Bad Frankie

I sort of don’t want to talk about Bad Frankie too much, in that it’s at a comfortable level of busy-ness now.  I recognise that this is vastly overrating the influence of Yarra Drams, so what the hell.

Bad Frankie is fantastic.  Their deal is that they deal only in Australian spirits and liqueurs, and if you think that would be limiting then you are vastly underrating the state of distilling in Australia.  I considered myself fairly well informed where spirits are concerned, and I wasn’t familiar with more than half their menu.  Yes, Tasmania features heavily, but did you know how much distilling was going on in NSW?  I didn’t.  This is the place to try all manner of local curios (e.g. Belgrove Ginger Hammer, a spirit made from distilling ginger beer.  I did…not love it, but am glad to have tried it).  My highlights:  the Fitz Roy (cute), a Rob Roy made with Starward whisky and Maidenii vermouth, Archie Rose white rye, and Overeem sherry cask.

If the drinks menu seems impenetrable, relaxed and friendly staff are on hand to point you in the right direction.  It’s the kind of place where they’ll take a spare seat at your table while they suggest which drink you might like, and bring the bottle over so you can have a look (without being asked).

Fully embracing our cultural heritage, jaffles are the entire food menu (for any international readers, it’s a type of pressed sandwich).  The corned beef is a winner, and while the lamington dessert jaffle gets all the attention it’s the Anzac biscuit one (made with brioche, oats and golden syrup) that you should go for.  Or you know, get both.

One last reason I love Bad Frankie is that it’s a bargain.  Food’s all under $8, and there’s a decent and varied choice of whisky for $12 or less, including the aforementioned Archie Rose and three different Hellyer’s Roads.  You can spend a bit if you want to (Nant, Sullivan’s Cove) but you can certainly drink well and be pleasantly surprised when the bill arrives.

A unique and delightful addition to Melbourne’s whisky landscape.

Bad Frankie, 141 Greeves St FITZROY




Or: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Caol Ila.  The name “Smokehead” suggests something altogether coarser, but it shares Caol Ila’s elegant seaside quality.  It’s $40 cheaper than Caol Ila 12YO, so isn’t too expensive to use in cocktails – makes brilliant Rob Roys, hence the very low levels of the front bottle.  I don’t agree with comparisons to Ardbeg, since Ardbeg has an iodine flavour that I don’t like, and this doesn’t have that.  Has taken over from Black Bottle as my preferred peated blend.

**Apologies for the hiatus, moved house then it took an absurdly long time to get internet connected again.  Regular Yarra Drams resuming forthwith!

The One Cocktail You Should Make At Home: Old Fashioned


If you are a whisky drinker, I IMPLORE you to try this at home.  You (doubtless) already own whisky.  All you need to buy is bitters and an orange (or even just orange bitters).  You already have sugar and water.  Aside from simplicity, the other reasons are:

  1. You get an Old Fashioned exactly the way you want it.  This is the prime reason.  For me, most Old Fashioneds I get in bars are too sweet.  This is my problem, not theirs – it’s meant to be a sweet drink.  Solved by making my own.
  2. Minimal equipment.  Ice, tumbler, peeler.  That’s it.  No shaker, strainer, hoopla.
  3. Capable of subtle but significant variation.

There are three elements that you can manipulate in an Old Fashioned.

1.  The Whisky

Bourbon is traditional, but you can use Scotch whisky (single malt or blended, peaty, sherried, whatever you have in your cupboard) or rye.  I like rye here – it seems to carry the other flavours best, and bourbon brings too much of its own sweetness.  My affordable picks are Bulleit Rye, Monkey Shoulder or Black Bottle (a peated Islay blend).

2. The Bitters


Angostura is the first option.  It’s great, and widely available.  If you have access to a wider range of bitters (many local independant bottle shops have a variety on offer and nationally, Dan Murphy’s have really expanded their range), please try some.  My current favourite for an Old Fashioned is Fee Brothers Whiskey-Barrel-Aged Bitters (second from left).

3.  The Sugar

Make sugar syrup.  Just do it.  I know, but it’s one of those things that is much more mental effort than it is actual trouble.  Equal volumes sugar and water in a saucepan, low heat, stir until sugar dissolves.  A matter of minutes.  From experience, use a measure no larger than 1/3 of a cup.  Unless you are going to be making these frequently and in large quantity, you don’t need that much.  It will go weird before you can use it all.  Before it cools, pour the syrup into a small jar that you have just washed, rinsed with hot water and dried.  Warm jar + warm syrup = no smashings.  Kept in the fridge, this lasts me for months.  Many tradional Old Fashioned recipes have you muddling a sugar cube with a drop of water.  The hell with that.  Sugar syrup is fine.

Once you’ve got a handle on making this, try it with different sugars.  Brown sugar is particularly good.

