartender helped in the process? Aside from creating something that was so specific to the North West , were you looking for something that was versatile enough to work in lots of different cocktails?

I definitely thought about creating something a craft cocktail maker would want on his or her back bar. Essentially, they want to create a drink that is balanced between spirits and modifiers and accents. So as a bartender it made a lot of sense for me to create gin that was balanced and could be used in lots of different cocktails.

How did you choose the name? Was it after the Aviation Cocktail?

The name Aviation is taken from the cocktail. But, it wasn’t like I saw this random drink and thought it would be a good marketing idea to use the name. The Aviation was the first gin cocktail I tasted that made me realise that everyone could love gin, it was a life-changing gin experience!

Aviation Cocktail

I first noticed this drink in my friend Paul Harrington’s book, Cocktails of the 21st century,written in the late ’90s, before Dave Wondrich had dug up the original recipe by Recipes for Mixed Drinks by Hugo R. Ensslin. An Aviation up until 2006 was made without crème de violette.  The simple harmony of gin, maraschino and lemon was a revelation. I thought “This is the Trojan horse for gin!”.

The idea of gin in a yummy citrus drink was a novelty. Remember this was way back at the beginning of what we now call the cocktail revolution. So I went back to the bar and started putting gin in everything, Gin Cosmos, Gin Mojitos, even Daiquiris!

Ryan’s thoughts on gin and gin cocktails

I don’t believe that people don’t like gin, it’s two different things…relevant vehicles to serve it and bartenders not having the knowledge (back then) of how to cook with it so to speak. There is a gin and a gin cocktail for every imbiber in the world and a lot of that comes down to the expertise of the barman or woman to figure out how to make that connection.

We wanted Aviation Gin to work well in citrus cocktails. It doesn’t have a huge amount of citrus so it’s a good foundation. Every gin has a unique application and Aviation is no different.

Highballs with Aviation Gin:  – gin and soda, gin and lemonade, gin and grapefruit. The sweetness of the sarsaparilla works well with the bitterness of the grapefruit.

Punches – Aviation, Tom Collins, Gin Daiquiri, Last Word and  French 75 all work well with Aviation

19th century cocktails: Negroni, martini

However, as New Western gins tend to be softer, we needed to play with the ratios a little so the gin doesn’t get lost in the drink. It’s forced me to get more intellectual with all gins and see how they work with different cocktails and recalibrate accordingly. For example, a Negroni made with Aviation would be 60ml gin, 30ml sweet vermouth and 30ml campari (instead of the usual 30/30/30).

An Aviation Martini would be 75ml gin, 15ml Dolin vermouth and then 1 dash of Regan’s bitters.

I like to say “A great martini should taste like magical freakin’ glacial water“.

A last word on New Western Gins

Imagine gin as a solar system. Tanqueray is the Sun, Beefeater is Mercury, Plymouth is Venus, Hendricks and Tanqueray 10 would be Saturn and Uranus. And Aviation? We’re Pluto with regard to juniper!

My grateful thanks to Ryan for spending so much time with me, it was a fascinating and great learning experience for me. Thanks to Dan Roche and the team at Vanguard for making it possible.

You can follow Ryan on twitter.


Meet the Bartender: Rich Woods, Duck and Waffle

Rich Woods was recently included in the London Evening Standard’s list of 1000 most Influential People in London and it’s easy to see why. As the man behind the beverage menus at Sushi Samba and Duck and Waffle, Rich continues to push the boundaries of cocktail and blurs the lines between chef and bartender. He also came up with the Nutella Negroni. Enough said.

Nutella Negroni (image by Duck and Waffle)

Tell me a bit about your career so far?

I’ve been in the industry for 18 years, but more from the operations and bar management side of things. I loved being in bars but wasn’t really a bartender.  It was only when I was at Floridita  bars as operations manager that I threw myself in the deep end and got shaking again. I became really embedded in it and stayed there for 7 years.

Then the opportunity came up to work with Sushi Samba and I was very keen to work with an American brand. Duck and Waffle came along in 2012  and I was given carte blanche on the drinks menu. The chef team are young, very open to ideas and collaborations and I just naturally evolved my approach to cocktails.

Some of your drinks are extremely complex to create, do you have background in science?

No! I’m creative and I’m willing to learn. I probably have ten times more cookbooks than I do bar books at home and I certainly use them more.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Everything! Just being out.

You run a 24 hour bar! How do you get time to go out!?

