There is always a time for a cocktail. For some, it is more often than not. Others sip them whilst enjoying lunch or dinner with friends and some might fall into the category of only having a cocktail once in a blue moon. That said, we all have our spectrum of drink choices, but can we agree that the cocktail is where we all, as a drinking collective, mutually meet at some point?
One guy who has made his passion in constructing cocktails is Adam Bastow. And he’s been doing a pretty fine job of it, too. Heading up the bar at ever-popular Etsu Izakaya Japanese eatery in Mermaid Beach, and now also Iku Yakitori in Burleigh Heads, has helped make Adam a prominent figure on the Gold Coast cocktail scene. Not to mention his successes over the last few years in domestic and international cocktail competitions.
Quite the understated character and not really a man to blow his own trumpet, we thought it fitting to track down and find out more about the Englishman, who in turn is helping push the local bar industry very much in the right direction…
How did you end up on the Gold Coast?
Classic story of boy meets girl. She was English and her family migrated to Adelaide, so yeah, I came over and thought I’d give it a shot. We separated though, and I found my way to the Coast shortly after.
What’s your opinion of the local cocktail & bar scene, & what made you want to stay?
In my opinion, the Gold Coast is simply just the best place to live. I’ve been here seven years; every time I leave I look forward to coming back. People argue there's no culture here, but there is. There’s the culture of having a mid strength beer at two o’clock in the afternoon in your thongs, and that’s as culturally relevant as having a siesta in the Mediterranean! There has been so much happening in the food and drink industry here in the last five years, it’s only going one way. Also, the fact that in this area we have some of the best produce in the world and great ingredients to play with—we get them fresh, whereas they are transported to Sydney and Melbourne.
At what point did you look at bartending & think, “Yeah, I want to do this for the long haul”?
I think it was when I first came over and I was in Adelaide. I was meeting all sorts of great people and, for me, the industry was, and still is, fun. It pays fairly well and is just a useful skillset to have. I love the aspect of being a host and that you can meet all manner of people—you have the ability to incorporate them into your network of people. And at the same time, just get really into mixing drinks, cocktails and the kind of science behind it all.
Mixologist or bartender?
Bartender. Mixologist gets thrown about a lot, the term kind of excludes you from everyone else; anyone who puts alcohol in a glass behind a bar however they do it, is a bartender. There’s no need for the other term.
What excites you most about where you work now?
At Etsu it’s all about the pace, it’s a busy beast of a place. It’s a really fun environment and it’s always a challenge, you can’t really drop the ball in there, not even for a minute. Iku is a new venue, so it’s exciting figuring out how to keep pushing it forward and bettering ourselves.
What bars & people in the industry do you think are doing a stand-out job?
There are a lot of talented bartenders on the Coast. A guy called Tom Angel has been getting himself out there and competing on the national stage, which is awesome. Terry O’Donnell is also getting himself out there with his really cool mobile cocktail party business, The Irish Shakes. Cory Hodgson, who works at Lockwood is another. He’s quite young but is super keen and if he keeps the momentum will be one to keep an eye on. As for bars, Lockwood is bringing back whisky as a category to the mainstream in a really cool speakeasy fashion. The Cambus Wallace and The Scottish Prince do stand-out jobs as well; worth mentioning Tim Hoult, he’s pretty handy behind a bar. It’s great to see we now have certain bars being known for certain styles of drinks, meaning you can really have some different nights out if you want. And Aprés Surf in Mermaid Beach, I really like what they are doing there and the vibe of the place, they host some cool parties too, simply because they’re cool dudes!
Is there a specific aspect of bartending that really gets you fired up?
I really like seeing a project coming together. I like to have interesting conversations with people and maybe change their opinions of certain drinks and spirits. I also like messing with people! Recently we developed a completely clear espresso martini, which really baffled some people. I just thought, ‘what is one of the most ordered drinks, and how can I f*ck with it?’
How did you do that?!
I’m not gonna tell you that! It’s more about taking away than adding, but that’s all I’m saying. I love seeing people’s reaction when they see it and taste it.
Right, what’s your personal cocktail of choice in these three scenarios?
You’ve just broken up with a long-term partner:
Ha ha… some Tennessee whisky and country music, I reckon!
Out with a rad crew having a hella good time:
Daiquiris all day, and keep ‘em coming.
Sunday afternoon chill, perhaps after a big night:
Well, I have my own little hangover cure. You take an orange Berocca and a blackcurrant hydrolyte of some kind, two measures of gin and two measures of water and drink, hangover done! After that, it has to be simple on a Sunday, probably just an Aperol Spritz, something long and easy to sip on.
Tell us about your competition exploits.
I started competing about four years ago. I was fortunate enough to do some trips; Glenfiddich took me over to Scotland twice and I did a day in the distillery. I won a Bulleit Bourbon contest and they took me over to New York and then down to Kentucky, which was awesome. I won a big one with Suntory whisky and they took me over to Japan, which was an incredible experience. I think I’ve won around seven national competitions after reaching finals in 13. I’ve really enjoyed meeting new people in these competitions though, such a great pool of talent and you get to see it first hand.
In your eyes, what makes a good bartender?
You have to be hospitable, there is no point going to work in a bad mood, and if you are, get out of it—fast! Also, a bartender should never tell a customer they have ordered a drink wrong, not to be judgmental or pretentious. Don’t take it too seriously either, this is a fun job.
What’s on the horizon?
I’m going to continue working with the guys at Etsu and Iku Yakitori. We have a great rapport and we just fully understand each other and our motives. I have some ideas forming and will probably look to do something in the next couple of years, but definitely happy where I am right now.
One last pearl of wisdom?
Always have good ice. Nice solid cubes not the bagged rubbish, do this and you will always make better drinks!
Yet to discover Burleigh’s incredible new yakitori bar, Iku? Check out the goods here.
Image credit: Brooke Darling for The Urban List