Interview by Magnus Moore
HERE IS a story about two brothers in booze, two siblings behind the stick at The Gresham. You may know one of them, the elder Moore, Kal, from around the traps; he’s been a fixture of the bartending scene in Brisbane for over 10 years now and is one of the industry’s biggest brains when it comes to bartending knowledge.
And here, he’s interviewed — rather ably, we must admit — by his younger brother Magnus. These days they both work behind the bar at The Gresham, and as Kal points out, working together in the bar industry has seen them evolve from two guys who happen to be related to one another, to actual, proper mates.
MM: When you first started in the industry, what were the three most memorable lessons your mentors taught you that you still use today?
KL: Everyone gets taught the same sorts of things when they start bartending; everyone learns essentially the same lessons, and they’re always the Macca’s ones: if you’ve got time to lean you’ve got to clean; never walk around with empty hands — everyone knows those. But the ones who defined who I am as I was becoming a bartender, the first one was Ed who is now at Loop Roof. Before Little Jumbo became Little Jumbo it was this shithole bar called George on George. I worked there for about a month and one of the first things I learnt was, if you’re going to drink on shift, don’t not drink, but don’t drink too much. I think that’s a really important one. One, you’ve got to be able to work all the way through your shift — it’s another nine dollars in your till. I know Rhyno [Ryan Lane] used to do the hazing thing, working at the Press Club for your first shift and just getting filled with shots of Jack [Daniel’s], the entire night. It hits one o’clock in the morning and you’re literally clock-eyed and you can’t do it — Ryan would say “cool, clock off and never drink this much again.”
A tough one I had to learn, I was pissed on a Sunday night, at a hospo night at X&Y, and I was mouthing off about something one of the bartenders had done at work the night before, complaining about this guy to someone else. Shay Leighton walked up and interrupted the conversation and said to me: “You! You need to watch what you’re fucking saying, because everyone around you is always listening.” It’s a small industry, everyone knows each other. It gets back to people and it’s never a positive thing for your reputation.
The last one, and this is probably the one that made me the bartender I am at the moment, is Matty Hewitt, when he was doing trainings at Press Club over 10 years ago now, the first thing he said is that you should know at least one thing about everything that’s in the bar. It doesn’t matter if you don’t drink red wine, you should know what a cab sauv is, what it tastes like, and why you might not recommend it to someone who has just asked for a merlot. You need to know that. I took that to heart, and read a fuck-tonne of books and everyone’s training notes and I managed to get a hold of the old Bowery training notes — which were the old Match Group training notes — so I got all this information. I made it my mission to learn all that.
Now, obviously looking back, it’s maybe not that important. But it excited me about bartending, because there is all this stuff you can get to learn and know about — it’s one of the most defining things about me now, 10 years later.
Before I got into the industry, you used to come to me with drink ideas and ask for feedback. What goes through your head when coming up with drink ideas, and why would you ask someone who is not in the industry for feedback?
When you’re coming up with a drink, it’s not just about is this this brand relevant and am I hitting the right flavour notes, your drink has to be yummy and you’ve got to sell this on a cocktail list somewhere. You want to make sure that it’s engaging to people and they would think, yeah, I’ll put that inside my mouth. When I was doing this, you weren’t in the industry. The people that were helping me were my peers, they weren’t people who were better than me — it wasn’t like I was approaching Barry Chalmers and asking for feedback on this drink. I was specifically looking for someone who didn’t know anything about it, so I could say this is the idea, do you think it’s going to work — would you drink this drink? You get different feedback from people with different backgrounds.
In terms of what goes through my head when it comes to drinks? My approach has changed. Back then it used to be, read the tasting notes and if the tasting notes say apple and honey, you’d work apple and honey into your drink and job done. It took me a long time to re-evaluate my approach, because that doesn’t necessarily work. These days, my approach is to have a nose and have a taste, and find something that would be an interesting flavour profile to work with, add another accent to it, then fist through that memory of thousands of old classic cocktails and figure out which one is going to fit, then twist that drink.
One of the things I learned from reading old cocktail books is that everything has been done before. You know, a London Calling isn’t a London Calling, it’s just a Barbara West Cocktail with orange bitters in it. It subs Angostura bitters for orange bitters and Chris Jepson has strolled around for 20 years patting himself on the back.
What was it like putting your name on the line to get your brother into the industry?
It was fun having my younger brother around. You were 17 and working as a glassy at Laruche, and it was at that point we started becoming mates rather than just being my brother. It’s always been nice having you around. You’ve acquitted yourself well!
What was the defining moment that made you think that you’d made it as a bartender?
It was at the Most Influential List party in 2015, at Gazebo, and I was there and I knew everyone. People were walking over and saying g’day Kal, and I thought, “Fuck, I belong here.” That was it for me, I was one of these people now.
What is the one thing you’d tell your past self to do differently?
Probably stay in uni? I don’t know, there’s a couple of jobs that I’d say don’t bother doing that, you don’t need that experience under your belt. The most important one, and advice in terms of coming up, is don’t chase money. It’s nice, but I reckon some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in terms of jobs is doing it for the wrong motivation, doing it because it’s an extra five grand a year. An extra five grand a year is 50 bucks a week in your pocket; it’s not like you’re showering in money.
There was a good for year period there where I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing but because I was trying to get more money out of it, and I think that’s the wrong approach.