Is there a spirit that Australia can call its own?

Yaraka-HotelYaraka Hotel, QLD (credit:

by Sam Bygrave

We can travel the globe through a series of glasses, but what do we drink when we want a taste of home?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something that Bad Frankie owner Sebastian Costello said in our April issue interview. Talking about a trip he took to the US, he said: “when you’re in Nashville, you want to drink locally — you wanted to drink local beers and bourbon.” Costello has taken that principle and applied it to his bar, stocking only Australian made products.

But of those, of course, are gins, whiskys, rums — all spirits that we’ve appropriated from elsewhere. There is no spirit unique to Australia.


But some we’ve made our own, and I find that it’s the gins we’ve made our own the most. Gin lends itself to this kind of cultural appropriation: adding native ingredients to the juniper backbone allows distillers to create something punters aren’t going to find readily in Vancouver or Vladivostok. But if I’m overseas, feeling a little homesick perhaps, is it an Aussie gin that is going to make me think of home? I don’t know.

There might not be a spirit that we can call our own completely, but I think there is an argument to be made for an Australian approach to cocktails and drinking more generally.

It’s to do with the climate — often warm — and the quality of our produce — often very good (so long as you don’t have a hankering for strawberries). Bulletin Place’s Tim Philips has made the point before that it’s our great produce that is a hallmark of Aussie cocktails, and I’d agree with him. Longer drinks, refreshing drinks, made with great produce, to suit the climate. If it’s minus 20 degrees in winter I’m sure the adoption of alpine amari would be greater, but it just ain’t that cold here.

The sad thing is that the most Australian notion to me — and the most romantic, too — is one I don’t ever really experience. That’s the idea of the pub as meeting place for a community. Those days are gone in the city for the most part, thrown out when the downlights and the renovations came in.

It does survive in parts, where the need for community is the greatest. An episode of Australian Story recently showed how the Yaraka Hotel, situated in a township of just 20 people in Western Queensland, is the place where community life happens. People come from as far as 200km away because that sense of community is vital. Faced with severe drought, isolation, and challenges unknown to me, the local pub provides comfort and relief.

That’s an idea that evokes a lot of ‘Australian- ness’ for me, and Yaraka is now on my list of booze joints to get to.

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