I’m old school… For now, by Tim Philips

You know what!? I’ve changed. For those of you that have known me in Melbourne and London you may have realised this.

No, I’m not talking about the extra strands of hair creeping onto my shoulders or diminishing ability to convince women to spend a night with me. *Wait a second, was i ever good at that? Probably not. I’m talking about my attitude towards cocktail experimentation and attitude towards what i call, Artisan bartending.

Peanut butter
No it's not made from Kangaroo's

A few years ago when i was plying my trade at, in my opinion Australia’s best bar, Black Pearl I had no qualms what so ever in spending my days off cooking up flavoured curds, char-smoking bananas, distilling my own ouzo and taking my bar-cookery skills to new levels.

Australian bartenders have a incredible imagination and this is usually reflected in their cocktail menus. I believe it all started 8-9 years ago with the likes of Sebastian Reaburn and Sam Ross at the late-and great Ginger cocktail bar in Fitzroy. Their use of ingredients rarely found in cocktails such as squid ink in an adaption of the Dirty Martini was stuff of legend.

It inspired the likes of myself and many others around the country to hunt out ingredients that were uncommon and original. Mainly because they were the only guys winning cocktail competitions back then.

A few years on after many a great experimentation with foreign ingredients (lavender, mascarpone, jams) , and after a lot of unsuccessful attempts (peanut butter!?) the Australian bar scene had to move forward and the only way was to start using homemade ingredients such as flavored syrups and homemade preserves.

Bartenders all around the globe still spend their days off concocting their own liqueurs and making their own bespoke ingredients for their drinks. This is where I have changed. Do I still do that? No. Have i lost inspiration since leaving the passionate Melbourne scene, and diving into the cynical too-cool-for-school attitude that many London bartenders have towards experimentation? Maybe.

Or maybe I just think my elderflower liqueur will not be as good as the commercial brands found in stores?

You see i’ve been working at Milk & Honey. A place where the skill of the bartender lies in being given a bottle of Chartreuse and five other ingredients and being told to make four different drinks. That takes skill. I do, however miss the experimentation and artistic flair needed to win an Australian cocktail competition. I’d like to think I havn’t lost it.

I know in about a years time ill be thrust back into the Australian bar scene with a wealth of knowledge and worldly experience at my disposal. Perhaps gone are the days of me making smoked banana and saffron sours for Bourbon comps (I thought it was a good idea at the time), but i don’t mind that. I’m a classics boy now and that’s usually reflected in my drinks. For last years Bartender of the year comp I entered a drink, which i thought at the time, was a bit crazy.

An aperitif cocktail with port and no base spirit. I gave this spec to an old Australian bartender friend and he said he was impressed with its simplicity. SIMPLICITY!? I was trying to be wacky!! Oh well, here it is….

“Precursory Cocktail”
3.5cl Tawny Port
3.5cl Antica Formula
2 Sp 1 to 1 Gomme
1 Sp Lemon Juice
2 dash Angostura bitters
2 dash fee’s orange bitters
Shaky, shaky really hard. Garnish with peel of small lemon.