1806 & The Understudy

August 31, 2012

The Understudy @ 1806, 169 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Disclaimer: I was invited to the following events as a guest of 1806.
Last night I attended the book launch of 1806’s new cocktail book, a riot of mixed drinks through the ages, based on their award winning menu. It is probably the most comprehensive cocktail book I’ve come across, and has commentary running through it on the origin of each cocktail and the general trends in cocktails over the ages.
I really enjoy how the author has linked each set of cocktails to a world event or age. For example, during the prohibition it was commonplace to water down alcohol to make it go further. This didn’t bode well for scotch as it completely changed the taste, but gin seemed to tolerate being watered down fairly well. Because of this, there was a huge surge in gin-based cocktails in the 1920s Speakeasy era.
The book is certainly something I am happy to have sitting on my bookshelf at home and can be purchased at the bar.

The place was absolutely packed when we arrived, but we managed to get around to most of the small bars they’d set up, each serving a different cocktail. A couple of excellent Tom Collins went down a treat to start, before moving on to the tropical themed bar upstairs.

I would have preferred a slightly sweeter pineapple taste, but these were excellent pina coladas nonetheless. Awesome presentation, a real hit with the crowd.

This guy was so damn cute with his stick-on mustache that we just couldn’t go past a Sherry Cobbler. I’ve always thought of sherry as something my grandma drinks, but it seems to be having something of a revival. Surprisingly good, not cloyingly sweet.

However, the unequivocal favourite from the evening was the Toreador, a refreshing drink of tromba blanco, apricot liqueur, lime and agave. Sweet but crisp, I could have had two of these! If you enjoy a good cocktail on a night out, 1806 is the place to visit!

The Understudy

Photo courtesy of 1806 website
The Understudy is the new subterranean bar at 1806. Unsurprisingly, they too specialise in cocktails, but veer away from the tradition of upstairs and embrace the creative side of cocktail making. The results are both surprising and brilliant.
I was invited to enjoy a cocktail degustation at The Understudy with a friend, which run Thursday – Saturday nights (for details see website) and features five of the best cocktails on offer. Here are a couple of my favourites.
The Thujone – absinthe, juniper, sage, french vermouth was delicious and earthy, it tasted somewhat of licorice, plus a nice citrus kick and an earthy scent of sage. A very clever drink.
Photo courtesy of 1806 website
In contrast, the Szechuan House (pisco, szechuan, watermelon, lemon) is a riot of sweet and sour flavours with a cheeky szechuan kick that gets your tastebuds tingling. This was probably my favourite of the evening. They serve this drink (and most of the others) with one huge hunk of hand carved ice (less surface area, less melted ice, stronger tasting drink – brilliant).
We also had an incredible cocktail of duck, cognac, rye, sherry, chinese 5 spice and maple. They wash the cognac through duck fat (oh my!) This was M’s favourite drink, and an excellent one for the boys or for anyone who enjoys a strong, smoky drink. The smell and taste reminded me of a Chinese gambling den – leather, backgammon, incense, mustaches, smoke. Sheer old world decadence.
Photo courtesy of 1806 website
This is the one photo I took that night with my iPhone – I really like how the candle has illuminated the ice block.

1806 Beer

Another new innovation by 1806 is their collaboration with Kooinda Brewery in Heidelberg on a new beer (my goodness have the 1806 crew been busy!) They were kind enough to provide me with a sample, which I really enjoyed. It’s a lager-style ale, light in colour but deeper bodied than light beers.
I should disclaim that I am by no means an expert on beer. That said, I found it slightly sweet but with a pleasant bite; overall it’s crisp and easy to drink. I especially liked their tag line, which doubles as an explanation for this new endeavour; ‘Beer was invented 1000 years before the cocktail: Drink Chronologically’.

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Filed under: Cocktails, Melbourne CBD