Drinking Victoria: Darren Leaney

Published on 22 December 2021

Photo: Darren Leaney of Aru (image: Kristoffer Paulsen).

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

Darren Leaney has been making drinks for almost half his life. Most of that time has been spent behind the bar at storied places like Dandelyan in London, and on home soil at Dinner by Heston, Capitano and now Aru. Here’s what he looks for when he’s on the receiving end of a cold one.

The last three delicious things I drank were a blended Margarita at home. Pure escapism; I find it impossible to be mad with one of these in my hand. I like to sub the triple sec out for straight sugar to give a cleaner and more agave-led flavour profile.

Wildflower Table Beer: Low ABV, clean, bright and just delicious. Great with most foods, great with no foods. Five-star refreshment.

Gut Oggau Timotheus 2019. If I knew about wine I’d probably be able to say something like how I really liked the beeswax-y, orange blossom-y aromas and how the body and grip were wonderfully supported by the sharp acid line and this was a perfectly contemplative experience… but I don’t really. It was super yum and I drank it on my birthday. Cheers to Cult of the Vine for that little number.

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is… 
For me the defining place to get a drink in Victoria is Above Board. Grab a seat, drink razor-sharp, classically formulated cocktails and try not to get annoyed at how good everyone who works there is at chatting you up. The fit-out is comfortably international and cosmopolitan while somehow still feeling like it could only exist in Melbourne.

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant, I usually hand it to someone smarter than me. 

The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is probably the Melbourne Gin Company Dry Gin. Makes a ripper Martini and Negroni, plays well with citrus and is also tasty with tonic or soda. Plus they’re nice people and that’s always good.

There’s no better value on a wine list or in a bottle-shop in this state than …
For me it’s not so much about value for money. If you’re chasing that, local beers are so good and they also express their own unique terroir – as does water. What I love is when someone recommends something they think I’ll like, but they’re also excited about. That energy is worth going out for alone.

My favourite place to buy booze is Public Wine Shop. Warm and honest hospitality with some of the most knowledgeable staff to boot, wrapped up in a relaxing setting that I’m sure we all wish was our lounge room.

I’d love to see us planting/brewing/distilling more… 
I’d love to see more expressions of eau de vie utilising incredible local produce, including that which may not be ‘pretty’ enough for the markets.

My guilty pleasure in the fridge/drinks cabinet/at the bar is Italo Lager. There’s this little shop called Maria’s Deli in Carlton North that sells very cheap Peroni Red or sometimes Birra Ichnusa (a slightly more expensive Sardinian Lager). It’s not even guilty: they’re delicious. Also, Miller High Life and really good bourbon.

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been people drinking less or lower-ABV drinks and venues responding by making creative and delicious drinks that pack in the flavour but allow you to have more than a couple. It’s a win-win. 

For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is Nick Tesar from Bar Liberty and Marionette Liqueur. He’s got that kind of infectious energy that makes him a tour de force to be served by, to drink with or to work with. The fact he balances Marionette around almost full-time hospitality hours plus many other fingers in pies is absolutely inspiring. 

Aru, 268 Little Collins St, Melbourne, 9939 8113, aru.net.au, @arurestaurant


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