Monthly Archives: November 2017

Use your melon and don’t drink this

Through the 23 cocktail shake-downs we’ve shared in 2017, each has filled me with a mounting dread of failure.

Could 2017 pass without me finding a way to weave a very important anniversary into one of the shake—downs?

Well, at the third last edition of this very strange year, I have rid myself of that burden.

The Japanese Slipper is possibly the vilest concoction I have ever consumed in the name of research. I could not choke down more than a few sips of this cocktail, nor could I convince any of my drinking companions to finish it for me.

2017-02-25 19.22.46

To be fair, I came to it closed-minded. Midori, Cointreau and lemon juice served with two sunken maraschino cherries.

You’d know Midori, it is Japanese for green and that is the most positive thing I can find to say about it. It is not an ingredient in a single IBA Official Cocktail – and while I have laid out in these pages my concerns about the judgement of that body – this to me seems a measure of good taste.

But Midori is an important liqueur in that it forms part of the alcohol apprenticeship for so many of us. I confess to a short dalliance with the melon liqueur in the 1980s.

But arguably the most important contribution Midori has made to the cocktail world is today, in allowing us to finally mark the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Fever (and if you want to be precise, prepare to raise your glass on 12 December 2017).

Saturday Night Fever.jpg

See Midori was launched by Suntory at a party for the cast and crew of Saturday Night Fever at Studio 54 in New York.

Now that we have made that link, there should be no further requirement for us to discuss this sickly melon-flavoured liqueur.

But because I am nothing if not professional, I took to the bars of Sydney yesterday to see if bartenders could convince me that Midori can be served in a fashion acceptable to anyone over 21.

Three bartenders refused the challenge.

Calvin at Untied gave it a solid crack though and came up with a nameless drink that was Bombay Sapphire gin, a modicum of Midori, passionfruit and pineapple juice, served with a lot of crushed ice, mint and a slice of blow-torched pineapple.

Calvin's cocktail

I am about to give this cocktail the highest praise I can ever imagine giving something containing Midori.

It was ok.

But I’m done with the experiment and done – permanently – with Midori.

So back to Saturday Night Fever. A timeless classic, worthy of our attention.

You know the story, Vinnie Barbarino, having graduated from the Sweat-hogs worked (not terrifically hard) in a hardware store by day and carved up the dance floor at disco 2001 Odyssey by night under a new name, Tony Manero.

Let’s set aside the most implausible part of this movie – that anyone could slide on a dance-floor in the 1970s and not come up covered in cigarette ash and butts, booze stains and in all likelihood, vomit.

dance floor splits

Let’s also set aside the plot which is just bad.

Instead let’s focus on the DANCING. The FASHION. And especially the MUSIC.

Saturday Night Fever, the album, was released on November 15, 1977 and is still the highest selling soundtrack album of all time (which is especially remarkable when you remember that the Footloose album had Let’s Hear it for the Boy, Footloose and Holding Out for a Hero – not the shitty 2011 remake which, as a matter of principle, I have never watched. The 1984 original).

The Bee Gees apparently wrote pretty much all the SNF songs in a single weekend and weren’t involved until post-production, so all the Travolta dancing scenes were originally to Boz Scaggs and Stevie Wonder.

I bet you haven’t thought about Boz Scaggs in a while.

No, none of us has.

In another excellent quirk of fate, in SNF’s opening scene as Tony gets ready for his big night out, we see the posters on his bedroom wall. One of these posters is of Wonder Woman.

Tony Manero bedroom

It’s the Lynda Carter version, but 2017 being the 40th anniversary of Tony/Vinnie/John Travolta’s dance-floor Odyssey also saw the release of the new WW movie. Nice one, Universe.

So you could embrace that theme in working out what to drink while you watch SNF (or just skip the movie and put the soundtrack on repeat, closing your eyes and imagining a sunken lounge room with shag-pile carpet up the walls).

There is a Wonder Woman cocktail which I haven’t found the origins of but does pre-date the Gal Gadot movie and disappointingly but also symmetrically, does contain Midori.

It sounds bloody awful – Midori, peach schnapps and three types of juice – so I’m going to pass on that one and will instead opt for an IBA cocktail that was big in the 1970s, maybe an Alexander or possibly even the very first cocktail covered in Shake, Stir, Muddle, the Tequila Sunrise.

Whatever you do, don’t let this opportunity pass to review Barry Gibb’s testicle arrangement in his tight white Stayin’ Alive pants and stay clear of the melon liqueur.


Mint Juleps and don’t spare the horses!

Perhaps my favourite thing about writing about cocktails, is how far we can travel with each cocktail shakedown.

This week is no exception. The Mint Julep, an IBA Contemporary Classic.

Today we journey from the spiritual home of the Mint Julep to Jolly Olde England. From Melbourne through the desert on a horse with no name to the Kimberley in the far North-West of Australia (and before Twitter lost its way, one of the most memorable tweets I saw was someone pointing out that nine days in the desert was plenty of time to have given that horse a name).

Broome Highway



The Mint Julep is bourbon, mint leaves, powdered sugar and water, served with crushed ice. It’s notable in that you do a bit of muddling – something we rarely do on these pages in spite of our moniker – and for the crushed ice.

