Thursday, November 24, 2011

Well watered and educated on Cocktail Island

Cockatoo Island was an absolute riot of activity this weekend just passed. With the one-weekend-only booze-fest Cocktail Island, the street art festival Outpost and the balmy weather for just hanging out at The Island Bar, there was every reason to join the masses waiting for a ferry at Wharf 4, Circular Quay.

Crowds enjoying Cocktail Island on Cockatoo Island, 20 November 2011

Part of the Outpost Project on Cockatoo Island
The Cocktail Island event was an uphill walk to the Upper Island part of Cockatoo Island, with masterclasses, tastings and exhibition stands housed in a couple of buildings in the Convict Precinct (apt, really).

Sufficiently warmed after the walk to the Upper Island, we headed straight to the exhibition hall where cocktails could be bought for anything from 3 to 10 Island Dollars (which equated to normal Aussie dollars) from a range of spirited stands and associated fun-loving bar hands.

Cocktail with St Germain, sparkling wine and lemon zest

Cocktails with Hendricks Gin

The West Winds Gin - Australian gin!

666 Vodka served with young coconut juice in a young coconut

Tasting Theatre: History and Future of the Margarita
Upstairs in the Tasting Theatre, we'd caught the start of the Patrón tequila session hosted by Gee David. With decent sized tastes of Patrón Silver and then margarita samples on offer, it was quite interesting to see the mixed views across the room. A few sniffs yielded woody and citrus flavours, as well as gasoline and "a party".

Sample of Patrón Silver (it's a shot sized, 30ml cup)
Sipping the Patrón Silver, we were instructed to hold it if the mouth a while to really suss out the flavours. Admittedly, I never did this in my youth though I guess I wasn't drinking Patrón either. There were flashes of familiarity but on the whole, it wasn't too negative an experience.

The shaken margarita was decidedly better, made with Patrón Citronge; the citrus flavoured tequila in place of Cointreau as per a traditional margarita.

Patrón tequila in the Tasting Theatre
It was an educational session where we learnt that the correct service of a margarita entails two questions: "On the rocks?" and "Salt rim?".

While these are standard for a Tommy's Margarita (more further down), apparently it's not for a traditional margarita which is most commonly served straight up with a half or full salt rim.

I also learnt that National Margarita Day occurs on 22 February every year - so chuck that one in next year's diary (note: buy 2012 diary).

Picnic area on Cocktail Island
Back outside, the wind had picked up but not so much as to disturb the happy pinickers making the most of the free Mount Franklin sparkling water and a place to sit. After the quick start to the day's drinking and with plenty more to go, food was on the mind somewhat with one stall offering burgers, pies and other fine drinking fare.

Free popcorn at Cocktail Island
I don't know who worked out that popcorn and cocktails are great friends, but they sure are. The balancing act of sweet drinks and salty snacks works a dream, and we scoffed the bag full of buttery popcorn in moments, just ahead of a provocatively named tour led by Jason Crawley, Creative Director of Mixxit.

Seven Drinks to Try Before You Die at Cocktail Island
Seven tastes of classic cocktails is fair enough; all within 30 minutes through dark passages into themed bar areas was a different matter. The first cocktail took the tour group back to the Prohibition years with The Greyhound made of Russian vodka and golden grapefruit juice on ice.

A little too easy to drink, the bitterness of the juice makes this an ideal pre eating drink. With a salt rim, and sometimes gin instead of vodka, the drink becomes a Salty Dog.

The Official Mixer's Manual - first published circa 1934
The Last Word cocktail is made with gin, maraschino liqueur, lime juice and green chartreuse, and it's from here that things got a little hazy. I recall thumbing through a rare cocktail book and then heading into the next tiki themed bar area and even Crawley mentioning that Australia's best tiki bar was in Perth.

I remember a Mai Tai creamy in flavour (Cruzer rum, lime juice, orgeat, triple sec and vanillar) before being lumped a with a full serve of The Blinker, consisting of Jim Beam Rye Whisky, golden grapefruit juice and grenadine.

Final themed bar of the Seven Drinks to Try Before You Die tour
All through the tour, Crawley was an endless fountain of knowledge, with so much infomation spurting out that my not-so-sober self still managed to retain a few.

In this last themed room, we sampled a Mint Julep which for me was sweet enough to hide the Maker's Mark bourbon, and a Blood & Sand with Scotch cherry liqueur, sweet vermouth and orange juice.

Jason Crawley, Creative Director at Mixxit
I'm pretty sure it had something to do with all the mixing of drinks and moving about different rooms/venues/eras but I was pretty happy all the cocktails despite being triple parked at the end when (keeping count?) there was still one drink to collect.

Cognac Punch - 1920s style
All cocktails we currently drink are essentially a form of punch with something added or removed. Called the "founding father" of all mixed drinks, it makes sense as punch dates as far back at 1576.

