Drinking Victoria: Sven Almenning

Published on 16 April 2020

Photo: Founder of the Speakeasy Group, Sven Almenning

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

Sven Almenning has been a leading figure in the Australian bar community for over a decade. Sven opened award-winning cocktail bar Eau de Vie in Sydney in February 2010, and planted the flag with the brand in Melbourne in 2011. Now his Speakeasy Group totals eight venues across Melbourne and Sydney, with branches of Nick & Nora’s and Mjølner in both cities, plus Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in Sydney and the mighty Boilermaker here in Melbourne. Sven is also the author of Shaken, Stirred, Thrown and Flamed; Cocktails Done the Eau de Vie Way which was named World’s Best Cocktail Book at the 2015 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, and is the founder and director of Ananas, an online hospitality training platform. 

The last three delicious things I drank were… Having been in self-isolation for the past two weeks, I’m having three or more delicious drinks a day, I’d say, but some highlights from the past week include: a home-made Espresso Negroni, which is a twist on a Cold Drip Negroni we used to make at Eau de Vie; a bottle of Henri Abelé Champagne that I enjoyed with my wife; and finally some delicious Aberlour A’Bunadh single-malt Scotch.

As far as I’m concerned, the defining place to get a drink in Melbourne is Eau de Vie. I don’t know if it’s okay to mention my own stuff, but it really is my top pick for Melbourne. It has delicious cocktails, great service and the intimate setting. I am obviously super-biased – this place was built specifically to be my favourite bar. I also love propping up the bar at both Gertrude Street Enoteca, and at The European when I’m in the mood for an early afternoon vino.

When someone hands me a wine list in a restaurant, I normally pass it to someone who knows better, or I dive directly into the Champagne section which is the one area I feel super-comfortable ordering wine. If expert help cannot be found at the table, and Champagne is not the right option (if that ever happens), I will let the wine waiter or sommelier recommend something for us.

The Victorian spirit I’m loving most right now is Starward whisky. I love David Vitale’s approach to the industry and the fact that they are producing a high-quality Australian whisky at an affordable price-point.

There’s no better value in a bottle-shop in this state than Tanqueray Gin. There are so many gin brands available these days, but I find that despite their hefty price tags, few come close to the quality of Tanqueray. Just because something is made locally, or in small amounts does not mean it’s better quality than brands which have been in the market for centuries.

My favourite place to buy booze is Gertrude Street Enoteca. I love their quirky collection, the fact that I can find some great Armagnac or grappa there. Staff knowledge has always been great when inquiring about interesting wines to try as well.

I’d love to see us distilling more whisky in Victoria. I think the whisky industry has so much in common with beer and wine in terms of how we explore and enjoy the category, and while Victoria does both wine and beer well, there are only a few whisky distilleries so far. I hope there’s more to come.

My guilty pleasure from the drinks cabinet is Pedro Ximénez sherry, or some old Port. As a diabetic I try to stay away from too many sugary drinks, but a drop of sherry or Port after dinner is an indulgence I am not willing to forego.

The best or most important change to the way we drink in Victoria in recent years has been how people have embraced cocktail culture on a much larger scale than before. This is of course in line with the rest of the country, but people who 10 years ago would never consider a cocktail are now well-versed in classics such as the Negroni, Manhattan and Old Fashioned, to mention just a few.

For me, the most inspiring person in the Victorian drinks world is my business partner Greg SandersonHis work ethic is incredible and he has a strong moral compass. As a former winner of both the Bartender and the Bar Manager of the year awards, Greg is someone I look to for inspiration and guidance every day.

Tune into @edvmelbourne, @boilermakerhouse@mjolneraustralia and @nickandnorasmelbourne for the latest news on the bars, and for more of Sven’s adventures follow him at @svenalmenning.


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