Drinking Victoria: Shay Chamberlain

Published on 27 April 2020

Photo: Shay Chamberlain of Black Pearl in Fitzroy

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

Shay Chamberlain has spent most of the last 12 years behind cocktail bars. After five years learning the trade in London, she returned home to work at Bulletin Place, Sydney, then moved on to open Big Poppa’s before making the move to Melbourne, where you can find her mixing drinks at Black Pearl. Shay was named in Drinksworld’s top 25 bartenders in 2018 and 2019, was among Australian Bartender’s Top 100 Most Influential 2019 people, and has also been an associate judge in the Australian Distilled Spirit Awards.

The last three delicious things I drank were Clarified Tiramisù Milk Punch from Capitano in Carlton. Mr Darren Leaney makes the best drinks in town, hands down. This one is dark and sultry, very clever, and the perfect finish to a meal. I was also had my mind blown by the Not Mezcal at Byrdi in the CBD. Light and crisp yet layered with complexity, I never wanted it to end. And, in a nod to our present moment, the other stand-out was a Piña Colada that was delivered to my door by The Everleigh. During these uncertain times it’s nice to know that I can have an expertly made cocktail (that I didn’t have to make) delivered to my doorstep (replete with garnish and Navy Strength Ice, no less). It’s the perfect treat to escape reality, as well as support a local business.

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Melbourne is Gerald’s Bar, Carlton North. It’s the perfect spot to go with a group or just solo. Get out of the CBD. If you have time, stroll through Rathdowne Village; it’s perfection, with tree-lined streets and terrace houses. And then there’s Gerald’s. Sit up at the bar, listen to records spinning and drink whatever delicious drop they’re rotating that day. Have a Thrown Martini, because – why not?

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant, I’ll usually go with a nice glass of something fizzy to get started while I peruse the menu. If we’re looking at wine I’ll then enlist the advice of whoever is serving me; they are the pros, after all. Looking at a cocktail list is a whole other question. Putting a cocktail list together takes time and a lot of effort. I really only drink three cocktails, but if I’m in a cocktail bar I always have a glance and try at least one drink from the list.

The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is The Old Dodger Gin, from the Bellarine Distillery. It’s a navy-strength gin (clocking in at 57 per cent ABV), so tread carefully. A classic London dry-style with a coastal vibe using saltbush, rosemary, tarragon and walnut, it’s salty and savoury and makes a magnificent Martini.

My favourite place to buy booze is Blackhearts & Sparrows. That’s my go-to; I live close by a store so it’s convenient. The team knows what up and always points me in the right direction. When I’m in the wild, wild west, however, Mr West in Footscray has a great selection of beer, wine and spirits. The agave distillates alone are worth the trek.

My guilty pleasure in the fridge/drinks cabinet/at the bar is anything frozen! At home in summer, I always have mangoes on hand, tequila and a NutriBullet. If I walk into a bar and there’s a slushie machine or a blender my mood jumps about 200 per cent with excitement. I’m not saying that all these drinks are good, but done right they’re damned delicious. 

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been the ethos of “drink less, drink better”. Guests are putting more thought into what they want to spend their money on. I think it’s great that instead of having three spirit-mixers they’d rather have an exceptional Martini made with local gin.

For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is Nick Tesar. He seems to have more hours in the week than most. You’ll find him pouring wine at Bar Liberty in a full-time capacity, he’s part-owner and founder of Marionette Liqueurs, and then in his spare time he has co-written and published not one but two fantastic books.

Black Pearl now offers cocktails to go, both for pick-up and delivery, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. blackpearlbar.com.au, @blackpearlfitzroy

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