Byrdi in three drinks

Published on 28 October 2019

Photo: Milk and Honey (photo: Jana Langhorst)

Say what? Melbourne Central is now home to a high-calibre cocktail bar? Location is the first of many surprises at Byrdi, the new venue from cocktail stars Luke Whearty and Aki Nishikura.

Fresh from running Operation Dagger in Singapore, a regular entry on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, the husband and wife team brings a slow and considered approach to the drinks at Byrdi. From purposely omitting brand names on the cocktail list to preserving each season’s produce for use throughout the year, Whearty and Nishikura are creating a new drinking experience for Melbourne.

“Everything here is different from what you know, but everything is different with a purpose,” Whearty says. “Even just the way we’ve spelt Byrdi is deliberate: it’s about creating a new language, finding the beauty in imperfection and things that are done differently.”

Here Whearty, a Melbourne native, talks us through the three drinks that sum up Byrdi.

Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey is a drink we never lose interest in. They’re two ingredients that are strikingly different in flavour, aroma and texture. We’ve been making it around the world for the last year, from Nigeria to Russia to South Africa, because wherever we go, there’s milk and there’s honey. Even though it’s a constant on our menus, it’s never quite the same.

Coming home to Byrdi and putting it on the menu here, the drink itself is a representation of our journey. This place is our home, so why not use ingredients from right here? The milk is from the fleckvieh cows at Butterfly Factory in Gippsland, the honey comes from Steels Creek in the Yarra Ranges, and the fig leaf brandy is made using leaves that we went out and foraged ourselves. It’s sweet, smooth and comforting.

It’s a drink we never lose interest in, and is relevant wherever we go, and to everybody that visits.

Now and Then (photo: Jana Langhorst)

Now and Then

Now and Then is the ultimate representation of seasonality at Byrdi. It’s a drink that is made with ingredients that are in season now, and ingredients that have been preserved in the past (then). Seasonality seems to be very on-trend at the moment, but we see it as more of a permanent shift in restaurant and bar culture. Owners and operators are really waking up to sourcing ingredients responsibly. Using ingredients that are in season means they taste so much better, too.

Our entire menu changes seasonally in one way or another, and Now and Then changes with it. At its core, this drink is a Highball with a Byrdi update; think of it as being closer to a twist on a Vermouth Cassis. The Now is in the form of wattle wine, which we make using wattles that are currently in bloom, and the Then is a throwback to last summer, with a mix of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries that we picked, lacto-fermented and turned into berry liqueur. We batch it, carbonate it, and there’s your Highball. The Now and Then will always be on our menu, with each season’s ingredients preceding what’s coming next. So next season you can expect to see the wattle wine as the Then aspect, and so on.

Paperbark (photo: Jana Langhorst)

Paperbark

This is our variation on a Martini. The changes are subtle but the result is a clean break from what you’d expect from a dirty Martini. We smoke Mount Zero olives with paperbark, and then press them into an oil, which we use to wash the vodka with. Then we add fermented passionfruit and Pennyweight oloroso, made in Beechworth. This drink breaks the rules, and it’s a pretty great synopsis of who and what Byrdi is.

Byrdi, Ella at Melbourne Central, cnr Elizabeth and La Trobe streets, Melbourne, byrdi.com.au