Jacob Briars – Vodka Professor, 42 Below

“The first site that I really came across was At the time, the Editor of Wired, Chris Anderson, had just visited New Zealand and so, of course, it was in the news. You’d go there and in the top right-hand corner there was a site called ‘Hot Wired’ which was where they dealt with all of the stuff that wasn’t specifically related to technology and the Internet, but all of the kind of stuff that people who lived in places like San Francisco and Seattle were supposed to be interested in. There was a small site there called ‘Hot Wired Cocktails’ by a guy called Paul Harrington who’s no longer a bartender. It was a site where he was delving in and week-by-week there would be a brand new cocktail and it turned me onto the world of all these classic drinks. Before then, I never really knew that you could have a Margherita and it wouldn’t have to have come out of a blender. That there was a classic traditional way to make it. That the great cocktails that you were supposed to know were the Manhattan and the Martini and the Mojito. So I’d trot off with my flatmate and our backgammon board to the Matterhorn that had just opened on Cuba Street and try and test them with half of these classic cocktails that we were getting off the Internet. It probably helped them in some way – although I’m sure at the time, they thought that I was a pretentious little shit. Eventually they hired me! I guess the biggest way to explain the difference is, a lot of what was happening in the cocktail world was that they were going to second-hand stores and finding the cocktail books from the 1920s and ‘30s and even as far back as 1862 and the first printed cocktail book. In New Zealand we had none of that. We had come so close to Prohibition that we had the ‘Six O’Clock Swill’ and the cocktail books that had been published after the end of six o’clock closing, they were usually guys with big hair making drinks with cream and crème de menthe. They were like failed lounge singers. What would Liberace do if he lived in Papatoetoe? He’d work at the Terraces Bar and make blended Piña Coladas. We didn’t have this world of classic cocktail books that we could go to every thrift store or second-hand store and find – whereas in the United States, particularly in California and New York, there were all these books. The Internet meant that we were suddenly only a month behind the guy who’d just gone to a second-hand store in Brooklyn and found a copy of the first cocktail book published in 1862 and had started putting them up online. The only gap between us and the reading of that book was the time that it had taken for him to scan it and enter the text online. It suddenly made us not just closer to places like New York and London where the real trends in cocktail were happening – but it also shrank time in the sense that I probably know as much about this guy from 1862, a bartender who is long dead and buried in an almost unmarked grave in Brooklyn, as I do about Rob Muldoon and David Lange... and I say that with some assurance because I studied politics so it’s not like I know nothing about them. It shrunk time and it shrunk the world and what it’s enabled us to do is almost to create the golden age of cocktails. But it meant that, once upon a time, the golden age of cocktails had to be somewhere close to ice and close to the population and somewhere usually on the Atlantic because that’s where all the products were coming from. Thanks to the Internet, we can make all of these forgotten products – all the vermouths, bitters that haven’t been made for 120 years – and they can be made in Wellington and Auckland and Queenstown. I, by no means put it in the same league of scale of social change, things like Facebook and Trade Me, but it’s certainly something very, very small that simply wasn’t viable 20 years ago. Bartenders who started 15 years before me were still making drinks that had their heyday in the 1960s and I was able to start making drinks that were both very forward looking but also very backwards looking... and it’s simply thanks to a dial-up connection.”


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