‘Localised creativity’ in global cocktail culture

Alex Day and David Kaplan had never been to Australia before they set off on a pop up tour last month.

The directors of New York cocktail institution Death & Co are currently at the tail end of this exclusive bar-takeover tour, hitting just three venues in three cities; Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Day said the trip represents a lot of firsts for them, including the first pop up tour of this kind.

“A lot of pop ups, and we’ve done this a lot in the past and they’re wonderful, generally have a menu from the venue that’s coming in, and the bartender is from that venue behind the bar and it really is just giving those offerings to people,” Day said.

“We wanted to go a little different direction to bring people into our world and that has a lot to do with getting people to sit down and relax to have a start to finish experiences in collaborating with the venues to have our cocktails match what would be a typical evening at the bar.”

Throughout their tour, which has led them through Australian Venue Co. bars Wolf Lane (Perth), The Winery (Sydney) and tonight onto Trinket (Melbourne), the Death & Co pair have been able to experience a lot of the great things Australia’s industry has to offer.

And with every experience, they can’t help but reflect on the vibrancy of global cocktail culture. When comparing observations between his home culture and that of Australia, Day sees global trends combining to create unique local movements.

“I’ve been very reflective on the state of which we’re at in cocktail culture, in that it’s no longer one single culture,” Day said.

“I’ve seen this happen in the US over the last 10 years, where there were a lot of bars around America that were essentially taking these concepts that were created in New York, San Francisco or Chicago and bringing them to their towns and doing a reproduction of it.

“And then everyone started to develop their own language that was unique to their place and really spoke to the produce around them, the community around them, and the culture around them. That has created a very vibrant bar community in the States, and it’s been really amazing to see that exists here in Australia.”

Alex Day

One example that Day described to Bars&Clubs as really inspiring, happened when he was in Sydney at Bulletin Place. At the bar, he was impressed by the creative specials board, which draws on the best local and seasonal ingredients. But what intrigued him most was the bartenders’ traditional techniques of a particular style.

Day watched the Bulletin Place bartenders use techniques that he likened to Milk and Honey style, which he specifically noticed due to his history “in that world”.

“I was just very intrigued, I was like, who is behind this? And it turns out that somebody who used to work at Milk and Honey in London back in the day,” Day said.

“It’s interesting to see these broader global techniques come into a different market, in this case Sydney, and use that as a platform on which folks are expressing their own localised creativity.”

On top of technique, Day is finding that the global trends in the drinks and bar styles themselves are also experiencing the same uniquely local treatment.

It’s through speaking to both consumers and trade from the cities they visit that Day said they’ve been able to gain insight into a range of perspectives about what is happening here and around the world.

He said: “It’s really interesting to see that some of the things that I think are very defining of cocktail culture in New York right now, are seemingly true here too…that goes back to my statement about it no longer being one culture, that there are a lot of different aesthetics that cocktails are being articulated in now.”

“It’s not just a ‘cocktail bar’, it’s maybe a cocktail bar that has a Spanish influence, or perhaps it is Japanese inspired, or perhaps it’s something purely based on the personality of the person there, which is all to say that much like restaurants have an incredible diversity to them, so do cocktail bars and I think that’s one of the exciting parts of the industry now.”

Despite all the great local developments, Day does identify one thing that the global industry should get behind as a single group – sustainability.

It’s important that the collective industry thinks about the ecological impact that bars can have, and work towards lessening this impact, especially given the waste and resource rich ingredients that are common in cocktails.

Day sees positive change starting simply, and said: “The more thoughtful we can be in our selection of ingredients, how we treat those ingredients, and the waste of these ingredients is a conversation that is not trendy, but I think it’s critical and its one that we should all be having on a global level.”

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