Basic Recipe – vary this at will

60ml whisky/bourbon/rye

2 dashes bitters

1 tsp sugar syrup


Combine whisky, bitters and sugar syrup in a tumbler with ice.  The bigger the ice, the better.  Bigger ice, slower melting, less dilution.  Peel a strip off the orange with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife.  Do your best to avoid getting too much white pith.  Twist the peel over the drink so it releases its oils (if you look closely, you can see them come out in a little puff and settle on the surface of the drink).

Spherical ice moulds are a wise investment.

Spherical ice moulds are a wise investment.

Now you’re Don F-ing Draper.

For further reading on this champion of drinks, see Old Fashioned 101: A few minutes of reading that will elevate your good taste and cement your mixological foundations.

John Curtin Hotel

The John Curtin is a live music pub down the city end of Lygon Street (the Trades hall bit, not the Italian restaurants bit – there is a nice union-themed window in the dining area).  I was there because they are currently hosting the excellent Bluebonnet Barbecue in their kitchens, but they turned out to have an unexpectedly abundant whisky shelf.  Alongside the staples of Monkey Shoulder and Laphroaig 10YO there were also:

  • Big Peat (like Monkey Shoulder, another vatted malt but using Islay whiskies)
  • Lagavulin 16
  • Balvenie Doublewood
  • Hellyer’s Road 10YO
  • Nikka 12YO Taketsuru Pure Malt
  • Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or
  • a Glenrothes (I think)

GLENMORANGIE FREAKING NECTAR D’OR.  This is a Glenmorangie that’s been aged in ex-Sauternes casks (an expensive French dessert wine), resulting in a dram that is somewhere between a whisky and a dessert wine, and is not at all the kind of thing you expect to see on the shelf of your average music pub.

The John Curtin Hotel, 29 Lygon St, Melbourne.

New! Boilermaker House

What a time to be a whisky drinker in Melbourne!  With the temperature dropping it’s prime whisky drinking season, and now there’s another brilliant venue to add to your list.  The people behind the wonderful Eau de Vie have now opened Boilermaker House, with a similar old-world-cocktail-den vibe to Eau de Vie but with the focus squarely on whisky (and to a lesser degree, beer – a boilermaker being a whisky with a beer chaser).

They don’t have their full whisky menu printed just yet, so you’ll have to use your eyes – made easier by bottles being arranged alphabetically on the giant back wall.  The selection is VERY comprehensive – multiple expressions of most distilleries I could think of (e.g. about six Caol Ilas, maybe eight or more Springbanks).  On this visit I had Overeem sherry and bourbon casks (loved both, but sherry gets the nod), and my husband had Longrow 10Yo 100 proof (described by him as “super good”), plus a couple of other things before I got there.  In addition to whisky there’s craft beer both bottled and on tap, cocktails, cheeses and charcuterie.  As bars go, it’s quite spacious, with a high ceiling and a good number of tables.

It’s a great place to park yourself of a winter’s evening, or being less than a five minute walk from Whisky and Alement a very convenient leg of a whisky bar crawl.  Love this city!

Boilermaker House, 209-211 Lonsdale St, Melbourne.

Monkey Shoulder


This is a great bring-to-a-party whisky.  It’s super smooth and couldn’t be more approachable, will play nicely in cocktails but is fine enough to drink neat and won’t break the bank (around $50, sometimes under on special) so you don’t need to have a conniption if someone wants to put cola in it.

Monkey Shoulder is a blend of three malts, two you’ve probably heard of (Glenfiddich and Balvenie) and one you probably haven’t (Kininvie, which either goes in this or is sold for other blends).  This gives you a whisky that is pillow-soft, both gently fruity and woody.  If you’re used to single malts it probably won’t set your world on fire, but is very useful to have in the cupboard for when you want to give a new whisky drinker something easy to like, or if you want to try making whisky cocktails without risking your single malt treasures.  It’s also often the best cheap option on bar whisky lists.

AND, you get a neatly decorated bottle to keep when you’re done.  See?


Carwyn Cellars

Imagine a bottle shop.  The bottle shop you’ve been looking for, with all the rare and weird stuff you’ve ever wanted to fill out your collection.  But lo!  Keep walking through to the back, and this bottle shop becomes a bar.  All the wonders that were there for you to buy, are now there for you to try by the dram.  And there’s beers.  And snacks.

This is Carwyn Cellars.  Their website says “craft beer and wine specialists”.  Pish.  They are the finest whisky bottle shop I’ve been to in Melbourne yet, and their bar more than rivals a few.  We were only there to kill time before a lunch in Thornbury but ended up chatting about whisky for nearly half an hour, then popping back to the bar to try a couple (Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique and Heartwood Devil-May-Care) before buying the Heartwood. (Heartwood is Australia’s only independent bottler, and bottle single casks and high-octane blends of old Tasmanian whisky.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever tried before.  It’s the only time I’ve ever tried a whisky and needed to cough, like the weaselly guy in a Western).IMG_0359

Thornbury is something of an arse for us to get to (northwest to northeast Melbourne by public transport requires going into the city then out again), but we will make the trip again for this (and when we have more than half an hour to spare).  Stay tuned, I have barely scratched the surface.

Carwyn Cellars, 877 High Street, Thornbury.