Well hello there, and welcome to another installment of Fancy Plans and Pants to Match. This is an occasional segment of my blog where I break the fourth wall and turn to the camera with a rueful shrug to acknowledge that sometimes nice things happen to me as a result of me being the best food blogger in the world. Wanting to be informative without being irritating is the mother of self-deprecation, so if you're alright with this idiot dingus taking you on a journey: come with me. This segment is named for a quote from the stirling and spry Jimmy James, a character in the sadly underrated 90s sitcom NewsRadio.
So here's the thing: In October of last year I attended the opening of aggressively rad cocktail bar Hanging Ditch, run by old mate Benji Irvine and Andy Gray, and I wrote about their cocktail selection for you. It was a lovely night, and Hanging Ditch is now a fully-fledged addition to the snug collective occupying the Hannah's Laneway precinct: once a grubby old alleyway, and now home to Goldings Free Dive, Six Barrel Soda, Leeds Street Bakery, and much more.
The pitch: Time has moved appallingly fast and it's suddenly late June, the upshot of which is the Hanging Ditch has an updated cocktail list for your winter imbibe times. I was invited to try some and to share my thoughts, feelings, and interpretive dance moves about them for you.
What happened: The updated menu favours a more wintry vibe - cocktails best drank in our current icy-as climate. Having amassed some serious quantities of experience in some of the best places in town to drink; you know you are in safe hands with this team and that they are 100% not mucking around.
The drinks I tried included...
Hair of the John: Jamesons, tomato juice, cracked pepper, honey, garlic, Cholula hot sauce and Worcester sauce. A Bloody Mary made special with the robust flavour of Jameson's Irish whiskey and the mellow, floral sweetness of honey. My favourite is usually the Bloody Maria, which uses tequila in place of the usual vodka - there's something about tequila which makes it so friendly to salty, savoury flavours - but this variation was a revelation and a perfect start to the evening. A garnish of flamed rosemary added smokiness and herbal depth.
A Year Abroad: Papaya, Bourbon, Aperol, lemon, rhubarb bitters, albumen. As well as being incredibly pretty - a kind of rosy peach concoction topped with an airy cloud formed by the albumen (or egg white, in the common tongue) this tastes SO good. Aperol is like a gentler Campari - less sticky and bitter - and that plus the caramel sweetness of the bourbon is delicious against the lemon juice and zingy kiss of rhubarb bitters and the fruity papaya. I am a huge fan of classic sours featuring lemon juice and egg white - if you're not used to it, yeah it might sound weird but the egg white simply blends anonymously into the drink and creates the most lush, silky texture and thick froth. I know you've all eaten brownie batter or cookie dough while you're baking, so uncooked egg shouldn't freak you out so long as it's free-range and you're not like, allergic. Back to the drink though: OMG yes.
Quarter to Three: Beefeater 24, Picon, Yellow Chartreuse, Fernet Branca, Lactart. So much going on here to catch my interest - first of all I love Beefeater gin, secondly I was intrigued by the use of yellow Chartreuse since I only ever use the green stuff, thirdly I'm a Fernet magnet (not a magnate, alas), fourthly what even is Lactart? So! Lactart is this lactic acid extract stuff, a few mere droplets of which allows you a similar sourness to several spoonfuls of lemon or lime juice. This drink was fascinating - there's a lot of different alcohols jostling for position here but it was all incredibly balanced, with just the slightest nudge of mint from the Fernet. I liked how the bursts of orange from the elaborate garnish and the Picon were complemented by the acidity of the lactart - this is one hell of a drink, people.
The Muffin Man: Raisin Cognac, homemade gingerbread syrup, lemon, orange bitters. Just as the Hair of the John was the perfect kick-off, this was an excellently puddingy finish - cognac already has raisin vibes, so doubling down on that, plus the spice in the gingerbread syrup, made for a very wintry, richly flavoured cocktail. The gingernut biscuit astride the glass was rendered delicious once soaked in the alcohol. Basically this is the cocktail equivalent of sitting by a roaring fireplace while someone strokes your hair.
Also of note - the Resperation remains on the menu, which I described last time as tasting like that moment when the couple on a TV show that you love finally kiss after you've been waiting for them to do it for ages. I also tried some butter-infused 666 Vodka which was every bit as wonderful and up my alley as it sounds.
The best bit: great chats with Benji while watching him make all the cocktails; shout out to the bar stools for being stupidly comfortable with surprising lower back support.
On a scale of 1 to Is This The Real Life, Is It Just Fantasy: Okay so as I said last time I wrote about this place, this gets a 1 out of 10, but that only means that while I had a fancy time this is definitely a place I hang out at of my own accord and drinks I'll buy for myself. That's a good thing!
Would I Do This Again For Not-Free: have, and will. Can enthusiastically vouch for their negronis and daiquiris, by the way.
Earnest Thanks For Making Me Feel Fancy To: Hanging Ditch, which you can find next to Goldings at 14 Leeds Street. They operate Tuesday through Sunday from 3pm till midnight and it's a damn charming place to hang out.
PS: read all of the Fancy Plans and Pants to Match archive here! It's great.