Well I’m here all the time, but I take myself out for walks. I’ll have a think and I’ll write something down in one of my many notebooks.

One of the drinks the blue cheese and chocolate martini which was my winning cocktail (alongside Mind Your Peas and Q’s) from the UK final of the Bombay Sapphire World’s Most imaginative Bartender Competition.

One night I was getting a late night cab ride and ended up falling asleep before I got a chance to get some food.  All I had at home was some blue cheese in the fridge and a couple of chocolate digestives. So I just ate them together. It was like a scene out of Ratatouille as I realised how delicious it was.

The next day I fat-washed Bombay Sapphire with blue cheese and then made a dry chocolate cacao vermouth and so the Blue Cheese Chocolate Martini was born.

Blue Cheese and Chocolate Martini

It all sounds very labour intensive?

Yes, it is!

But that doesn’t come across on the menu?

We just list the ingredients because I think sometimes people are put off by long descriptions. I don’t want people to look at menu and think “oh god I’m going to have to wait half an hour for that”.
It’s like a wine book, I’m lost after the first two pages. I don’t care, just tell me what I should be drinking.

Besides, if two people sat down and read a detailed description of a cocktail, both of them would imagine something completely different. When the drink arrives, at least one person will be disappointed because it won’t be how they imagined it. This way, no one really knows what to expect and hopefully there is a wow factor when the drink arrives.

For example we used to have a nitro G&T on the menu (it came off as it was too popular!)

It was nitrogen frozen Hendricks and elderflower lime sorbet served in a champagne flute with tonic water and a yuzu foam. We listed it as gin, tonic and yuzu, It looked nothing like a regular G&T and people loved it!

Gin- Tonic-and-Yuzu-Duck-and-Waffle
Gin, Tonic and Yuzu Duck and Waffle (image from Duck and Waffle)

How long does it take to get from crazy concept to being ready for serving to a customer?

Never! {laughs} I am my own worst enemy. I’m a nightmare to work with. I’m never happy. The drinks continue to evolve. I’m always looking at new ways to serve or deliver on flavour.

What’s the best thing about your job innovation or the service?

I’m all about front of house. We don’t differtitate here between bartenders and floor staff. Everyone here serves and makes drinks. Everyone is a bartender. They rotate.

No server in a restaurant can describe a dish like the chef that created it, so the same is true of a bartender.  I’m trying to create a flow of service that is uninterrupted. Our menu is slightly out there but we’re here to answer questions and help people choose.

What’s your favourite thing to drink?

Beer! {nervous laughter from me}. Someone once said that their favourite drink is whatever is in their hand at that time and to a certain extent that’s true. At one point or another these drinks on the current menu will all be a favourite.

If I ever have an evening off (a rare occasion) my first drink would be G&T then a beer, but I always end my night with a martini.

Do you have a favourite spirit?

It probably is gin.I find it very easy to mix as it goes so well with so much.

For instance, a Negroni is a rich drink, but you still get the gin. Gin and an olive is my favourite martini.

If I think I need a spurt of creativity. I’ll play with something and then give it to the guys to try, and they’ll say “it tastes great, it’s gin again isn’t it?”

I recently made a Pink peppercorn lemonade….clarified lemon with peppercorn gin, pine needle and rosemary and I thought, OK I’ll try it with vodka, but it just didn’t work. Gin gives something extra.

Where are your favourite bars?

White Lyan, definitely. And then the Artesian. I think Simone and Alex have done a fantastic job of creating a welcoming, non-pretentious bar in spite of its 5 star hotel setting.

What’s next?

The pipe-dreams change daily but I’d like to open a place of my own one day.

Follow Rich on twitter and instagram.


Meet the Bartender: Nick Tesar, Lûmé

I first met Nick Tesar when I moved to Melbourne and he was working at Gin Palace where I always enjoyed his slightly left of field garnishes and behind-the-bar experiments (chocolate gin anyone?).

Where do you work?


How long have you been mixing drinks?

I started bartending when travelling. I was kind of running away after finishing university, as I wasn’t sure what to do next, I was just sure it wasn’t going to be sitting behind a desk. After getting back to Australia four years ago, I began to take bartending as a serious career. I was really enjoying hospitality, and still am. I worked at the casino in Brisbane for a couple of years, before making the decision to chase a more developed industry in Melbourne and landed the dream job at Gin Palace. I loved it. I was a great network and learning experience and I was there for two and a half years before making the decision to take the next challenge in getting on board for the opening of Lûmé, a highly ambitious restaurant in South Melbourne, with a bar/à la carte room at the front.

