Cloistered in the darkened hush of 1806 cocktail bar, with its plush, red velvet curtain and glittering chandeliers, head barman Nick Reed whips up a colourful concoction deftly delivered from a silver shaker to crystal coupe.
Devilishly debonair in dapper black and red, Reed is a master at technique and a mine of invaluable information, tracing the history of the cocktail from its inception in the 1600s, right up to the latest crop of new creations at 1806.
With 1806 (named for the year the term ‘‘cocktail’’ was coined) having scored a clutch of awards, they decided to raise the bar. Owner Lisa Kelly set 26-year-old Reed the enviable challenge of capturing his cocktail wisdom and enshrining it in a new book that’s part mixology guide, part potted history.
“I did a lot of writing when I was younger, but I guess it’s not something many bartenders continue,” he chuckles. “I have to thank Lisa for giving me that opportunity to follow my passion.”
Reed has delivered, with the lusciously bound book flowing like the finest of spirits, weaving through centuries of cocktail evolution, and tying it into major historical events. He lists the American Revolution as the favourite period he studied.
“Almost overnight, you went from people drinking communally, with lots of punches, to the idea of individualisation, with people wanting to have their own drink,” he says.
Reed’s favourite cocktail is the Fish House Punch. 1806’s version blends Appleton VX, Hennessy VS, lemon and caster sugar with their own peach brandy – one of over 20 ingredients prepared in-house. “Other bars make a Fish House Punch, but none will be like ours, because we make our own peach brandy,” he reveals. “We found an un-aged Armagnac and we sous-vide that with fresh peaches and a touch of sugar.”
This attention to detail helps set 1806 apart. “Even our Cosmopolitan, such a simple drink made across the world, uses our own triple sec and we have our own spin on the recipe, so it’s unique.”
For Reed, this is more than just another job, and he wants to share his expertise, even offering one-on-one classes and behind the bar experience for cocktail obsessed interns. “I want to help educate the new generation of bartenders to do things in the best possible manner, even if it takes a little extra time, like making your own ice; anything to make the drink that 5 per cent better. I want to educate consumers as well, so that alcohol isn’t always a demonic device. If used properly, it can lead to a good time and not always a hangover the next day.”
To order a copy of 1806 Cocktails go to 1806.com.au