Spirit Guide

Last Updated: 03 Dec 2015
Max Veenhuyzen

From gin joints to whisky dens, specialist bars are bringing the wide world of spirits to Perth. Max Veenhuyzen profiles some of the city’s current crop.


The Dominion League
84 Beaufort Street, Perth
(08) 9227 7439, dominionleague.com.au

Who says quality and quantity are mutually exclusive? Clocking in at over 200 bottles, The Dominion League's whisky stockpile polls strongly for both size and interest.

Scotch, naturally, dominates the range, but a focus on lesser-seen Scottish bottlings helps distance the bar from the rest of Perth's whisky set. Sweeten the deal with choice selections from Ireland, Japan and Australia, and it's easy to see why bottle-strokers flock to this cosy basement den.

"We wanted to bring some quirkier stuff to the fore and make it more accessible for people who want to try new things," says bar co-manager Dimitri Rtshiladze.

"It's easy to find really rare bottles that cost an arm and a leg but it's harder to find interesting bottles that are affordable and exciting to drink."

As well as keeping shelves stocked with primo liquor, the team also conducts spirit education classes, ranging from introductory courses to tastings for experienced drinkers.

Bartender's choice

"Most people drink Old-Fashioneds because they accentuate a whisky's flavours and make it more approachable," Dimitri says. "Our new cocktail list has oddball things like Whisky Spiders, and a Blood and Sand made with beetroot juice: drinks designed to appeal to people who might not normally order whisky cocktails."

Top shelf

Starward ($13)
Starward's aim is to break the stigma that Australian whisky is both too expensive and too inconsistent. They've created a good, affordable whisky that tastes the same from batch to batch.

Bruichladdich The Classic ($12)
Bruichladdich is probably the least industrialised of the big Scotch distilleries, and its company name – Progressive Hebridean Distillers – encompasses what it does. This is unfiltered and cut with heavy water, which is pretty out there because most distilleries want clean and refined,whereas these guys are about heavy flavours.

Hakushu 12yo ($17)
Hakushu is a small, traditional distillery owned by Suntory. Its whisky is lightly peated, which is unusual among Japanese whiskies, although Hakushu gets its complex flavour by mixing heavily peated and unpeated malts.


The Angel's Cut by The Trustee
133 St Georges Terrace, Perth
(08) 6323 3000, thetrustee.com.au

Currency. Trading commodity. The official sports drink of seafarers everywhere. Rum has done it all, yet the only thing more fascinating than the drink's CV is its diversity, from grassy rhum agricoles distilled from sugarcane juice to thrillingly complex aged expressions.

While Perth boasts a handful of specialist rum bars, The Angel's Cut gets our vote for its personable service, well-made cocktails and polished setting. Shelves teeming with good liquor don't hurt, either.

"There's no point having a bottle museum," says the bar's beverage director, James Connolly.

"We might not have the biggest rum selection in town, but it's probably the best-priced and most focused."

Despite the spirit's strong sense of history, the industry isn't afraid to change the script. Spiced rums continue to grow in popularity while producers are following the lead of whisky distillers and experimenting with different cask finishes.

Top shelf

El Dorado 3yo Cask Aged White Rum ($10)
This aged Demerara rum from Guyana is quite possibly the best white rum out. It's made using traditional wooden stills, and you get this real buzz of pineapple
when you taste it.

Rhum Babancourt Five Star Réserve Spéciale ($15)
Babancourt rums don't have the grassiness of other rhum agricoles, but there's still a little bit of funk there. It's got character, but it's very approachable at the same time.

Diplomatico Ambassador Selection ($35)
This cask-strength Venezuelan rum is aged in bourbon barrels and finished in PX casks, and tastes amazing. It's not cheap, but it's well worth trying – although bottles are hard to get hold of.

Bartender's choice

"A well-made classic daiquiri is a beautiful thing, and is the definition of simplicity and complexity," says James. "It all comes down to fresh lime, good rum and caster sugar. One of the bar's specialities is the Old-Fashioned. It's a sophisticated way to enjoy rum if you're not keen on drinking it straight."


103 Francis Street, Northbridge,

Once shunned as a drink of ill repute (see also: 'mother's ruin'), gin is enjoying its new life as a born-again spirit. One of the locals leading the gin renaissance is Frisk, Michael Cheang's cosy Northbridge watering hole that boasts a collection of some 250 juniper-flavoured spirits.

