The Pitch: Marionette Bitter Curaçao

Published on 26 November 2021

Photo: Marionette masterminds Nick Tesar and Hugh Leech.

The Melbourne-based Marionette pops the top off their new Negroni-perfect nectar. 

Australian spirits are now a common sight in bars across the country. Consumers have been quick to adopt the slew of gins and whiskies that have entered the fray. But when it comes to liqueurs, European players continue to dominate. Now, Shaun Byrne, Nick Tesar, Hugh Leech and Lauren Bonkowski, four veteran Melbourne hospitality professionals, are providing a local alternative, sourcing top-notch Australian fruit from independent farmers to produce Marionette Liqueurs. We hear from Nick Tesar on how Marionette’s new Bitter Curaçao came to be, and why your Negronis are about to sing. 

Who are you and what are you all about?
Our team of four is immersed in all things Melbourne hospitality, and in 2017 we came together around a simple philosophy: “Drink local. Drink seasonal”. Drinkers and venues alike were embracing local gins and whiskies, but imported European liqueurs continued to dominate bars. We saw an opportunity to create classic fruit liqueurs with an Australian twist. We’re four years and ten liqueurs in, and are no less excited about all the incredible local produce on our doorstep than we were when we first started out.

Give us the elevator pitch, what’s Marionette Bitter Curaçao?
Our Bitter Curaçao is an orange-driven take on a classic Italian bitter. It’s the locally made bitter aperitivo your Negronis have been waiting for.

Explain like we’re five: how do you make it?
It’s all about the fruit. The navel and Seville oranges that form the core of the distillate come directly from our favourite purveyor of citrus – Glen Goldup, a third-generation farmer in sunny Mildura. To this we add tinctures, teas and bitter orange sugar. The addition of tea gives our Bitter Curaçao some tannin unlike anything else pouring out there. 

What excites you about this project?
It’s a really versatile product, and the enthusiasm for it from our peers has blown us away. It already features in Starward’s bottled Whisky Negroni and Home Grown’s soon-to-be released Raspberry Negroni Spritz. The words “Marionette Bitter Curaçao” will sit proudly on the handwritten blackboards of some of our favourite neighbourhood haunts like Napier Quarter, right through to bustling venues like the Arbory, who we supply it to in bulk to avoid excess packaging waste. And to top it off, before its official launch it took home a gold at the Tasting Australia awards.

What are the perfect conditions to enjoy it?
We might have all missed a summer in Europe or two, but there’s many a long, warm afternoon ahead of us to make up for it. It’s here to reclaim those cancelled plans, missed holidays and postponed hangs with the people you missed the most.

Our after-work go-to is 60ml of Marionette Bitter Curaçao with soda, ice, and a big wedge of orange. For a local riff on an Americano, pair it with sweet vermouth; you’ll find Americano packs on our site that feature local products from Maidenii and Capi. Bitter liqueur features in endless classic cocktail recipes, but one of our favourites is the Jasmine: Marionette Bitter Curaçao, gin, and orange curaçao. Otherwise, a generous splash in bubbles makes an unbeatable spritz, or mix it with rye and vermouth for an Old Pal.

Is it here for a good time or a long time?
Both. Good times first and foremost. But the product is here to stay. 

Where can I buy it? 
Marionette Bitter Curaçao, $52, 500ml,

Full disclosure: Marionette co-founder Lauren Bonkowski is also an employee of Food + Drink Victoria, the parent company of Melbourne Food & Wine Festival.


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