The Brisbane bartender again finds himself at the pointy end of a cocktail comp.
Martin McConnell is a Brisbane-based bartender with a flair for creating tasty drinks, and finding success on the cocktail comp circuit — the latest of which comes by way of the Bombay Sapphire Stir Creativity Cocktail Competition, in which he’s found himself — and his drink, Through The Looking Glass — in the final taking place on April 4th in Sydney.
In the interview below, Martin tells us about how he takes inspiration and makes it drinkable, how working with others can elevate your ideas, and a lot more.
How did you translate what you saw — your inspiration — into what ends up in the glass?
My drink takes inspiration from the iconic glasshouses at Bombay Sapphire’s Laverstoke Mill distillery, alongside my hometown’s own tropical dome. I really wanted to bring these spaces to life, beyond just what was in the glass, so I worked together with local artist Caitie Ashby to create an incredible painted glass dome, which highlights a handful of the Brisbane glasshouse plants, and serves as its own 360 degree artwork to house both the iconic Bombay bottle, and the cocktail within.
What advice can you share about going from concept to reality?
I think surrounding yourself with people that make things work is an incredible tool to have, whether it’s in your workplace or beyond. Sometimes all it takes is another person’s perspective or ideas, and that can help a concept become a lot more realistic and achievable.
Where do you usually get inspiration from? Why there?
A lot of the time it’s through seeing how other bars are operating and making their drinks, even just how they present themselves. Whether that’s in person, through social media, or in an article, I’m all about learning new and interesting ways to chase flavour, and create fun and exciting experiences.
How is the designing of a drink for a competition like this different to what you do for your bar?
Most of the time competition drinks have a brief that you’re meant to follow, which points you in a direction, but also limits what you can and can’t do. I actually really love this as a way of designing drinks because it focuses my ideas a lot more, and it’s something I’ve started to use in menu creation too. Rather than just thinking, “I need a gin drink”, by coming up with a plan or a set of parameters to follow, for me anyway, the drinks end up making more sense and are better put together.
How much of your creative process is thought out ahead of time, as opposed to actually tasting and tweaking the drink?
I’ll usually come up with an idea of the flavours I want to use, figure out how to incorporate those in an interesting way, roughly outline the specs and then make and tweak it from there. I try not to get in the habit of just blindly making test drink after test drink, as I usually just get lost and forget what I was trying to do in the first place.
How do you strike the balance between creating something that is original, and something that will appeal to comp judges and drinkers alike?
Some of my favourite cocktails are the simplest riffs on classics, but you can’t say they aren’t original in their own right. It’s a tricky one, but inspiration has to come from somewhere, and in my eyes, as long as you’ve added something new, and the base idea has been built upon and enhanced, then you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.
This is obviously harder when you’re being pushed to come up with more outside-the-box creations, whether it’s for a competition or not, but I think flipping classic flavours in new and exciting ways can be just as, if not more engaging than trying to force the wacky ones to work.
Through The Looking Glass
- 40ml Bombay Premier Cru
- 10ml Marionette Blue Curacao
- 20ml sour fennel cordial
- 30ml native lemon tea
- 1ml orange blossom
- Once all prep items are chilled, combine all ingredients, bottle and refrigerate until serving.
- When ready to serve, open the bottle, and pour into a small rocks glass with one large rock.
- Garnish by spraying the Bombay Citron Pressé Aromatiser across the glass.
For the sour fennel cordial:
200g Fennel Juice
200g White Sugar
12g Citric Acid
Remove fennel tops and juice the bulbs. Add equal parts sugar, and place on heat at the lowest setting. Add citric acid and begin to whisk until sugar has dissolved, be sure not to let it boil. Remove from heat, bottle and refrigerate.
For the native lemon tea:
3g Warndu Native Three Lemon Tea (Lemon Myrtle, Lemon Verbena, Native Lemongrass)
200g Hot water
Steep in hot water for three minutes, strain and bottle.
Recxipe by Martin McConnell, Frog's Hollow Saloon, Brisbane.