YOU'VE GOT AIRMAIL
Melbourne's Bar Exuberante is bringing penpalling back in vogue with the Airmail cocktail: Angostura 1919 rum, lemon juice, artisan Melbourne rooftop honey and vintage Champagne, garnished with a letter from one of the world's leading bars. The correspondents include Artesian in London, New York's Attaboy, Die Goldene Bar in Munich and Hamburg's Le Lion. "You also get to send a letter back," says Bar Exuberante owner Matt Bax, "all included in the price of the cocktail." Bar Exuberante, 438 Church St, Richmond, Vic, (03) 9428 0055
Suddenly, discussions about milk have moved beyond the coffee literate and obsessed (breed of cow/type of feed/should you even be polluting coffee with milk at all?) and the wellness-paleo crowd (soy vs almond vs rice vs coconut). Thanks to the recent raw-milk debate, the continued campaign for the emancipation of raw-milk cheese, the countrywide discussion about whether it's ethical and sustainable to sell milk at a dollar a litre, the sudden proliferation of independent dairy companies and the appearance of an inner-city micro-dairy (St David Dairy in Fitzroy), milk is firmly on an increasing number of agendas.
Chef-restaurateur Joseph Abboud (Rumi, The Moor's Head, Moor Please) has added another profession to his CV: brewer. Hawkers Beer, his 1,400-square-metre brewery in Melbourne's north, is a collaboration with Lebanese craft-beer guru (and now Australian resident) Mazen Hajjar, and their first beer, a pale ale, nabbed a people's choice award within hours of being made. Coming soon: a saison, an India red ale for the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular, a "collaboration" brew with the guys at Evil Twin, Baird Beer, Edge and Kaiju, and a bar. Hawkers Beer, 167 Henty St, Reservoir, Vic, (03) 9462 0650
PLAYING THE FIELD
The old-fashioned winemaking practice of "field blending" - growing, harvesting and fermenting lots of different varieties of red and white grapes together to create one wine - is making a comeback in Australian vineyards. Look out for field blends from the likes of Cape Jaffa, Between Five Bells and Margan.
Ali Burgess decided against a speakeasy-by-numbers or faux-Brooklyn vibes for his new London basement cocktail den, Original Sin, keeping it classic, with wood and brick, deep-red leather seating for 45, and 18 counter-long stools. Unlike Happiness Forgets, his much-loved bar in Hoxton, it has standing room and a pool table. Tap up the all-girl team for their house twist on the Manhattan, the San Sebastián: rye and amontillado laced with maple syrup and bitters. Original Sin, 129 Stoke Newington High St, London.
'TIS THE SEASON
One of the most exciting - and delicious - developments in Australian craft brewing is the move away from an obsession with hops towards a focus on special strains of yeast. The classic perfumed, rich yeasty beer style is called saison, and no one does saison better than Melbourne's La Sirène brewery.
A PALER SHADE
We predict this could be the year the trend for "orange" wines begins to wane. Not because there won't be more winemakers willing to ferment their white wines on skins, but because the 2014 Cullen Amber Margaret River sémillon and sauvignon - that spends up to a month on skins - is so phenomenally good that everyone else might as well stop trying.
CELLAR DOOR FOR GROWN-UPS
After seeing how well the concept works in smart wine regions overseas, Crittenden Wines on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula has said goodbye to the casual tasting-counter cellar door experience, and is now offering visitors a much more civilised, sit-down tutored tasting. The reaction has been very positive - expect to see more wineries heading down this route.
BIG BOY ACTION
Despite an aversion to big-company wines among many somms, indie retailers and wine geeks, the fact is the big companies own some of the best vineyards and employ some of the best winemaking talent in the country. The revamped, retro-look single-vineyard shirazes from Mount Pleasant (owned by McWilliam's) and the Seppelt St Peters shiraz (Treasury Wine Estate) are simply some of the best bottles we've tasted over the past 12 months.
The wild and woolly Adelaide Hills enclave known as Basket Range is groaning with winemaking talent right now. A number of adventurous producers shaking up South Australia's wine scene - Anton von Klopper of Lucy Margaux, James Erskine of Jauma and Tom Shobbrook of Shobbrook Wines - have made this rolling country home, and there are exciting wines coming from the region from the likes of Gentle Folk, Murdoch Hill, The Other Right and Ochota Barrels.
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Tom Angove first filling a plastic bladder with wine and stuffing it in a cardboard cask, there's a push to take cask wine upmarket(ish) in smart two-litre packs. Look for good pinot grigio and tempranillo from The Winesmiths, and Brown Brothers' moscato in a cunningly disguised "handbag" cask.
The booming Australian craft-distilling scene takes an even more exciting turn with the introduction of great new spirits such as Grosset 45 (distilled riesling - kind of like grappa-meets-eau-de-vie ), a fine brandy (sorry, "handcrafted aged grape spirit") called Ochre from the Mornington Peninsula, and Noble Cut Gin from Young Henrys brewery in Sydney.
Bitters - both the flavouring agents and herbal liqueurs - have been cocktail-kind's big movers of late, but no bar celebrates their pungent deliciousness quite like New York's Amor y Amargo on 443 East 6th St. Sother Teague's matchbox of a "Bitters Tasting Room" is so fixated on the punchy, the herbal and - yes - the bitter, he and his fellow bartenders have ditched shaken drinks and citrus to ensure their bar's namesake is the hero.
Edited by Pat Nourse & Eliza O'Hare Words Dominique Afacan, Max Allen, Akash Arora, Sophie Dening, Fiona Donnelly, Sue Dyson & Roger McShane, Michael Harden, Kendall Hill, Natasha Inchley, Maya Kerthyasa, Shane Mitchell, Katie Parla, Besha Rodell, Maggie Scardifield, David Sly, Anthea Tsaousis & Max Veenhuyzen