Cognac Punch (right) and Blood & Sand (left) cocktails
Our final drink of the tour was the Cognac Punch, ladled out from a boat by a 1920s styled server. I'm sure everyone who left the tour had at least two cups in hand and may have had a little trouble walking a straight line (or was it just me?). The moment seriously called for food and a pie later, we were ready for more.

ABSOLUT Flavour Akademi Master Class with Ben Davidson
The Master Class room was filled for the Absolut session and with a couple of bottles of vodka on each table, it looked like it was going to be a corker session. Kind of needing to sit, we instead headed back upstairs to the Tasting Theatre and found comfy seating and the Chivas Regal tasting.

Age Matters tasting session by Chivas Regal, Royal Salute and The Glenlivet
Five samples of Scotch whisky including one clear (unaged?) one that tasted of burning. It was a learning curve for me, but tasting older whiskies as we went along the burning eventually subsided and there were actual flavours to appreciate.

The Chivas Regal 18- and 21-year-old whiskies were getting pretty fine indeed, and rather warming as a light sprinkle of rain started outside.

"Slàinte mhòr" - a Gaelic toast to health
Most fun was probably learning a new toast, in Scottish Gaelic at that, especially as most in the room probably weren't entirely sober. With glasses raised, we shouted "Slàinte mhòr" (sounds like "slohn ja vor") as host James Buntin's father did before a tipple.

The day was getting long but there was no missing the final session in the Piazza Tasting room; a pretty old sandstone building yet an entirely appropriate room for tequila tasting.

Julio Bermejo - creator of Tommy's Margarita
Here, we were educated by two of the industries finest tequila minds: Julio Bermejo of Tommy's Mexican Restaurant and the World's Best Tequila Bar in San Francisco and Phil Bayly of Cafe Pacifico in Surry Hills.

Phil Bayly of Cafe Pacifico
There was plenty of talk about agave plants and its honey-like nectar, and getting what you pay for when it comes to tequila.

Bermejo is the Ambassador of Tequila to the US for the Mexican Government and, wait for it, the creator of Tommy's Margarita. He started serving this version of the margarita - with 100% agave tequila, agave nectar and lime juice sans an orange liqueur - at his father's restaurant Tommy's in the 1980s. Just don't forget to serve it on the rocks with a thick salt rim.

Julio Bermejo
Through the talk we sampled cakes baked with tequila; both quite dense cakes and the flourless chocolate one completely memorable; fudgey yet with flavours of tequila - in a good way. That was in between tasting 100% agave blanco tequila and then shaking up a Tommy's Margarita with Bayly and Bermejo as assistants. Too much fun is an understatement - but then again, it is tequila.

I honestly don't think I've had this much tequila since my teens and I must admit, my behaviour has improved vastly since those days. I didn't try to crash the after party at Island Bar, but rather sensibly joined the other Cocktail Islanders straggling onto the last ferry off Cockatoo Island.

The trip back to Circular Quay was definitely vocal, but I think showed that everyone, water bottles in hand, had a great day of drinking and learning about the cocktails on the island. See more photos of the day at my Facebook page.

Food, booze and shoes received media admission and Island Dollars for Cocktail Island courtesy of The Cru Media - thanks for keeping us well watered and educated.


joey@FoodiePop said...

Cockatoo Island is awesome! Love the events there! :-)

Anonymous said...

Haven't been to Cockatoo Island yet, this event would have been the perfect excuse. So sad I missed it, especially the vodka served in a young coconut, looks cute and sounds delicious.

Corinne @ Gourmantic said...

What an amazing event! We were there sweating it out in the heat. Nothing like cocktails and spirits to keep you, um, hydrated! ;)

We didn't get around to the Seven Drinks to Try Before You Die tour. Good to see that you made it there!

Sara - Belly Rumbles said...

What a great event, very happy one at that :) Summer is around the corner, cocktail season is upon us.

Tina said...

Hi joey - Yeah, the Outpost Project is really quite impressive too (and free!)

Hi lateraleating - There's still stuff on like Outpost and The Island Bar, which is just gearing up for the summer season now - yay!

Hi Corinne - Sunday was not nearly as hot. I just made it through the Seven Drinks tours - it was some serious drinking!

Hi Sara - Yeah, great vibe with everyone happy (possibly drunk). Cheers to summer!

Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said...

Hats off to you, I think I would've fallen asleep after a few drinks! And it's an important lesson to learn to like tequila after slamming down in our younger years, isn't it? =p

Tina said...

Hi Rita - Cheers! I didn't even fall asleep on the ferry!

soyq said...

Well watered and educated on Cocktail Island thanks for sharing this wonderful blog with top australian attractions.

Cedrus said...

wow that pork belly looks so nice=D


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