Drinking Victoria: Cara Devine

Published on 29 October 2020

Photo: Cara Devine, manager at Bomba Rooftop and host of Behind the Bar

Your guide to what’s in the glass from the people in the trade.

Cara Devine is the manager at Bomba Rooftop and host of the hugely popular web series Behind the Bar. She began working in hospitality at the age of 16, but started taking it seriously while working as a hostess in a cocktail bar in Vancouver after graduating university. “I thought the bartenders were wizards who could make anyone’s night better with a delicious drink and some good chat, and that appealed to me much more than a career in law.” After a move back home to Scotland and a job in a five-star hotel bar, she moved to Melbourne and has been soaking up knowledge from the city’s hospitality scene ever since, as well as sharing some of her own. Behind the Bar, launched in 2019, shows professional bartenders, as well as viewers at home, how to make Penicillins, Daiquiris and more, with other episodes featuring product comparisons or deep-dives on topics like Japanese whisky, vermouth and bartending tools. It has more than 70,000 subscribers and counting.

The last three delicious things I drank were…one of the greatest perks about this line of work is the constant procession of delicious things to try. I recently rediscovered my love of Springbank 10-year-old in an online tasting so that’s my go-to dram at the moment. I drank a bottle of 2019 Fontanasanta manzoni bianco from Elisabetta Foradori with dinner the other night and it was so delicious – all salted honey peaches. And my partner spiked a Black Pearl takeaway slushie with Marionette’s new blue Curaçao and saved it in the freezer for me when I had to work – coming home to a frozen blue drink on a hot day is the best feeling ever.

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Melbourne is the park, right now. Eddy and Carlton Gardens are popping off (safely!) and there are so many amazing takeaway and delivery booze options. To me, there’s nothing more Melbourne than a park picnic in sub-optimal weather. If I had to choose a place under normal circumstances though? It would be the wine bars. Gerald's, Carlton Wine RoomBar Liberty – we really nail them here.

My favourite place to buy booze is Samuel Pepys in Northcote. It’s part of our extended Bomba family so I’ve been working here through lockdown and seen for myself the amazing range of wine. Going back to paying full retail prices will be hard. Other places I visit often are The Wine Corner, which is right near my house and a great local, Mr West for left-of-centre things, or Nick’s for harder-to-find spirits.

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant, I see if they have any sherry – it’s my favourite apéritif. Then I usually hang out in the textural white or light red sections. But I’m always open to whatever the staff think is great at the moment.

The Victorian spirit I’m digging the most right now is anything from The Gospel’s rye whisky range. I was lucky enough to try one of their single barrels and it’s an absolute cracker, but even the entry-level Solera is great – spicy and chocolatey. I’m really enjoying seeing Australian whisky distillers produce styles other than single-malt, and it’s a treat to have an Australian product at a price that makes it useable in cocktails (while still being delicious enough to sip on its own).

There’s no better value on a wine list or in a bottle-shop in this state than any of the young winemakers who are making great, accessible and fun wines from lesser-known grapes in lesser-known wine regions. Dirty Black Denim’s Sunbury Sauvignon Blanc or the Heathcote Carménère are just the kind of wines you want to throw in the middle of the picnic blanket for everyone to share.

I’d love to see us planting, brewing or distilling more of anything that uses less water in Victoria. I honestly don’t know enough about farming, but I’d like to see us working more with what we already have here and what works well for the land. Adelaide Hills Distillery makes a Native Grain whisky, for example, and there’s been a move in Australia towards more Italian grape varieties, which work better for our climate. Let’s keep heading in this direction.

My guilty pleasure at the bar is pub chardonnay. I’ll appreciate lean and mineral Chablis all day long, but every now and again nothing scratches the itch like a big buttery boy.

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been drinking local. We have such amazing products being made here; we’re spoiled for choice. I think brands like Four Pillars have really helped bring that into the mainstream – that gets asked for more than Hendrick’s at the bar now! Brands like Marionette are seeing a gap in the market and making quality liqueurs from Victorian produce, the wine industry has always been strong but the variety is incredible now, we have more delicious craft beer than we know what to do with, distilleries are being built and others are hitting their stride… It’s actually one of the harder things about my web series Behind the Bar. Because a lot of our viewership is in the States, I can’t constantly use products they don’t have access to. But I know I’d like to.

For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is … every single business owner who has done their best to support their staff and suppliers this year. I know it’s a bit of a cop out but to me these people are heroes. Special mention to the guys at Covid-19 EAD who rolled up their sleeves and started making frozen meals for any hospo worker in need. The sense of camaraderie in the Victorian hospitality community has always been inspiring, and we’ve needed it in 2020 more than ever.

Keep up with what Cara’s loving right now on Instagram @withcaradevine and see all episodes of Behind the Bar on YouTube.

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