What is the best thing about your job?

I get to play around (nerd out) with products and people who I truly respect and admire. Plus, the aim of my job is to make people happy and have a good time and realistically there aren’t too many jobs like that.

Who/what inspires you?

Anyone who truly enjoys what they are doing and are willing to embrace risk to further that. I have been lucky to work with Shaun Byrne (Maidenii and Gin Palace and now FIFO bar consulting through Good Measure), who has taught me a great deal but also taken that leap to business owner.

What’s your favourite gin and why and how do you like to drink it?

This is a tough question. It really depends how you are drinking it. My favorite Negroni is made with a gin called Cadenhead’s Old Raj (55% and made with saffron), I really love the Australian gins in Gin and Tonics, particularly those with a bit more kick. Four Pillars Gunpowder Proof and West Winds Cutlass. But then head back to a London Dry style for a martini, particularly Tanqueray No. 10 and Sipsmith.

A customer has never tried gin before, what gin-based drink would you recommend?

A gimlet. I think that it is an incredibly approachable drink that still allows the juniper to shine through.

Your favourite gin cocktail, and why?

The Negroni. Its perfect. Strong sweet and bitter. What more do you need.

Tell me a bit more about Lûmé

Lûmé has an incredibly innovative degustation menu, but with the front bar (called the front room) we wanted to create somewhere people could just drop in for a drink and a quick bite to eat. The focus is on fresh, local, seasonal produce and this is reflected in the gin cocktail on tap. We are currently serving a Rhubarb Gin Fizz, but this will shortly change to a Nettle Beer (freshly picked nettles, sugar, water, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar, fermented before blending with Beefeater 24). The cocktail menu is deliberately short as I like to chat with the customer about what they like and put something together just for them.

Rhubarb Gin Fizz

Which are your favourite bars (anywhere in the world)?

I think that Sydney’s Baxter Inn is a pretty special place (apart from the lack of gin), I think it’s that it smells like a bar. Gin Palace will always hold a pretty special place for me. But these days I’m finding that I am enjoying the small neighbourhood bars like Bad Frankie’s and Union Electric.

What’s next? Any future plans?

The end goal is always to one day have a little place of my own, but for now to make Lûmé’s bar a destination in itself while keeping up with what the team is doing in the kitchen.

Lûme Restaurant, 226 Coventry Street, South Melbourne.

Follow on instagram.


Meet Ryan Chetiyawardana AKA Mr Lyan

His name had cropped up so many times in conversation with bartenders, that I knew I had to try to meet Ryan Chetiyawardana during my trip to the UK.

Ryan and his bars have won many awards, most recently International Bartender of the Year 2015 and Best New International Cocktail Bar of the Year (Dandelyan) at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, the most prestigious awards for the industry.

How did you get into the bar industry?

My entry into the industry was as a chef. I’d grown up in a very food orientated family, mum was a pastry chef and food was a social centre of our family. My parents didn’t really drink that much but enjoyed having people round and food and drink was at the heart of that.

I got an offer of a place at Art College (St. Martin’s in London) but I wanted to do something in between leaving school and heading down South. There was a college of food in Birmingham so I enrolled there to train as a chef.  Some of the practical things and the understanding of how to make a kitchen work I loved, I had studied biology at school so some fo the food science stuff really appealed to me. But pretty quickly I became quite disenchanted with being in a kitchen. Growing up around food, it was a very social thing for me. In a professional kitchen you are so removed from the people you are making food for. That felt very alien to me. My best friend suggested I go work in a bar, where I would still be working with flavours and food, but I could actually talk to people.

I hit the usual catch 22 situation of wanting to work behind a bar but not having any experience, so getting turned down for jobs. I approached a place called Santa Fé in Birmingham. It was a tequila bar and restaurant inspired by Mexican cuisine. Looking back they had a better selection of tequila than I see in bars now. God knows how they did that in Birmingham in 2002! They took a punt on me and I became really intrigued by the work and ended up doing really well, so I became hooked on working in bars.

When I started at art college in London I carried on doing bar work.

When did you decide to open your own bar?

I’ve had the opportunity to work in amazing bars and work in their concepts and bring in some of my ideas but you reach a point where it’s time. While I was at Whistling Stop  I said to the guys, “There are 5 or 6 ideas in my head that could be strong ideas for bars now.”

