It's no secret that Melbourne is a city that likes to drink. From hidden cocktail bars to expansive rooftop settings where you can sip under the sky to the fact that there's scarce a corner without a pub, it's a place that takes its bartending seriously, and where all options are on the table. But while Australia has been on the front foot of the craft beer craze that has swept the world these past years, with recent on-tap options gravitating towards the locally brewed, it is only recently that the same experimental spirit has gotten a firm hold on the spirits scene. Small-batch distillers and experimental artisan makers have lately been cropping up all over the place, redefining how the country drinks its cocktails—not to mention pushing the limits of what we expect from staple liquors such as gin and whisky.
From refined drops that rely on all-native ingredients, to take-home cocktails brewed and packaged by some of the country’s most revered bartenders, to an unexpectedly delicious hybrid of wine and gin, we round up some of the best liquors brewed locally. Best of all, they're available to purchase in most bottle shops around town.
Four Pillars Gin
As soon as Four Pillars can release a batch of its seasonal Bloody Shiraz Gin, it sells out. An odd predicament considering the adventurous nature of such a combination—rich shiraz grapes and dry, spicy gin—but people have grown to trust whatever it is that the Melbourne-based distillery throws at them. Over the relatively short time that Four Pillars has been operating, the distillery has won multiple gold awards at international spirits competitions for all five of their mainstay gins. In addition to these staples, Four Pillars releases a number of limited-edition gin varieties that err towards the unusual—for instance, their annual Australian Christmas Gin, infused with Christmas pudding spices; their self-explanatory Spiced Negroni Gin; and gin-infused products such as the Four Pillars Breakfast Negroni marmalade. The magic happens just an hour outside of Melbourne, in the Yarra Valley suburb of Healesville, where the public is welcome to visit the Four Pillars Distillery. Walk-in tastings are available for just $10 per person, with bookings required for groups of nine people or more.
2A Lilydale Road, Healesville.
Archie Rose Distilling Co.
Another multi-trick pony, Sydney-based Archie Rose Distilling Co. specialises in gin, but spreads their expertise across a range of core and limited-release whiskies, vodkas and rums. Known for their Signature Dry Gin, in recent years the distillery has increasingly started experimenting with new flavours and collaborations, such as their ArchieMite Buttered Toast Spirit, infused with toast, butter and umami breakfast spread flavours; and their now sold-out Behemoth Aged Spirit, an unspecified dark spirit aged in ex-Bourbon casks that featured Double India Black Ale from Victorian craft beer company, KAIJU! Beer. You can find Archie Rose products behind a great many of the city's bars, as well as in ubiquitous bottleshops such as Dan Murphy's.
The Everleigh Bottling Co.
Essentially, what the launch of The Everleigh Bottling Co. means is that you can take one of the country’s bars with you wherever you go. The brainchild of bartenders at The Everleigh—a pocket-rocket of a bar in Melbourne’s inner-north—the initiative consists of tiny, pre-bottled cocktail mixes that can be bought at bottleshops throughout the country. The tight product list boils down to four perfectly crafted cocktail staples—a Martini, an Old Fashioned, a Negroni and a Manhattan—with occasional special releases thrown into the mix. Visitors to Melbourne can get it straight from the horse's mouth at the original Fitzroy bar, where the full range of creations can be enjoyed in an intimate setting filled with plush Chesterfield couches. Unsurprisingly, the bartenders here are top-notch, and will also offer to make you a custom cocktail based on the flavour profiles that you enjoy the most.
Level 1, 150–156 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.
Another iconic Melbourne watering hole, Bar Americano built its reputation on serving only classic cocktails, crafted to the most exacting standards. The relatively hard-to-find, hole-in-the-wall bar in Melbourne CBD is comprised mostly of standing space, where guests are encouraged to chat with the bartender as they work their old-school magic in the glass and talk you through the process. While the in-house menu changes weekly to reflect what's available seasonally, the time-honoured perennials are always available—and now come pre-bottled as well as fresh-made. In a similar coup for those looking for portable cocktail options, Bar Americano recently launched their own ‘hometender’ range. Consisting of drops such as a Negroni, an Americano, a Brooklyn and the newly launched ‘Antica Fashionista’ (a twist on the Old Fashioned), the Bar Americano ‘hometender’ range makes you feel as skilled as a veteran bartender even while simply pouring from bottle to glass, maybe zesting the rim if you’re feeling fancy. Of course, you can also have it all done for you in the original setting—if you know where to look.
20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne.