Dan Gregory tips his hat to DrinkBoy’s Robert Hess

Story & Cocktail Photography by Dan Gregory

It’s with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Hobart and as you read this, I will have just settled back into Brisbane. Tasmania has offered me many things; an amazing space to bartend within Evolve, connection to an incredibly close hospitality family and most importantly, it’s the birthplace of my daughter. I will be back to this beautiful island at some point, but it’s time for a new chapter.

Now on to organising the move! I wouldn’t call myself a procrastinator, but when it comes to packing for moves, I’d have to be up there with the best of them. Placing my books in packing boxes one at a time… and I’m getting caught up reading every one of them. A job that should take an hour turns into a six-hour journey, flicking over pages I haven’t looked at for a very long time.

There’s one book that stops me in my tracks which has been very much loved. “The Essential Bartender’s Guide” by Robert Hess. It’s not a book that too many people would’ve read. I remember finding this book as I was hitting my stride with the classic cocktail movement back in 2008, the same year it was published. Looking back at it now, this book has been with me on every move I’ve made in my career and has been up and down the east coast of Australia a few times and even on a few overseas trips.

If you started bartending back in the 2000’s you might remember Mr Robert Hess from a blog called DrinkBoy which he launched in 1998 while still working for Microsoft. He was a craft cocktail fanatic who turned a lifelong passion into his full-time gig and inspired a lot of bartenders from this era. A pioneer in the revival of the classic cocktail movement, he co-founded The Museum of the American Cocktail in 2005 which seeks to preserve the history of the cocktail and the culture around it. You can even watch him mix a variety of classics with his online video series “The Cocktail Spirit” which debuted in 2007. I was addicted to these at the time and to this day find myself clicking on one every now and then.

His book is one of the reasons I fell in love with the classics. It begins with an insight into cocktail history and the many eras and of course, has a section on bartending basics. These sections can be passed by very quickly in most other books, but it is very much worth taking a closer look here. There are detailed definitions of the mixed drink families, which I think is a must know for any budding bartender. Then a nice simple section on the spirits, liqueurs and modifiers used in the drinks ahead but it avoids going down the rabbit hole with details. Now, onto the heart of the book and my favourite section, the drinks. It has a great collection of the mainstay classics, then slides into an amazing array of new and old but all with the DNA of a true classic.

You will have plenty of drinks to mix from these pages, with the specs looking sharp and good to go for most of them. The two I have made are from Mr Hess himself. The first is Champagne Antoine, if you’re like me and sometimes love your drink bone dry then this will hit that spot. Created for Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans for a Tales of the Cocktail event. I have opted out for the drink to be in a flute and instead served it in a fizz glass over ice.

The second is what I feel should be in the repertoire of any cocktail nerd. The Trident is a Negroni riff which is based on aquavit, if your bar is still waiting for their delivery of aquavit you can sub it out for a juniper forward gin. And again, Hess serves this straight up, but I have gone more towards the Negroni style and served over ice.

This book has always given me a feeling of comfort and nostalgia no matter where I am in my life. And if you find it in your hands one day, I hope it does the same for you.

Champagne Antoine 
25ml gin (I used Poltergeist A True Spirit Gin)
25ml dry vermouth (I used Noilly Prat) 
5ml absinthe (I used Bourgeois Absinthe)
120ml dry sparkling wine (I used 2015 Velvet & Willow)

Add the first 3 ingredients to a tin, 
add ice and give a quick hard shake
Double strain over the sparkling in the fizz glass.
Add ice, spray with lemon zest and discard.
Pairs very well with shellfish or Jamon Iberico.

25ml aquavit (I used Never Never Aquavit)
25ml Cynar
25ml fino sherry (I used Sa?nchez Romate Fino)
2 dashed peach bitters

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass, 
add ice and stir down well.
Strain over ice and garnish with a lemon twist.
A drink for every occasion.