We opened White Lyan in October 2013 and a year later Dandelyan (At the Mondrian Hotel). October is clearly a good month for me as this year I’m publishing my first book!

Ryan’s Book.

When you opened White Lyan, it quite contentious as you were making your own house spirits and not working with brands…

On the surface It looks like a terrible business decision, but it was never about not working with brands. We wanted this bar to be a conversation starter. We wanted to breathe some life into the industry and challenge and excite people. We wanted to show that there was a different way of doing things. I was frustrated that things were being done because that’s the way they always had been. No-one seemed to be asking “is there another way to do this?”

It wasn’t about insulting the industry. A lot of people thought that, but it wasn’t the case. We copped a lot of criticism at the beginning, but slowly people got the idea of what we were trying to do.

One evening we had a very well-known food critic come in. He turned to us and said “I wanted to hate this concept, but these are the best drinks. I thought it was going to be super-pretentious. But it isn’t”

We wanted a pub space because we wanted it to be welcoming. The concept was  “a cocktail bar for people who don’t go to cocktail bars”.

It’s super-relaxed and we wanted it to feel like people are in our house. That idea is at the  heart of what we were doing. We reduced the prices, but by having pre-made drinks we increased the speed of service, so we have more time to chat with people. So if they want to spend time asking about the drinks and how they are made (and we can get really geeky with the details) we can,  but equally If they want to just grab drinks and sit with their mates, we can achieve that really quickly.

What’s the best thing about your job? The guests or making drinks?

The people! On both sides of the bar. Some of my oldest and dearest friends are from the industry.

I also meet hundreds of people coming in to the bars. The other day we had a couple from Japan on their honeymoon. We’ve tried to create something exciting that draws people to us and as a result it brings you into contact with so many cultures from around the world.

So how does Dandelyan differ from White Lyan?

We call Dandelyan a “neighbourhood bar in a 5 star setting”. We wanted to bring the warmth of our style of setting but we still wanted it to have bar geekiness.

We’ve stripped back all of the ingredients to understand the fundamentals. . We’ve termed it “Modern Botany”.  By doing that we get what we want to out of the ingredients. We call it the “nose to tail of plants’. For example we wanted to understand the defence mechanism of plants. How does it protect itself from insects? Does it create an aroma, how can we use that? Every one of the drinks is thoroughly researched.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

People surrounding me. The teams. Our peers. Anything and everything. It might be an ingredient, it might be a concept or a story. Any of those things can trigger a spark. A lot of the time we bandy an idea around the team. One of my crucial roles is enabling that kind of creativity but also the most paramount thing is not to poison anybody!


I’m serious! I’ve been to competitions where I’ve had to say “I don’t think we should taste this”. We do a lot of food safety and thorough research!

What’s your typical day?

I jump around a fair bit. I like to be at both bars. I’m usually here (White Lyan) one or two nights a week. I’m at Dandelyan a bit more as it’s newer. Both Ian and I cover the Mr. Lyan projects. Robyn looks after here and Marcus runs Dandelyan. Both ships have strong captains.

We also retail some products. It was an exclusive in Selfridges for 3 months. The 5 cocktails all picked up medals and they can be ordered on Masters of Malt.

Mr Lyan’s Spotless Martini

What’s your favourite spirit?

I’m very close to Scotch, living in Edinburgh helped. It’s probably the spirit I do the most amount of work with. Then after that it’s gin.

I like things that have a difficult approach. I used to drink a lot of tequila. I like championing things that have a bit of a stigma. in 2005 I was putting raw egg in every cocktail at the time when people were freaking out about salmonella.

Whisky still has a few issues, some people say they struggle with it. Mad Men has helped though!

Is Whisk(e)y more challenging from a cocktail making point of view?

No I think it’s easier. Things that have big up front flavour and then lots of complexity underneath are great to open out with other ingredients. Scotch and gin are both good for that.

What is your favourite cocktail?

My old fall back used to be a Manhattan but I haven’t really found myself drinking them much of late. If I have a high ball it will be a Scotch and soda or a Gin Rickey. I still love a daiquiri, or a Corpse Reviver.

Where do you like to drink?

I tend to stay East (London) because I live here.

I like Sager + Wilde, a wine bar where they make you feel really welcome. It’s a place that is breaking down the snobbery that so often occurs in the wine industry.