The Julep has a long proud history and is apparently perfect for sipping on during hot afternoons while you set awhile on the porch in your rocking chair, possibly over-looking your tobacky plantation.

Mint Julep

My field testing occurred on a rainy night at Bar 1806 in Melbourne, in full view of Bill Nye, The Science Guy (to be clear, he was just in the same bar, not supervising the scientific validity of my testing techniques). I had a Georgia Julep which contains Cognac and Peach-infused Armagnac and tasted like a delicious iced-tea, and a more traditional Mint Julep, albeit with a bit of rum.

They both looked the same, tasted great and neither challenged the Boulevardier for its place as my Bourbon-based cocktail of choice. It’s the ice you see.

For mine, a cup full of crushed ice is like a grown-up sno-cone, which I have always found to be a disappointment in the iced-treat department. So too with the Julep, I prefer a cocktail with as much ice in as few pieces as I can get. Cool the drink without diluting it.

But the ice is a critical part of the Mint Julep and it is designed to be sipped very slowly. And I will acknowledge that many, many people love a Mint Julep.

Indeed Theodore Roosevelt faced charges of being a drunk in office because he was known to favour a Julep. Apparently he wasn’t pissed, just prone to exuberance, and in the Court case, both sides acknowledged that being partial to a Mint Julep didn’t make you a bad person (read David Wondrich’s Imbibe! For the full story).


Now the Mint Julep is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, the USA’s and possibly the world’s most famous horse race.

Kentucky Derby.jpg

On the first Saturday in May, they sell 120,000 Mint Juleps to 170,000 punters. You can even fork out $2,000 for a Mint Julep if you’re feeling particularly stupid thirsty.

Now I’m not even slightly interested in horse racing as a sport or a social event, but it is horse racing season in Australia and we are about to hit summer so it seemed the perfect time to review this cocktail.

So giddy-up!

Young Royals Derby
Just average young people of England enjoying a day at the races

The Derby of Kentucky Derby is named after the Derby Stakes held at Epsom Downs in England.

The Derby Stakes is well-posh and was named after the 12th Earl of Derby who inaugurated the race in 1780 (the Kentucky Derby started in 1875).

Traditionally, a Derby is a 2 – 2.5km race for three year olds, both fillies and colts. A filly (and I’m telling you because I had only vague understanding of these terms) is a female horse up to 3 years old, a colt is a male of same age.

In the USA, of course they pronounce “Derby” “dur-by”, rather than the English (and Australian) version “dah-by”. Like a lot of what comes out of the USA, I don’t really understand why, since the entire racing industry – concept, nomenclature, the works –  was lifted directly from England and English.

Fun fact: at 1913’s Derby Stakes, suffragette Emily Davison threw herself in front of KingEmly Davison George V’s horse Anmer and she died from wounds four days later, never to receive my grateful thanks for her part in letting me vote.

It is possibly for this reason that a different race day, The Oaks, is designated as Ladies Day (named after the good Earl’s estate). It’s run by fillies.

The Kentucky Carnival has a Derby, an Oaks and also the curious Thurby, which is a portmanteau of Thursday and Derby.

Down in Melbourne, the Cup carnival takes its cue from the same horse-racing tradition and has a Derby, a Cup, an Oaks and a Stakes Day.

In Melbourne, the Cup is King. It is also well-posh (ish).

Warnie Melbourne Cup
See? Posh

We don’t have an official Melbourne Cup cocktail (I was considering proposing the IBA Official Cocktail Horse’s Neck given how many racehorses have to be euthanised each year, but that’s probably not in the festive spirit of the Spring Racing Carnival) although I’m advised that some 46,570 bottles of “champagne” get downed on Cup Day. That’s on top of the beer and pre-mix spirits and there’s only 100,000 people at Flemington.

Horse Racing - Melbourne Cup - Flemington Racecourse
Young people of Australia enjoying a day at the races

The Melbourne Cup was first run in 1861, before Australian Federation and when we were still counted among the British colonies. So there is no doubt that we would pronounce Derby the way we do today “Dah-by”.

But up in the far north-west coast of Western Australia lies a town called Derby and they most definitely pronounce it the American way.

I rang the Derby Tourism office to check and Yvette assured me that this was definitely the correct way to pronounce Derby up there.

While not necessarily welcoming my question as to why this was the case, she was happy to inform me that the town was named not after a horse race, but after a Lord Derby who was Secretary of the Colonies and had been in Canada before coming to Australia. No, she couldn’t find her piece of paper to give me any more specifics on that.

By my reckoning, I think this must be after the 15th Earl of Derby.  Derby was declared a township in 1883 when he was Secretary of State of the Colonies.

15th Earl of Derby
Young lady, I do not take kindly to having my name mispronounced.

So that being the case,it’s most definitely “Dah-by” and I’m thinking one of us needs to ring Yvette and tell her that they’re making a mistake.

You do that, I’ll mix us up a long Mint Julep and we can test the theory of Mrs Trollope, author of 1832’s Domestic Manners of the Americans, that “it would, I truly believe, be utterly impossible for the art of man to administer anything so likely to restore them from the overwhelming effects of heat and fatigue”.