Alright, I know what you may be saying under your breath, “Gin and cocktails? In Australia? In Adelaide?” Yes, gin and cocktails in Australia, and in Adelaide, South Australia at that. Despite what mainstream media may have taught us, Australia is a helluva lot more than just wine and Foster’s (which actually is not Australian for “beer”).
Many people probably associate Australia with Foster’s and wine varietals like Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay, largely because that’s probably what they see on the “international” booze aisle at Trader Joe’s and other grocery stores. But the fact is that there is some great craft spirits and beer being produced in Australia, and you’ll never see it on shelves in America. Little Creatures, for example, a long-time Perth brewery has been brewing beer for 15 years. Elsewhere, Kangaroo Island Spirits, located on Kangaroo Island, was South Australia’s first boutique distillery, and has been making award-winning spirits for several years.
And it’s no secret, however, that craft beer is a growing trend in just about every corner of the world. But what may come as a surprise is that gin is one of the fastest-growing drinks in Australia, with nearly as many Australians drinking gin as vodka, a trend that has only developed in the last few years.
The uptick in distilleries specializing in gin has even been seen in South Australia in and around Adelaide. This includes 78° small batch gin, produced in the Adelaide Hills, and several varieties of gin that are made by McLaren Vale Distilling Company, located in the McLaren Vale wine region south of Adelaide.
Cocktail Bar Tour of Adelaide
As craft drink producers and craft drink consumers have gotten more serious about craft booze, so have cocktail bars. In Adelaide I found craft cocktail bars that had a dedication to local craft spirits (and good craft drinks) like I’d expect from a New York City or London, and not South Australia. I discovered some cocktail bars that had their own gin and tonic menus, such as Udaberri, which had a long list of gin and tonic cocktails. Elsewhere, Thrift Shop, one of the most unique cocktail bars I’ve ever visited, had bottles of gin that you could only find there.
So today I’m featuring these and a couple of the other unique Adelaide cocktail bars that I visited on my recent trip (hosted by Tourism Australia/South Australia). The best part, as my local Adelaide guide David Sly showed, me, all of these Adelaide cocktail bars are all within walking distance of one another. Now that’s a proper cocktail bar tour of Adelaide.
While “Udaberri” sounds like somewhere you might go for a protein shake after working out, it’s actually a pintxo and wine bar that specializes in staples of Spain cuisine, such as jamón ibérico (some of the best ham I’ve ever put in my mouth), patatas bravas, and bocadillos (a type of Spanish sandwich). But as I mentioned earlier, Udaberri also has an extensive gin and tonic menu, which features 20 different types of gin and tonic cocktails. These aren’t your grandma’s gin and tonics. Rather, many of them feature unique fruits and herbs, such as dehydrated apricots, chamomile, cassia bark, coriander, and muscat grapes. Not exactly your everyday gin and tonic ingredients. Each drink was categorized by its style, such as aromatic and lightly sweetened, with some of them featuring Australian gin.
You guys, Thrift Shop may just be the coolest cocktail bar I’ve ever been into. It kind of feels like the type of bar that would result if the worlds of Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins had a baby together. Your senses explode as soon as you walk into what feels like a pop-up bar that couldn’t be any more vintage if it tried. Adding to the ambience was the bartender, who broke out into song and dance as soon as I pulled out my camera. However, that may not even be the coolest part. The standout was that it’s 100% Australian, meaning that you’ll only find Australian spirits in the bar.
A majority of Thrift Shop’s menu focuses on gin, since gin has become so popular in Australia after all. Additionally, the bartenders will walk you through their selection of gins and recommend drinks based on your interests. I particularly liked ordering off their gin menu, which features a number of local gins that used ingredients unique to Australia. The highlight was the quandong gin, which Kangaroo Island Spirits had made exclusively for Thrift Shop, using quandong, which is an exotic Australian fruit that’s often referred to as a “native peach.” I could have stayed here all night (or week) and wouldn’t have been mad about it.
Clever Little Tailor
Clever Little Tailor is a clever, little (sorry, had to) spot on the ridiculously charming Peel Street, and the next stop on my cocktail bar tour of Adelaide. Peel Street, devoid of automobile traffic, is lined with al fresco dining establishments and charming bars, of which Clever Little Tailor sits in the middle of. It feels like the type of place that Charles Dickens or J.R.R. Tolkien would hang their hat at. The standout of the Clever Little Tailor is the inventiveness of the cocktails. While many of the other cocktail bars I’ve mentioned specialize in variations of classic drinks, the cocktails at Clever Little Tailor have an innovativeness that you may expect from a craft cocktail bar in New York City or London. Continuing with the gin theme, they have an impressive gin selection, many of which are Australian. However, of all of the Adelaide cocktail bars I visited, I loved this one the most for telling the bartenders what I like and asking them to make something inventive. Additionally, they just opened a bar around the corner on Leigh Street, the Pink Moon Saloon, which is a cozy, minimalistic bar in a retro ski log cabin. Yes, please.
Alright, I believe I’ve run out of times that I can describe an Adelaide cocktail bar as “charming.” Which is good, because while Proof could be described as charming, I think sophisticated is a better term to describe it. I mean what says sophistication like an Espresso Martini Macaron served with an Espresso Martini (yes, for real)? It only seemed appropriate to end my cocktail bar tour of Adelaide with a gin martini, which naturally, featured local South Australian gin.
However, Proof was the nightcap for my cocktail bar tour of Adelaide for more reasons than just an espresso martini hitting my tongue. Rather, my nose was following the sweet aroma of fresh melted cheese that was wafting from the open window at Proof. Anyone who is gone out on a cocktail bar tour with me knows that a taco or toasted sandwich (or “toasties” as they like to call them in Australia) is as much a part of the evening as the cocktails themselves. But these aren’t your elementary school grilled cheeses! No, the toasties at Proof featured combos like prosciutto and mac ‘n cheese (I kid you not) and sopressa and mozzarella. Yeah, you’re welcome.