Classic cocktails are classic for a reason; the balance of flavours, the simplicity of ingredients and the easy access to them has made some cocktails synonymous with your night out. But with the rise of Australian Native ingredients, it’s time for a fundamental rethink of how Australian bars use flavour. Just like wine, people who come to Australia want quintessentially Australian flavours, rather than a copy of something they can get at home.
The Gin Industry is already leading the charge on Australian Native Botanicals - it's high time to have a look at some of our favourite flavours and see how to use them.
Desert Limes are the humble base of our gin. These little pocket rockets of flavour are responsible for all of the gorgeous minerality that is a hallmark of Australian Native botanicals. Although small in size, Desert Limes are packed full of aromatic oils and have beaded flesh, similar to that of Finger Lime.
Unfortunately, they’re so small that juicing them would be a little out of the question, however making an oleo saccharum from them, or perhaps a cordial is a perfect use for these fabulous native fruits. Desert Limes are also perfectly adapted to their environment. They thrive in the arid stretches of sunburnt land that Australia is famous for, and are highly drought tolerant, making them an excellent choice for ‘untenable’ land.
Using Desert Lime, despite its rarity, can allow you to reshape the Daiquiri, the Gimlet and the Margarita, especially when you’re using Australian spirits whose base is also agriculture products grown in Australia. Desert Lime provides an added dose of aroma and structure to any of these cocktails and pushes the flavour into realms undiscovered. Not only does the cocktail taste far more well rounded and complex than the original, but it also highlights the spirit in a more authentic way, one which emphasises the land we belong to.
Peppermint Gum has long stood in relative obscurity behind its more popular strawberry flavoured cousin. Its light medicinal element has also been a polarising characteristic for the traditional mint enthusiast. Growing in small pockets throughout New South Wales and Queensland, Peppermint Gum has long been a medicinal plant through indigenous culture and a favourite food source for Koalas!
When used in small amounts, Peppermint Gum can add an unforeseen level of complexity to any beverage, especially those pesky classics which have grown old and tired.
The Stinger is a prime example of where Peppermint Gum can shine in a drink that nostalgia has forgotten. The seemingly straightforward and possibly one-dimensional combination of mint and brandy is taken to a refreshing height with the inclusion of the eucalypt. The astringent nature of Peppermint Gum is tamed by the richness of the brandy, and the two iconic flavours shift and move around each other.
The Grasshopper - consistently ridiculed until its recent revival in dive bar culture - shines with a healthy dose of the classic Australian Native leaf. The Peppermint Gum has the ability to penetrate through a whole host of more dense flavour, which is essential for the thickness of The Grasshopper.
The piece de resistance comes in the form of a drink called The Emerald Isle, where Peppermint Gum joyfully augments the high toned top notes of any gin to bring you a martini variant that has to be tasted to be believed. This drink works especially well when coupled with a gin that has a high amount of Peppermint Gum in the botanical bill.
In fact, the hard and fast rule with Peppermint Gum is that where you see Creme de Menthe, replace it and you will rediscover a whole menagerie of classic cocktails that, with the small tweak of Peppermint Gum, can be rediscovered and brought into the modern age.
Wattleseed has long been an Australian Native botanical that has been utilised for its unique flavour. Often used as a binding agent in various distillates, Wattleseed rarely takes centre stage in terms of flavour. With the roasted seed expressing something akin to coffee mixed with sweet spice and roasted nuts, Wattleseed has such a terrific array of uses. There are also several ways to include it deftly in various drinks; Wattleseed bitters, tinctures and liqueurs are now readily available from many different providers and producers and provide ample inspiration for different cocktail classics. From Old Fashioned to Martinez, the ability to hack those richer classics is unparalleled when using Wattleseed.
A Martinez is a particular highlight when paired with Wattleseed, not to mention other Australian Native botanicals. By using a vermouth that has a high concentration of Australian Native botanicals, most of the work of the inclusion of that flavour is done. With a few drops of Wattleseed tincture, the drink is taken to a level of savoury richness that could only be achieved with something as singular as Wattleseed.
Although most are drawn to those pre-Prohibition classics, the Espresso Martini just begs for some Wattleseed inclusion in its mix. The combination of the nuttiness alongside the espresso makes for a deeply complex and elegant drink that takes what is often produced to a whole new level.
Finger Lime has been another Australian Native botanical that has captured the imagination of chefs and bartenders around the world. Its small beaded fruit, similar in looks and delicacy to caviar, has been included as a highlight in dishes in some of the worlds best bars and restaurants. Its culinary use, albeit recent in terms of a Western view of the world, is ancient. Indigenous Australian groups from the dense rainforest regions of the mid-East Coast of Australia have used this as a staple in their diet for tens of thousands of years.
This humble little Australian Native fruit is literally bursting with citrusy minerality, and is such an exceptional citrus to use as taste explosions within classic highballs and Collins style drinks. The Rickey and the Tom Collins are wonderful frameworks to work with when using Finger Lime. The Rickey, a tart and limey highball is brought to new heights with the inclusion of Finger Lime. With its elegant lime characteristic and its soft minerality, Finger Lime is allowed to bloom in such an old-style drink where the singularity of the fruit is allowed to shine forth. It seems a travesty to have kept the Finger Lime away from The Rickey (or The Rickey away from the Finger Lime) for so long. The flavours are built for each other.
Finger Lime and soda is a match made in heaven, the vibrant pop of the Finger Lime pearls mixed with the carbonation results in an aperitif paradise that couldn't be possible without the inclusion of Finger Lime. The Collins might seem dated, however, the inclusion of Finger Lime makes it sing a new verse. The softness of the Finger Lime sings phrases over the top of any soda and gin that you use in the drink. Finger Lime is one of the best citruses to use if you’re wanting to take any citrus heavy cocktails to the next level.
Although citrus comes in many forms, no Australian botanical citrus is more captivating than Geraldton Wax - Geraldton Wax works as both a garnish and a botanical to distil. Geraldton Wax can inhabit two worlds at once; the world of southern Asian cuisine and that of the deserts of Australia. Geraldton Wax is equal parts lemongrass and lemon Skittles. Full of unexpected flavour and exuberance the Geraldton Wax plant is full of surprises.
Not only is it a fantastic addition to drink as a garnish, but its applicability in classic cocktails as a citrus substitute is second to none. Although its flowers are toxic in a vast amount, within small quantities the Geraldton Wax plant has unannounced bounties that are very much worth the reward. A French 75 with the inclusion of Geraldton Wax can lift this seemingly simple and out of date cocktail to the proverbial Australian heights. It's simple mineral-ism and wild citrus crossed with the structure of the French 75 leaves you in awe of what this little flower is capable of doing.
Australian Native botanicals are simply ready for the feasting of the creative mind. Sumptuous and generous the Australian native botanical is ripe and ready for the picking. From the heavy notes of Wattleseed to the light and delicate characteristics of Geraldton Wax, the drinks industry is ready for the reformations of cocktails as we know it.
Bring on the wild and unabashed Daiquiri. Send forth the Wattleseed infused Martinez. We as an industry are begging for the revitalisation of the Australian drinks scene in a meaningful and salient way.
These revitalizations will act as a benchmark to an industry that has seen the swell of recreations and gimmicks without the act of a real cocktail classic to hold water before an international audience.
It is time for Australian botanicals to come forth as international flavours and take their place as a cultural necessity rather than a delicacy.