Satan’s Whiskers and Happiness both do classic cocktails in a lovely way.

And bars around the world?

Ruby in Copenhagen and Attaboy in New York. These are friends bars, but they are genuine reflections of where I like drinking. The Clumsies in Athens is also great. Athens has such a great bar scene.

How about Australia?

Definitely Black Pearl (Melbourne). So much fun! I also like Earl’s Juke Joint and The Baxter Inn.

What’s next?

I’m working on lots of top-secret projects, but I can’t tell you about any of them!

You can follow Ryan (as Mr. Lyan) on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

White Lyan, 153 Hoxton St. N1 6PJ, London UK.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

Dandelyan, Mondrian London, 20 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PD



Meet Tim Stones, Global Brand Ambassador, Beefeater Gin

During my visit to Beefeater Gin Distillery I got to meet Tim Stones, Global Brand Ambassador. Aside from scaring me to death by jumping out on me during my tour, he was a great guide to all things Beefeater and I’m thrilled he agreed to be interviewed, even though I am massively jealous of his “office”.

How long have you been a Brand Ambassador?

6 awesome years.

How did you become a BA?

After doing some freelance work for Beefeater I was asked to look after BA duties in Europe while the original BA Dan Warner went to launch Beefeater 24 in the US for 6 months. When he came back they decided to keep me on.

What is the best thing about your job?

The travel, getting to experience cocktail cultures around the world, and all the wonderful people I get to meet. The drinks industry is a wonderfully close-knit community.

Describe a typical week?

There’s no such thing! The nature of the job means there’s always something different going on. I divide my time between the distillery in Kennington, the office in Hammersmith and the rest of the world and it can change quite quickly. It’s rare to have a month planned out far in advance. The main consistencies though are travel, hosting and expenses.

Who/what inspires you?

I’m lucky enough to work with (in my opinion) the best gin distiller in the world, Desmond Payne. His knowledge and dedication to making a great gin is quite amazing. He’s also hilarious.

Your favourite gin cocktail and why?

The martini. It’s such a simple, elegant drink that really shows off the gin.

Which are your favourite bars (anywhere in the world)?

In no particular order: The Gin Joint, Athens, Happiness Forgets, London, Casita, London,  Delicatessen, MoscowMother’s Ruin, New York and Collage, Barcelona

What’s next? Any future plans?

I’m currently training to be a distiller, so when I finally decide to hang up the suitcase I’ve got something gin-related to keep me busy.

Tim's "office"
Tim’s “office”

Meet Master Distiller Joanne Moore

On my recent trip to London I managed to swing an interview (and private gin tasting!) with Joanne Moore, the world’s first female master gin distiller. Joanne is custodian of the Greenall’s gin recipe as well as the creator of Bloom, Berkeley Square and Opihr Gin.

Joanne’s gins!

How long have you been a distiller?

Since 2006, our previous Master Distiller retired and so the accolade was awarded to myself to become the 7th Master Distiller since 1761 and their first female gin master distiller – a personal and professional proud moment.

Did you always want to work in distilling?

No not really, I have a degree in Biochemistry and on leaving University I started working in the lab at G&J Greenall as it was known then, that was in 1996. I worked my way up through the ranks and discovered a talent for creating gins so started working alongside our previous head distillers until I became the Master Distiller in 2006.

What is the best thing about your job?

The variety that comes with the role, creating new gin recipes and seeing them being enjoyed around the world by consumers.

What is the most challenging thing about distilling gin?

Nothing comes to mind although each project has its ups and downs, but that’s how we learn and improve. So I don’t see them as challenges really.

How do your choose which botanicals to use?

I choose botanicals that will always complement the key juniper notes in gin, sometimes I’m given a brief, or packaging design/visuals that inspires my thought process, to bring the brand alive. In the case of BLOOM I wanted to create a lighter gin that would encourage non-gin drinkers into the category so I used edible natural flowers and pomelo to create a light floral gin, with Opihr the brief was all about discovery and journey, so I envisaged a spice market with vibrant flavors, colours and aromas.

Who/what inspires you?

I get inspiration from everyday life. Food and drink trends, perfumes and most of all travel with my family .

Your favourite gin cocktail and why?

French 75 – gin and bubbles what girl couldn’t resist that?

Which are your favourite bars (anywhere in the world)?

I don’t have a favourite to mention but love the theatrics of watching a good bartender create a decent cocktail – one where you can taste the spirit you have chosen to drink.