Water of Life – Meticulousness and Attention to Detail
The AMC series Breaking Bad has chronicled the exploits of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned drug lord who with meticulous attention to detail perfectioned an ingenious recipe for ultrapure methamphetamine. Now, I am not saying that what David Baker, founder of Bakery Hill, does is a job parallel to Walt refining a process to synthesize the drug from the ground up, but if we follow the narrative of the TV show, the product he produced was not only immensely pure but also highly consistent – a quality that not a lot of distillers, specifically on terra australis can claim for their emissions in the realm of spirits. Needless to say that David’s background in food science has not hurt perfecting a technically sound approach to distilling.
However, there is Bakery Hill.
A distillery that has calibrated its distilling techniques to ensure that they arrive at exactly the product they set out to produce – and they have documented each facet of the process. While I have previously waxed lyrical about not only Bakery Hill’s core range, but specifically their Sovereign Smoke expression, which in terms of peaty whiskey remains unrivalled in Australia, a recent tasting took things to a whole new level.
The craft beer brewery Hop Nation’s brews have made an appearance as a component of boilermakers for the longest time, so learning about a collaboration with Bakery Hill resulted in high expectations. The dram that materialized in front of me clocks in at 48% ABV and having matured for five years in American Oak ex-Bourbon barrels before being finished for twelve months in fifty litre Hop Nation “Kalash” Imperial Stout Barrel is quite something. With Kalash being a potent Russian imperial stout and having already been matured in wine and port barrels before it was seasoned in bourbon barrels from Woodford Reserve, it elevates Bakery Hill’s whiskey by adding a wide array of coffee, fruity and dark chocolatey nuances that take your tastebuds on quite a delightful rollercoaster ride.
So far, so good – just when I thought that this new Bakery Hill expression was going to become part of the distillery’s top three, a mysterious drop that went by the working title “DB #1” was proffered.
This one marks the first time Bakery Hill brewed and distilled peated spirit from scratch in-house before letting it mature in Melbourne’s ever unpredictable climate and the result is not only world class but in essence, simply divine: While the peat is on the lighter side of things, there are subtle nuances of tropical zestiness and bitter oak, which builds to a vanilla crescendo backed by spicy, peppery undertones. An elongated, complex finish reminiscent of malted barley and Port Charlotte-esque saltiness leaves one smacking one’s lips.
Now, going with the theme of “attention to detail” I would like to shed light on the art of bartending.
It was more or less by accident that I have had the fortune to cross paths with one Agostino Perrone. As the name suggests, an Italian gentleman, who in the third dimension is the epitome of a gentleman, starting with a tailored three-piece suit to an impeccably demeanour that is both warm yet highly professional.
Through conversation it became apparent that Agostino is heading the Connaught Bar and majorly responsible that be entering it, you are stepping into another world. The interior design of the stylish bar evoking timeless elegance with its English and Irish Cubist art of the 1920s along with the emissions of his team of mixologists might be parts of the magic, however, there is a “je ne sais quoi” that infuses the equation with an x-factor that is not often found elsewhere.
I was lucky enough to witness Agostino Perrone and his partner in crime Giorgio Bargiani channel their Mayfair-esque Connaught magic at one of Australia’s most lauded bars, i.e. Maybe Sammy.
See, on a bad day, Maybe Sammy is exactly what the name suggests: An opulently designed – think gold and brass fittings meeting pink velvet banquettes - theatrical jazz era haunt that is dedicated to the 1950s with all the toppings that would have made the Ratpack felt right at home, including an exquisite melange of high roller cocktails.
Combine the wizardry of Maybe Sammy’s accolade-decorated mixologists with Agostinos and Giorgio’s idiosyncratic approach to martini mixing, and you got something else – despite the cocktail being over a century old and traditionally only being comprised of two ingredients.
I always understood that a cocktail like a martini demands a certain level of palate maturity and to be honest, I have always like the aesthetics of a martini ritual yet never been a big fan as far as the actual flavours go. This ignorant take on things changed dramatically once I was proffered what can only be prescribed as a superbly silky cocktail that was tailored to my liking and prepared with a hospitality and attention to detail, I had not encountered before.
My palate jubilated as I imbibed the martini that was based on foundation of the bold and dry Sipsmith gin stirred with vermouth over ice, strained into a chilled glass and garnished with an olive.
What I learned from Agostino is that he tried to determine first what my favourite base spirit was to then finetune the proceeding and choice of adage accordingly. Learning more about the variants of vermouth, i.e. fortified wine, and how it needs to be chilled as well as how important the right ratio with gin is, which depending on how it is mixed with ice helps unfold its botanical aromas, which is further aided by garnishes like olives, lemon peels or more exotic ones like pickled onions, which add savoury undertones.
London might be known for many things and offer a myriad of things to experience – for myself going go visit where Agostino and his worthy channel their alchemy has become a mandatory pilgrimage.
photos by @k.a.vv