Matthew Hilan's bar boasts almost 80 different gins, some of which he imports himself.
Matthew Hilan's bar boasts almost 80 different gins, some of which he imports directly. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

Natascha Mirosch

Gin lovers take note – a bar celebrating the spirit opened in the Valley on Friday next door to fellow newcomer Kwan Brothers. Dutch Courage Officers' Mess is named after gin's nickname, coined by English soldiers.

Owner Matthew Hilan says the two-level bar's quirky decor takes its influence from the 19th century, drawing on both the army and colonial era, with crushed hessian curtains, rattan furnishings and ceiling fans with wide blades, while upstairs is a more intimate bar area designed to feel like a veranda.  

"While the Dutch invented gin, it was the British who created the gin and tonic in the mid 19th century," Hilan says.

Bloomsbury Bouquet cocktail scattered with chamomile.
Bloomsbury Bouquet cocktail scattered with chamomile. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

"They used to drink quinine water in the colonies to protect themselves against malaria, but it wasn't very palatable, so the British came up with the idea of adding gin to make it taste better."

The share plate menu features delicacies such as seared camel loin, and the bar boasts around 80 different gins from around the world, including 30 varieties imported by Hilan.

"We have one from Greenland, one from Sweden, a German one with 47 different botanicals and of course Australia is doing some fantastic small batch gin," Hilan says.

Bar owner is the third career for former investment banking analyst and air combat officer Hilan. He spent the last two years behind bars around Brisbane learning the craft. So why the fascination with gin in particular?

"When I was bartending of course I tried all kinds of spirits but I always felt gin was underappreciated," Hilan says. "It's such a versatile spirit. You can drink it straight and appreciate the subtleties of the botanicals but there are also probably more classic cocktails made on gin than any other cocktails - from a martini to a Tom Collins to a Clover Club or an Aviation."

There will be 18 house cocktails, unique to Dutch Courage, Hilan says, including the Bloomsbury Bouquet (Tanqueray gin, St Germain elderflower, yellow chartreuse, egg white, chamomile flowers) that will be a Bar Hop offer during Good Food Month in July.

Details: Dutch Courage Officers' Mess, 51 Alfred Street, Fortitude Valley, 3852 4838, dutchcourage.com.au