At midday on a Sunday morning last month, an excited crowd of people entered Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall on Caxton Street to drink as many spirits as they could. This wasn’t a daytime drinking contest, it was Brisbane’s first Indie Tasting. A showcase of weird and wonderful spirits from Australia and around the world, Indie Tasting attracted enough interested tipplers in Sydney last year to make the trip north. Although the event is predominantly geared towards industry types – distributors, shop owners, bartenders – the doors at Lefty’s were open to all and the distillers were happy to show their liquor off to anyone.
The event certainly suited the sprawl of the venue. The main bar and balcony area became the tasting hall, with obligatory burgers and chips (along with more booze) served upstairs in the Mermaid Bar. For the educationally inclined, Lefty’s small front bar featured seminars on the finer points of mezcal, craft spirit production, and even a look at coffee from a bartender’s perspective. Of course, the stage could hardly go unused, and live music turned out to be the icing on the fascinating, yet boozy, cake.
Alongside familiar independent labels, such as Gin Mare, The West Winds, and Beenleigh Rum, were newer and more obscure brands including Young Henry’s Gin, Mr Black coffee liqueur, and Melbourne Moonshine. In fact, there were a few different moonshines on offer, but none more American than an apple pie-flavoured effort from Ole Smoky, which, in true homebrew fashion, comes not in bottles, but in jars.
Aside from gin, whose popularity clearly isn’t waning, mezcal was a major feature, with a large selection of bottles to taste, including a few which were on offer for the first time in Brisbane. Bars are experimenting more with mezcal, tequila’s big brother, which typically has a smokier, almost scotch-like flavour.
Another first at the event was the appearance of Vantage Australia, an attempt to create a genuinely Australian national spirit using native ingredients and flavours. This sounded like the alcoholic equivalent of throwing another shrimp on the barbie – until recently, the brand was mainly available at airport duty free shops – but the lemon myrtle and pepperberry blended nicely with the base flavour of mandarin.
There was even something for soft drink lovers, with Fever Tree hosting a seminar on the importance of mixers and offering tastes of their entire range, much of which is still not readily available outside bars and boutique bottle shops. Their pitch – that when three quarters of a drink is the mixer, as in a G&T, that mixer had better taste good – certainly resonated with the audience of distillers, bartenders, and drinkers.
As the event wound down in the early evening, two of those drinkers, more mellow than they’d perhaps intended to be, faced a tough decision: double down and stay out on Caxton Street, or go home and sober up for Monday? The latter option won out, but not before a visit to that other pillar of Caxton Street nightlife, Harry’s Fine Foods. It may not be craft or artisinal, but it certainly is independent.
Top image credit: @leftysmusichall Instagram
Review by Kit Kriewaldt