What comes to most people’s minds when they hear or think of Australia? Do images of kangaroos and koalas, beaches, sharks, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman flash inside their heads? My first ever visit to the Land Down Under earlier this year wasn’t filled with scenes from the outback or the beach, or hobnobbing with celebrities. I went there for the Australian Open (tennis is one of my many favorite sports, just in case you need to know that for some future trivia game about yours truly), but I decided to take an extended vacation (stopping by Sydney for a couple of days before heading to Melbourne), to relax and do some research, and indulge in two of my favorite things: food and drinks.

Henry Deane's Coconut Pandan Daiquiri

The Kingfisher at TMBTP (This Must Be The Place) Darlinghurst, Sydney

Australia is a mecca for amazing cuisine and drinks. They have great new world wines, fantastic dairy products, and a burgeoning cocktail scene that could rival that of any big city in the world. I was amazed by the quality of food and drink. It’s a foodie’s dream. Everything is well executed yet simple. This is partly because of their produce, which are fresh and of excellent quality. The ingredients taste like the way God intended them to taste, if that makes sense. They don’t have to do too much since the ingredients are already top notch. I’ve always said that quality ingredients go a long way.

That does not mean that bars and restaurants there are lazy and safe. Quite far from that, actually. Using the fresh produce as their base, they have been able to mix flavors and push the envelope when it comes to food, and this has spilled on to their innovative cocktails as well. There seems to be a general ease with which they cook and concoct. Nothing feels forced or trying hard, just a flow that comes across as both familiar and inventive.


Since this is still a website about alcohol, let’s get back on track and focus a bit on Australia’s drinking culture. I have been known as someone who can hold her liquor. But man, Australians can drink. And coming from me, that’s saying a lot. They drink ‘til they drop.

Australia and alcohol have a long, tumultuous history. During the time when it was still a penal colony, rum was used as currency. It was even called a “rum state.” It is speculated that the inhabitants drank more alcohol per capita during that period than any other time in human history. Rum even supposedly figured in the only military coup in Australia – aptly named the Rum Rebellion of 1808.

The Australian Pub Menu with a customary pint

The Australian Pub Menu with a customary pint

Paralleling what happened in America, there were temperance movements to reign in the rampant drunkenness of the time, the high point of which came during World War I and the Depression, when alcohol consumption decreased dramatically in the English-speaking world. But as we know, these types of movements never last and in fact cause more harm than good. The backlash against the anti-alcohol movement grew in earnest after World War II, as the drinking rates climbed along with growing prosperity, cultural shifts and immigration from Europe. “Civilized drinking,” coined as the term for drinking with food (just like with Filipinos and our beloved pulutan) and in moderation, became the norm for a while. But because of large manufacturers, marketing, and consumerism, binge drinking eventually became fashionable.

Today, Australians are more like connoisseurs and enthusiasts of alcohol than just plain drunkards. Their new world wines, beers, and ciders (this trip made a cider lover) are top of the line and their cocktails are divine.  More than the effect, it’s the social aspect and taste that drives people to drink. There has also been a shift in Australian tastes from spirits to beer, as they rank 5th in per capita beer consumption but is not even in the top 20 when it comes to spirits.

My first stop in this lush vacation in this continent is Sydney. It’s a very cosmopolitan city and a melting pot of rich cultures. I had a list of places I wanted to go to and I was lucky enough to check out several of them.

Sydney's oldest pub Fortune of War greets visitors with this funny chalkboard message

Sydney’s oldest pub Fortune of War greets visitors with this funny chalkboard message

First up is Palmer & Co. It’s a speakeasy that lives up to being called that term, tucked away in an alley, hidden from the busy streets of Sydney in an old colonial building, cobble stones and heavy hard wood doors. It has all the cool details and elements of a speakeasy: dark, candlelit, with exposed brick and period-appropriate fixtures. Even the bartender and servers were on point, donning dapper suits, suspenders and flapper dresses.

Palmer & Co's Brandy Punch A La Thomas

Palmer & Co’s Brandy Punch A La Thomas

Every time I visit a new bar, I really take my time reading the menu. The longer I read, the more interesting the menu is to me.  So, when I was in Palmer & Co., I found myself gravitating to its special section of “Lost & Forgotten Cocktails.” Being a cocktail enthusiast, the thought of experiencing recipes of the olden times gives me pleasure. My favorite was the cocktail called Brandy Punch A La Thomas. A taste of nostalgia for me is priceless. This cocktail was just what I needed. (Hennessy VS Cognac, lemon sherbet, fresh pineapple juice, raspberry cordial, citrus and aromatic bitters). The layers of this cocktail were in symphony. Tasting the cognac’s fruity spicy notes, with the right combinations to round off the edges, allowed a well-balanced, thirst quenching drink. I could not stop sipping it till I could hear my slurping through the straw. I had to order one more!


A corner interior in Palmer & Co’s Wall 

Next on the list was Henry Dean at the Pallisades, one of the newest rooftop drinking places in Sydney. With a breathtaking view of the harbor, it was ultra chic but laid back. Definitely the best place for cocktails at sunset.  This particular concept, from amazing food, extensive wine and beer list, to simple elegant cocktails, is one of the best spots I have been too.


View from Henry Dean at the Pallisades


Greg’s Grog, a tiki cocktail from Henry Dean at the Palisades

The Kingfisher at TMBTP (This Must Be The Place) Darlinghurst, Sydney

A daquiri twist with coconut notes

A few more places worth mentioning are The Australian, one of the oldest bars in the city. I had some kangaroo pizza and discovered my love for cider! I will write about cider next time!) I also checked out the Fortune of War. It’s the oldest pub in Sydney, having been established at 1828. Rockpool, by Neil Perry , was a great place as well.

That’s it for Sydney. For more Australian drinking culture info and my top picks for Melbourne read the part two of my Australian travel. Cheers!


Restaurateur, expert drinker, creative proprietor of steam punk bar Hooch, SMITH Butcher and Grill Room, Ebeneezers, Poulet Manille, and Ampersand. She wrote The Standard newspaper’s Tipple Tales cocktail and spirits column and co-hosted the Manila episode of the Travel Channel show Booze Traveler with cocktail connoisseur Jack Maxwell. She is DrinkManila’s resident mixology expert.

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