The work of bar manager and resident mixologist, Clare Harman, the new cocktail menu at the recently opened Academy Kitchen & Bar in Melbourne’s Richmond is an exploration of autumnal flavours that mimics that of the kitchen menu.
Harman is aiming to bring a point of difference to Academy with a cocktail list that is created with the restaurant’s style of food in mind. The current menu is a compilation of mostly original cocktails, with a couple of her favourite lesser known classics thrown in.
“I wanted to make a small cocktail list influenced by seasonal produce and what’s going on in the kitchen,” she says. “I really like the idea of mixing lesser known, classic cocktails with some I have put together – paying homage to the past whilst having drinks on the list that are unique to our venue.”
To do so all of the syrups are made in house and Harman is experimenting with foams and infusions, even going so far as making her own roasted hazelnut liqueur, for a twist on a hot buttered rum, which takes over two weeks to make.
Perth-born Harman began working at Academy in mid-October, and has 10 years’ experience under her belt in the hospitality industry – including a stint in Japan and working at various establishments including Melbourne’s famed Whisky & Alement.
Harman says that she followed a particular process with her menu development – first identifying the autumn/winter flavours she wanted to work with, them matching up the spirits that worked best with them.
“All the flavours are things I would like to enjoy as the weather starts getting cooler,” she says. “For example, a little hit of spicy jalapeño in your margarita to warm you up, or the smoky pairing of Lapsang Souchong Tea (a pan smoked Chinese tea) and Islay whisky in a sour.”
Harman is also on board with the growing boilermaker trend, saying that she loves the combination for winter – perfect whisky drinking weather.
“Just like food and wine, some whiskies lend themselves to be enjoyed alongside particular styles of beer,” she says. “For example, big smoky whiskies work well with a rich dark beer or a full flavoured IPA, a lighter fruitier Japanese dram might lend itself toward a crisp, light pilsner or unhopped pale ale. Our boilermaker list has some great suggestions when pairing whisky on our back bar with local craft beer.”
The use of seasonal ingredients isn’t just a trend that is based on flavour either, Harman is also focussed on the sustainability of her cocktail menu, a growing concern in the bar industry around the world.
“This ensures you are using the freshest and most sustainable produce available – not to mention that seasonal ingredients are often the most economical choice,” she says.
The rotating developing menu also engages her client base, as well as the rest of her staff, in a conversation about the menu.
“Many of our guests are from the local area so it’s nice to have a rotating offering for them so they can come in and try something different every time,” she says. “And it keeps the bar and floor staff engaged, always having new things to learn about keeps it interesting.”
With the trends of pairing everything from whisky and cheese to cocktails and vegan fare hitting Australia, Harman is positive about the potential for pairing food and beverage.
“With the abundance of great craft beer and cider in Melbourne, and the introduction of sake, shochu, grappa and amaros from overseas, there are some really exciting beer, cider and spirit matches going on with food,” she says. “I think the flexibility that bartenders are afforded by being able to subtly adjust flavours in cocktails allows us to match different flavours and textures in food. In that way some unique pairings can be tailored specifically between the beverage and a dish.”
But at the end of the day, Harman reinforces that it really is all about the customer.
“Mostly, where I hope it is all heading, is everybody enjoying themselves on a night out,” she says. “At the end of the day, everybody wants to feel looked after, comfortable and relaxed.”