"Gin is versatile and nearly everyone enjoys it," says Michael. "Before we opened, I had noticed that, in bars with larger selections, people tended to drink less but better. That works for us. It gives us time to serve and educate customers instead of just pumping out drinks."

Although London-based brands continue to dominate the gin market, new-wave global distillers have reenergised this corner of the liquor cabinet, chief among them the brilliant West Winds Gin from Margaret River.

While many drinkers continue to get their juniper hit via a gin and tonic, the current interest in craft cocktails has made gin an indispensible part of the modern bartender's toolkit.


Top shelf

Gin Mare Mediterranean Gin ($14)
The team at the bar like this gin because it's herbal and aromatic. It can be enjoyed with tonic, and garnished with rosemary, olives or even capsicum.

Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin ($16)
This reminds me of eating samosas as a child. Imagine your favourite Indian curry, and all that coriander, cardamom and cumin.

Darnley's View Spiced Gin ($14)
There aren't too many gins like this one. Lots of warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, and a touch of nutmeg. It's a spirit that makes me think of Christmas pudding.

Bartender's choice

"I always stick to the classics, so for me, it has to be a dry martini with olives," Michael says. "At the moment, I'm enjoying Maidenii. It's an Australian vermouth made with 12 native botanicals like sea parsley and wattle seed. Each of the company's vermouths is made with a different grape variety."


El Público
511 Beaufort Street, Highgate
0418 187 708, elpublico.com.au

Bartender-about-town Mitch Keane likes his tequila. So much so that he's taken on the bar manager gig at El Público, primarily to immerse himself – figuratively, we're hoping – in his favourite warm-weather tipple.

"When I think summer, it's always been margaritas and tequila," says Mitch. "I don't think there's a better spirit to drink in the heat."

Although tequila is the pin-up boy of the cactus-juice set, he believes the time is right for Mexico's other agave-based spirits to shine. Mezcal has already started its charge – while tequila is distilled from blue agave and is only made in selected Mexican states, mezcal comes from an agave called maguey and can be made anywhere in Mexico. Newcomers like raicilla (rye-SEE-ya), sotol and bacanora are preparing for their time in the sun, too.

Bartender's choice

"Margaritas and palomas are great summer drinks," Mitch says. "Using a big triple sec is one of the keys to a snappy margarita. We use Patrón Citrónge, an agave-based orange liqueur from Mexico. It's not as sweet as Cointreau so we add some agave nectar to really give it lift."

Top shelf

Forteleza Reposado ($14)
More of a sipper than a mixer, this tequila, made with stone-crushed agave, is just delicious. Bang for buck, this really jumps out for me. Absolutely incredible.

Alipus San Juan ($18)
Mezcal has always been explained to me as insanely smoky tequila, but this has lighter smoke, better depth, body and a real earthiness to it, too.

La Venenosa Sierra del Tigre ($16)
This raicilla is like a tiger's claw and it's intensely graphic in the way it grabs you. Lightly aged, without any oaky character, there's this real juiciness from the agave, plus all this amazing character and flavour you don't immediately notice with tequila. Tiny production, too.

Still thirsty?

Perth whisky drinkers are spoiled for choice. Alabama Song (232 William Street, Northbridge) and Old Faithful (86 King Street, Perth, oldfaithfulbar.com.au) are two of the bars hanging their flat caps on American whiskey, while Tsunami Ko (20 Glyde Street, Mosman Park, tsunamiko.com) is home to one of the state's choicest Japanese whisky and shochu collections. The guys and girls at Helvetica (Howard Lane, Perth, helveticabar.com.au), meanwhile, continue to excel at great drinks and warm service.

So, about those rum joints we mentioned earlier. Hula Bula Bar (12 Victoria Avenue, Perth, hulabulabar.com) remains the city's gold standard for tiki-inspired drinking, while the shelves at Sneaky Tony's (101 James Street, Perth) groan under the weight of the bar's mighty rum stocks. Finally, gin drinkers should seek out additional juniper-laced refreshment at the verbosely named Enrique's School for to Bullfighting (484 Beaufort Street, Highgate, enriques.com.au).

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