Stripped back and strong, gin's the thing for Longroom cocktails

Jessica Wright

"Anything you can do with vodka you can do better with gin. Basically gin is a flavoured, better vodka."

A bold statement, eh?

Purists of the spirit, which dates its origins back to the Middle Ages, might not necessarily agree with the assessment of Marc Frew, bar manager of CBD uber-cool venue, the Longroom, but this mixologist likes his drinks as he does his opinions: straight up and strong.

In a trend apparent at many of Melbourne's bars and pubs, Frew and his team are intent on re-educating the thirsts of the drinking public away from cream, chocolate, fruit and sugar-laden concoctions towards pared back, alcohol-driven drinks.

Frew says gin is a perfect spirit for delivering a cocktail with a kick without bowling over its recipient.

"I really like to be able to taste the alcohol in the drink and with gin you've got a great juniper kickback and a lot of complexities in flavour without being too overwhelming," he says.

"Unfortunately we are still doing a lot of masking for some customers with those fruity, sugary, almost dessert-style drinks which can be frustrating.

"But there is slowly beginning to be a shift away from it, and this is driven by the knowledge and tastes of bartenders, sort of infiltrating and influencing from the top down.

"We really love what we do and we try and push more traditional style of drinks, stronger, drier cocktails.


"These drinks also work a lot better when you are working with food".

Matching food with cocktails and spirits is a relatively new phenomenon and one Frew and his ilk are keen to capitalise upon.

"I can't serve a sugary-style cocktail matched to a salty dish like pork for example. We are doing a lot of food matching with cocktails and spirits, its not just wine that is matched with food in fine dining these days. When writing our list we tailor it around the tapas menu," he says.

Discussing the collaboration between kitchen and bar, Frew emits a hearty laugh.

"The bartender-chef relationship is an important one. I get him drunk and he feeds me."

The key to a great cocktail is good ice, premium spirits and quality ingredients. Less is often preferable to more, when it comes to the number of elements used in the drink, but more alcohol - or a reasonably heavy hand - is key.

"Weak, watery drinks are no good to anyone," Frew says.

He says the key current trends to be found in Melbourne's watering holes are Asian-inspired, with a "big emphasis on chilli, ginger, lime and coriander" and the ever pliable gin. He prefers Tanqueray.

"The prohibition revival, themes based around the speak easy is also still huge."

We play a game of hypothetical, as Frew packs up his cocktail gear following a demonstration of some impressive flair bartending.

What would be his last drink if he found himself on death row tomorrow?

"Definitely an Aviation. Eight parts gin, two parts lemon juice, one part maraschino liqueur, one part creme de menthe."

Strong, eh?

Melbourne's star mixologists shake it up in style for Good Food Month - $20 gets you a gin-inspired cocktail and matched bar snack at dozens of leading Melbourne bars. Details: