This is -for now- the final instalment for this interview series with bartender Joe, so I would really like to thank Joe Summerfield for being such a good sport in answering all my many many questions, and to Cormac Thomson for providing the fantastic photographs, if you ever find yourself in Newcastle be sure to have a drink or two at the Poison Cabinet! 

If you were to walk into a cocktail bar anywhere in the world, what is your go to order?

Either a manhattan or a boulevardier, preferably with rye in both. Any cocktail bar should have the ingredients for both, they’re very simple to make, but there’s lots of room for the bartender to put his own twist on them, which is always interesting to see.

Joe Summerfield at the Poison Cabinet - photo by Cormac Thomson

Joe Summerfield at the Poison Cabinet - photo by Cormac Thomson

If you could create your very own gin, what botanicals would you use or what general flavour profile would you want it to have?

If I were to create one, it would be like being dragged backwards through a juniper bush. But I also really like thyme, Szechuan pepper, and grapefruit zest as botanicals. I like the idea of a bit of nuttiness too. Then I’d probably barrel age it, maybe for a short time in heavy char bourbon barrels, or for longer in mezcal barrels for a bit of smoke. The first batch would probably be horrific, but I reckon with a few batches I could make it work.

In your opinion, what is the best style(s) of gin for making cocktails, and why should every cocktail bar stock it?

Style wise it has to be a juniper-forward London dry gin. For me, This is the best representative of the spirit, refined and heavy on the juniper to stand up to other ingredients. It’s also important to stock an old tom for a sweeter edge, and a better idea of what the classic cocktails would have tasted like way back when.

 What would you say is the best thing about gin?

It’s versatility and availability. Everywhere you go, there’s something new, and so many different ways to use it. As long as you go to the right places, they’ll make good on both of those factors, and you can have something different every time.

Have you entered any cocktail making competitions that you enjoyed and would like to talk about, (what cocktail you made, why you chose those ingredients, how it did in the competition, is it now incorporated into the bar menu, was it a challenging competition)?

 I’ve recently won an international competition with a mezcal and rosemary drink with ginger, Averna, and sweet vermouth. It was praised for its simplicity, which is what I strive for, so that was really pleasing. I also entered a bourbon competition a while ago with a long drink with chocolate milkshake and Left Hand Brewing’s Nitro Milk Stout, trying to emanate the malt milkshake shops of the States back in the day, which was a nice change from taking these things so seriously. That one required two drinks to enter, so I also did a Sazerac style drink with bourbon, scotch, suze, and chartreuse, served with homemade chartreuse jelly, and suze caviar. It was great fun making those jellies, but it was a lot of work for not too much end product. I’ve done a few others here and there, but the competition with the mezcal and rosemary drink has been by far my most successful, which I think only reinforces my opinion that simpler drinks are better.

 If you were to own your own bar, and could create your own spirits to serve at the bar, what spirits would you create, and what cocktails would be on your menu?

 Operating on the small scale of production for a single bar, I’d have a few constant products, like a vodka, gin, dark rum, for classics and spirit/mixers, but with in house production I reckon I could get away with a lot more interesting things, like distilling a whiskey with botanicals, agave spirit blends, even single-botanical spirits that are seasonal based on what’s available at the time, distilled from whatever grain I fancy using at the time. It’s that small scale production that really allows for experimentation. Sure some of the results won’t be amazing, some of them will probably be horrible, but it’s the exploration of something new, and the search for something original that drives this industry, and finding that one distillate that works more than makes up for the fifty before it that didn’t quite go to plan. As for what drinks I’d put on, I’ve had exclusive responsibility for the new menu where I work at The Poison Cabinet, Newcastle, so you’ll have to pay me a visit and see…




In your opinion, what makes the perfect martini?

 An unpopular opinion, but I prefer a wet martini. The vermouth adds further depth of flavor to the gin not present in a dry martini. A favourite of mine is to use Sipsmith V.J.O.P. with Cocchi vermouth di Torino, a slightly darker, sweeter vermouth, with a lemon twist garnish.

 In your opinion, what makes the perfect negroni?

 Overpouring the gin. In my negronis, it’s never an equal portion drink. I prefer to give the gin more of a fighting chance against the Campari for its flavours to come through. I’m also a fan of a grapefruit zest garnish in place of orange.

Joe Summerfield at the Poison Cabinet - photo by Cormac Thomson

Joe Summerfield at the Poison Cabinet - photo by Cormac Thomson

 What is the most exciting gin you have come across? Do you have a favourite gin for both making cocktails and drinking? Have you tried any Australian gins?

 I’ve come across some exciting gins such as Mason’s, which uses Szechuan pepper as a botanical for a lovely little kick in their regular expression, but they also do a Yorkshire tea expression. Combining gin and a cup of tea, it must have been a stroke of genius. For making drinks, my go to is normally anything robust, that can stand up to other ingredients, but to drink personally, I would always opt for something a little over 40% to sip neat, again Sipsmith is a favourite of mine especially the V.J.O.P., but I also enjoy Hepple and Death’s Door. With there being so many gins over here in the UK as it is, I’ve yet to encounter any Australian gin, but I will definitely let you know when I do.


Part 5 coming soon!!

NEGRONI WEEK 5th - 11th June 2017

Negroni week is an internationally fundraising phenomenon that has been going since 2013, bringing cocktail bars and restaurants all over the world together to celebrate one of the greatest cocktails of all time, also raising money for charity.

It’s pretty awesome, an entire week of dedicated to drinking Negronis, and all for a good cause, what could be better?

This year Negroni week has fallen the week of June 5th – June 11th and so starting the 5th I shall attempt to visit as many participating venues in Melbourne as possible... who knows how many that will be?  

For details of which venues near you are participating, what their speciality Negroni(s) are and what charity they are supporting visit

Keep an eye out for more posts about my Negroni Week adventures coming soon!!


PART 3: Making cocktails Vs. drinking cocktails....

Just a short couple of questions to get you ready for that 5 o'clock drink...

What is your preferred spirit to work with when making and creating new cocktails, and does it differ from your spirit of choice when drinking?

 Whiskey in both aspects for me, and rye is a particular favourite of mine. There are so many classic whiskey drinks that can be adapted in so many ways, and the number of great whiskey producers is so high. I’m aware of your love for gin and I love it too, but the sheer amount of gins available, good, bad, flavoured etc., it seems to me there are a lot more bad gins out there than bad whiskeys.

 What is your favorite gin cocktail that you have ever created or invented and how do you make it (ingredients, process etc.)?

I’m very happy with the Nakajima Kikka I’ve designed for our new menu. It’s 40ml of Jinzu gin with 25ml Akashi-Tai Umeshu plum wine and 5ml Crème de Bergamote, with a dash of cherry bitters. Stir it down in a mixing glass, but I also have a little pot of cherry and orange blossom syrup next to the glass, of 2:1 syrup taken from maraschino cherry jars to orange blossom water. A couple of times through stirring, dip the spoon in the pot to get a little of it into the drink, but not too much as the orange blossom is pretty overpowering. Serve in a coupe glass and add a maraschino cherry.

Joe Summerfield at the Poison Cabinet - photo by Cormac Thomson 

Joe Summerfield at the Poison Cabinet - photo by Cormac Thomson 

You can check out Interviews with a Bartender parts 1 and 2 to find out some more... part 4 shouldn't be too far away!!


A few wee questions about becoming a bartender...

What first got you into bartending (and when), and what is it about creating cocktails that you still find exciting?

I started off pouring pints just over three years ago. That was my introduction to craft beer, cocktails, and general flavour in drinking. When the family company I work for opened a cocktail bar, seeing what was happening within those walls, I knew I had to be a part of it, so I read a lot of books, drank a lot of drinks, and learned on the job as best I could. I still love making new drinks for exploring new ingredients, trying new flavor combinations, and then sharing them with someone be it customer or colleague.

Joe Summerfield at The Poison Cabinet - photo taken by Cormac Thomson 

Joe Summerfield at The Poison Cabinet - photo taken by Cormac Thomson 

How did you learn general cocktail bartending skills?

I had a couple of people I worked with that I learned a lot from with respect to both skill and attitude. On top of that, I read a lot of recipes for classic drinks, and then made and drank them all. I feel like once you have the knowledge, the physical skills and techniques will all follow with time and practice.

Do you prefer the term bartender or mixologist or something else as a descriptor?

Definitely bartender. I appreciate all the molecular level techniques available, and the crossover with gastronomy and chemistry, even biology, but I prefer simpler drinks. To me, a mixologist focuses more on creating an amazing one off drink, regardless of its audience, and I feel bartending focuses more on customer service. I’d rather mix a simple drink tailored to what a customer tells me they like, as opposed to tell someone an essay about a drink I want to make and why they should like it, if that makes sense.


Check out Interviews with a bartender - part 1 to learn a little bit more about Joe and the Poison Cabinet!


BACKGROUND: Back in August 2016 I had the fantastic opportunity to visit Edinburgh and meet a bunch of people who are studying the same postgrad course in Brewing and Distilling that I am (which was pretty amazing). I met a great bunch of booze enthusiasts from all over the world, all doing amazing different things. Out of the exciting bunch is the bartender turned brewer Joe, who happens to work at a cocktail bar in Newcastle, UK (which has a great name). So after much contemplation, and conversation, I decided to start the Interview with a bartender series where I ask Joe a bunch of different questions about gin, cocktails, the cocktail bar he works at, and other exciting alcohol inspired things. So I hope you find it interesting team!!


Joe Summerfield at The Poison Cabinet  -  photography by Cormac Thomson 

Joe Summerfield at The Poison Cabinet  -  photography by Cormac Thomson 

What bar do you currently work in? How long has it been around and how would you best describe it to potential customers, e.g. classic cocktail bar, low lit speakeasy etc.?

 Currently in The Poison Cabinet, a basement speakeasy style bar hidden away behind an old prison door under a craft beer bar and smokehouse. We’ve been open just over 2 years now in a relatively small, intimate room, serving mainly prohibition style mixed drinks.

What is the most popular gin cocktail that you serve at the bar? 

The Lynn Collins is a simple refreshing long drink with lychee infused Beefeater gin, with lemongrass, elderflower and ginger beer.

What is the gin that is most commonly requested in cocktails, e.g. a Tanqueray negroni etc.?

Lots of people request Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s etc. but we have deliberately avoided stocking gins like these. We like to have spirits that are a little rarer to see in the area. Sipsmith V.J.O.P. and Jinzu are a couple of my current favourites. 

What would you say is the usual demographic that come into your bar?

Despite being a small, slightly more niche bar, we serve people from students to high society clubs. It’s generally an inclusive place.

Are there any new directions that you know of (and are allowed to talk about) that your bar is moving in, or any upcoming events that you are excited for?

I’ve recently written a new menu that is currently in the hands of the printing designer. Very soon there will be an additional 12 drinks on the menu, without the need to remove any of the other drinks we already serve.

 Does your bar stock any Australian gins, if so what cocktails do you usually make with them?

No Australian I’m afraid. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever had Australian gin.

What would you say is the most exciting, interesting or unique thing about your bar that makes it stand out from the rest?

 With it being a bit harder to find, it’s more rewarding once you’re inside. Once you are in, we focus on quality drinks, tailored to whatever you want. There may be a bit of a wait at times, but we thoroughly believe in not compromising service for speed, and everyone will get the same treatment.

What do you believe is the most exciting cocktail on the menu at your bar?

 On the current menu, I’m a big fan of our Chestnut Sazerac, with chestnut infused Bulleit Rye, Courvoisier V.S.O.P. cognac, chocolate and peychaud’s bitters, finished with a bitter chocolate infused Ardbeg spray and toasted sesame oil droplets. From the new menu, I’m excited to see how the Red Wings will be received. A tomato-less bloody mary with Mason’s yorkshire gin, Polugar garlic and pepper, ginger beer, with braised beetroot and fresh horseradish.





Finally had the chance to visit the home of Aviation Gin (which may be known to all you gin junkies is House Spirits Distillery in Portland OR). What an amazing vibe their new premises has, with an umbrella scattered courtyard decorating the large glass entrance way to their new tasting room, serving cocktail samples on tap along side their somewhat extensive spirits collection. Walking around the tasting room there are these interesting little cubbies, showing amazing infographics about each of their different spirits and the history of House Spirits Distillery. 

Now, most of you gin lovers will know what Aviation gin tastes like so I don’t need to bore you with the details on that, and if you haven’t tried Aviation yet (what on earth are you doing with your life, Jeez Louise) get out their and try some.

Their other spirits however are something I have never had the chance to try before, in particular their Krogstad Festlig Aquavit (I am going through a serious akvavit phase at the moment, - don’t judge me – ever since I realised not all Aquavit tastes like aniseed flavoured paint stripper). Krogstad Festlig Aquavit contains only two ingredients (besides alcohol of course) caraway seeds and anise. I found the anise was a little too overpowering for my tastes, but it is a quality spirit that any one with a serious hankering for anise or liquorice flavours should try, as I am sure it will make a fantastic ingredient in cocktails.

It was pretty incredible to visit House Spirits, and they are a part of Portland’s Distillery Row. If you buy a Distillery Passport for ~$30USD, not only will you be able to enjoy a full tasting flight at House Spirits Distillery, but you will also be able to go on a tasting at each of the different Distilleries in Distiller’s Row as well as those in the NW Distilling District, which I would highly recommend doing if you are ever in Portland.

JUNIPALOOZA 2016 - 22nd & 23rd October

This weekend just gone (22nd and 23rd of October) The Gin Queen hosted Melbourne’s Junipalooza Festival at Melbourne’s Old Meat Markets, what a fun gin fuelled event it was to attend. Junipalooza sponsored by Capi (Australian made soft drinks and mixers) brought together a wide range of gin producers from all around Australia and the World for 2 afternoons of gin tastings and master classes for all attendees. 

The Meat Market was a fantastic historical venue for the Junipalooza that easily accommodated both visitors and exhibitors alike. The atmosphere was lively and yet intimate with enough space so that you could have a nice chat with some of the distillers without being cramped and shouting at each other, while not being so big that you were racking up the pedometer count walking from stand to stand. Really well laid out venue that made the event really special. 

Almost all of your favourite Australian gin distillers were there representing their brand and meeting their fans, as well as some new up and coming distilleries that you might not have had the chance to try before (both Australian and International). 

A big stand out moment of the event for me was trying Animus Distillery's gin range (Shamefully I had not heard of these guys before this weekend). They have 3 different gins: Classic Dry, Ambrosian, and Arboretum; which they were selling in wooden cased miniature three packs. The Classic Dry is your juniper forward yet delicately balanced London Dry style gin, while Ambrosian Gin is a far more citrus heavy gin, and lastly Arboretum (my personally favourite of the trio) is a really well done and incredibly unique savoury more herbaceous and vegetative gin, full of complex herbal flavours and a gentle underlying note of capsicum. I can only imagine how great Arboretum would taste in a martini.

Another great moment was sitting in on a talk by The Gin Queen and the guys from Poor Toms, Melbourne Gin Company, and Mt Uncle, about the use of Australian Botanicals and the complex and intricate story they bring to the gin world these days. Incredibly informative discussion, and it was amazing to hear from the distillers themselves their impressions of Australian botanicals and how they used them to produce their gin’s flavour profile. 

All in all, I firmly believe from what I saw of the event that Junipalooza was a great success, it was incredible to see so many gin lovers all in one place having such a fantastic time. Massive thanks to The Gin Queen for all her remarkable work at organising the event, it really was a special weekend. 


I visited many distilleries in America’s Pacific North West on this wee world distillery tour of mine. Everyone has been so incredibly welcoming and helpful at each distillery, giving fantastic tours and I have been to some amazing tastings. One of the many amazing distilleries I visited in Seattle, run by some incredibly creative distillers was OOLA Distillery. OOLA is nestled in the outskirts of the inner city area, and is running one tight operation producing a wide range of different spirits. Among which are 3 different gins, 4 different vodkas, 1 whisky and 2 blended whiskies. Of course I am only really interested in the white spirits, and in particular the GINS! As I mentioned before, OOLA produces 3 different gins:

·      OOLA gin

·      ALOO gin

·      Barrel finished OOLA gin

OOLA's Spirit Range

OOLA's Spirit Range

Brown Cardamon 

Brown Cardamon 

House Spirits Distillery in Portland, with their Aviator Gin, reintroduced the world to the delicate characteristics of American Style gins. OOLA gin is exactly that, an American style gin, with an incredibly well balanced range of botanicals. One of which in particular caught my eye, is this funny brown shrivelled nutmeg looking thing that I had never seen before. It smelt smokey, spicy and nutty all at once, and is (I am told) Brown Cardamon. (Looks nothing like the small potent green cardamon I am used to seeing in Australia, and was quite shocked to hear that it’s a type of cardamon)

OOLA gin is a smooth, well balanced sipping gin that has distinct floral notes with a warm nutty finish.                                                                                       The ALOO gin, is quite the opposite of the OOLA gin (both in name and in flavour profile). ALOO is a classic, strong and punchy London Dry style gin, which tastes as though it were designed perfectly for a G&T, with a hearty Juniper and Coriander nose.                                                                                          Lastly, the barrel finished OOLA gin (barrel aged gins are a favourite gin style of mine at the moment) is just the OOLA gin, aged for ~3 months in barrels, which gives the delicate OOLA gin a distinct smooth and creamy vanilla taste.

All in all, OOLA is a remarkable distillery and I feel very privileged to have been able to visit while I was in Seattle. I most certainly will be on the hunt for all their products now that I am back in Melbourne, because they truly are something special. 



Four Pillars Master Session Gin from World Gin Day 2016

Four Pillars Master Session Gin from World Gin Day 2016

If you are a Gin Lover who lives in Australia, one distillery you are bound to have heard of is Four Pillars, who are taking the world by storm at the moment, and have been for quite a few years now.

So, on the Monday of World Gin Day weekend this year I headed out of Melbourne to Healesville to attend Four Pillars first ever MAKER SESSION MASTER CLASS, and I am going to tell you all about it!

I arrived there early in the morning, and was ushered into their chilly Still House compartment of their set up (if you have ever visited them you will understand what I mean), was introduced to their main man and chief distiller Cameron MacKenzie (really nice guy, super friendly), and had a well needed and quite frankly well deserved black coffee (getting out of bed early on the Monday of a long weekend is hard work). Shortly after which the class began, it was great!

We got to meet their new baby still Eileen. A beautiful 50L copper pot still made by Carl stills in Germany. After which, we were taken through both the distilling process, and also the history of gin, from Europe to bathtubs to high society, it was a very interesting and educational event. We then loaded up the wee still with all the botanicals that make a gin they had previously released as a collaboration with Santamania Destileria Urbana, and have since run out off, their Cousin Vera's Gin. The botanicals that we loaded the still to create this beauty include: Juniper (of course), coriander (of course again), a seven pepper corn mixture, almonds, fresh bay leaf, fresh lemon myrtle, Tasmanian pepper berry, rosemary, fresh whole oranges and fresh olive leaf! The room started smelling amazing, while this giant kettle heated everything up.

While the still was doing it's thing and making the gin, we moved onto the tastings of all their current gins, including their Bloody Shiraz Gin! We walked through tasting each gin, hearing about the different botanicals used in each one and why they were chosen. Cam was incredibly accommodating explaining everything in great detail and answer everyones many questions. Bloody Shiraz Gin, is by far one of my favourite gin concoctions from any distillery, it is amazing, and the process by which they make it is even more incredible, I cannot believe how they came up with this genius idea. My favourite of their normal range of gins would be their Modern Australian Gin, its a little bit spicy and a little bit fruity, but not too much, it's just right. It is probably their least citrus heavy gins, and is probably why it is my favourite of their range (not a big citrus gin fan). 

As the gin started flowing out of the still, we gave it a wee taste before it was cut at a whopping 80 maybe even 90 something percent, and then tried it again cut down to somewhere in the 40% mark, and it was very different, and quite nice. I never had the chance to buy the Cousin Vera's Gin when it was released and so had nothing to compare it to, but I quite liked this one, its a little less citrusy then some of their other gins, and has a nice herby quality. I imagine it will taste quite nice in a martini or a G&T with a sprig of rosemary or thyme, I will let you know when I eventually give it a try!

I left the day with a wee gift bag, containing a small 1/4 size bottle of their Rare Dry Gin, a nice little cocktail recipe book, with ideas and inspiration for cocktails to try at home, as well as a jar of their Four Pillars Marmalade made with oranges that had been used to make their gin.

My bottle of the Makers Session Gin arrived almost a month after the class (had to settle and be cut and bottled ... and all that jazz). It looks and smells very cool, I am very excited to give it a go in many different cocktails (but mainly a martini)!

I would recommend going to a Four Pillars master class if you ever get the chance. If they do another one of these Makers Sessions in the future I would recommend getting a ticket quickly, because it was a fun day were you get to try all the gins, make some for yourself, which I would say is worth it!

Again, stay drinking responsibly team!