Melbourne's flourishing small-batch spirits scene offers plenty for the gin enthusiast.
By Paul Chai
Gin joints first started in Melbourne during the gold rush era of the 1800s, but their modern equivalents are far more refined. Now you are likely to get a small-batch Australian gin paired with house-made tonic flavoured with natural juice in a basement bar. Alternatively, you might taste world-class gin in an area best-known for its wine, or head to a number of city "speakeasies" that relish the art of cocktail making. If you enjoy your gin, you will want to pull up a seat at these Melbourne bars.
This Russell Place stalwart in the centre of town is Melbourne’s original gin bar and one of the best, with furnishings – luxurious lounges, velvet drapes – that seek to recreate the gin bars of Melbourne’s gold rush era. At Gin Palace, gin and tonics have their own section on the menu with house-made yuzu tonic and on-trend Fever-Tree varieties. You can also try a tasting selection of Australian gins. Expect polished table service which will see you with the perfect gin-based drink in hand.
1806 is housed in a historic building on Exhibition Street in Melbourne's city centre. The name comes from the year that the word “cocktail” was first used in print, and they take their drinks very seriously. The menu is a chronological journey through cocktail history from the punch era of 1650 to today, all presented in ornate surrounds with dark red velvet chairs and low-slung leather couches. The well-stocked bar hosts a range of gins such as Four Pillars from the Yarra Valley. Try the cocktail named 'Aviation,' from what 1806 calls the "movie star" cocktail era of 1900 to 1919.
An upstairs speakeasy in the fashionable northern suburb of Fitzroy, The Everleigh is often awarded for its dedication to the cocktail art, evident in the antique cut glass decanters, marble bar and glass cabinets of cocktail ephemera. Classic cocktails such as fizzes and sazeracs have been fashionable for a while, but The Everleigh staff take things up a notch with attention to detail, super fresh ingredients and faultless table service at the leather booths. Try a 'Tuxedo No. 1,' with Melbourne-made Artemis gin, fino sherry and orange bitters.
The laneway that houses this cocktail bar was once Melbourne’s red-light district before it was cleaned up in the late 1800s, and the name Romeo Lane is a nod to this former, seedier time. Now though, the lane is full of restaurants and bars like this one that serves classic cocktails in a setting that evokes a European café. This nod to the Continent is also evident in the drinks list where gin is often the star in cocktails such as the quill: gin with French fortified wine Lillet Rouge, Campari and a dash of absinthe.
In the Yarra Valley, just a one-hour drive from Melbourne, the world’s best gin is distilled. The team behind Four Pillars have been awarded three double gold medals for their Rare Dry Gin at prestigious international competitions, such as the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition 2017, and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2016 and 2014. Sample its supreme gin at Four Pillars' new tasting room in Healesville to find out why. Try the Bloody Shiraz, which steeps the Yarra’s cool climate grapes in gin for a fruity summer gin, or the Navy Strength made using Aussie finger limes, coriander, turmeric and ginger.
The perpetual rooftop garden party that is Madame Brussels is the perfect place for gin-based frivolity. The terrace bar is a riot of fake grass, pastel-coloured lawn chairs and parasols where drinkers order punches such as gin garden (London dry gin, fresh cucumber and elder flower cordial, apple juice and soda) or the pollinator (Bombay Sapphire gin, apricot nectar, white chocolate, Aperol and lemonade). It’s a fun crowd and the convivial owner Miss Pearls often works the room.
True cocktail aficionados flock to Lily Blacks, where a nostalgic drinks menu complements the art-deco mood. Coupled with the venue's laneway location in Melbourne's city centre, you'll feel transported to another time. Go classic with a whisky sour or more adventurous with the Pan American Clipper, featuring fresh lime juice and Pernod absinthe.