Melbourne Cocktail Festival Year One

Words by Jane Ryan

Photography by MCF

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As the dust settles on Melbourne Cocktail Festival’s first year, we caught up with organiser Orlando Marzo to discuss the highlights and learnings as well as the importance of Melbourne having its own event to celebrate and elevate its world-renowned hospitality scene.

Congratulations on pulling off Melbourne Cocktail Festival year one – what was your personal highlight?
Orlando: All in all, it was really amazing, there were so many events, and so much work and effort went into it. The highlight was having a very successful first festival – we knew we started with an ambitious idea to put a spotlight on Melbourne’s bar scene and it couldn’t have happened without the support of the bars who put on the events.

Why did you start the festival and did it meet your hopes and expectations?
Orlando: I wanted to put the spotlight on Melbourne, and its hospitality. For its first year, the festival definitely went beyond what I hoped it would be. What we really wanted was to have other people excited, and I think we achieved that.

Splash was such a successful event, I didn’t expect that many people to attend, to be honest. We knew we had to make it stand out from all the tastings and ambassador visits that bar managers see everyday and adding the element of the punch competition seemed to work for both trade and consumers. It was also important for us to engage consumers from year one because if we grow without them then our knowledge is not transferrable and we lose the purpose of what we’re learning.

What has the feedback been like?
Orlando: Feedback has been really, really great. My favourite was when someone told me the festival feels like it was part of Melbourne already.
The Bar Safari had a much more positive response than we thought it would. That idea doesn’t always translate from city to city in these kinds of events, but it worked out very well. Lots of people went for an aperitif at one bar, then went for dinner and ended the night at another bar – which is a great way to experience Melbourne hospitality. As for the speakers, the diversity of what they brought to the Symposium has been praised by nearly everyone there.

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Are you already planning and getting excited for year two?
Orlando: We are already putting together our thoughts for next year as we really want this festival to be engraved into an annual Melbourne event. Of course the plan is to make it better each year; more exciting, fun and educational.

What would you like to see repeated for year two?
Orlando: The Symposium will definitely be repeated. Getting all those experts in town, showing we have a bright city, I believe was paramount to year one and will be again. The next challenge is how we can put together a new panel all about what is going to be relevant next and what else we need to listen to.

What was your biggest learning from year one?
Orlando: One thing we wanted to do in year one, but weren’t able to stretch to, was having more well-being. It’s certainly something we’ll be exploring next year, whether it’s morning sessions with activities for physical health, hosting yoga classes or looking at creativity, it would be great for us to interact that way as well. We touched on this point in one of the talks at the Symposium, and it’s important to look at the bigger picture of the industry and explore how we can avoid burning out.

What was the most inspiring talk for you at MCF?
Orlando: I think everyone piqued my interests and inspired me in what they were saying. Because of my job and day to day experience, I think I related the most to conversations around hospitality the connection we have with each other. I really liked Paige’s talk about empathy and connection. She really hit upon a great point when she spoke about being a better person at work and understanding the role of being a manager, it was really impressive.

What was the best drink you had during MCF?
Orlando: I really loved one from the Foraged Flight event with Matt Whiley and Luke Whearty at Byrdi that used karkalla or Australian pig face. Super tasty we even suggested to Luke that he puts it on the menu.

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Were you pleased to see Sydneysiders at the events as well?
Orlando: This has been a bit of an element of surprise for us, that others from Sydney would come and even people from the non-alcoholic side of the drinks industry, kombucha particularly, saw an opportunity to be involved in our first year. We had bartender from Brisbane as well which was great. Ideally, we want to push the message about Melbourne interstate and internationally and have the city recognised as a point of attraction and an epicentre to look for every year.

What can we do to keep the momentum up following such a great week of inclusiveness and togetherness in the industry?
Orlando: I believe in the purpose of the event itself, and I know it doesn’t take just five days to change the way we drink and think about drinking. So we will be doing smaller events all year round called For Good Measure to grow the hospitality scene in Melbourne together. Our first one is on the 23rd March at Worksmith and will be a smaller panel, a more intimate setting if you like, with Luck Whearty from Byrdi, Tash Conte from Black Pearl and Devilla McGowan from Anther Gin to deep dive into what it takes to thrive in Australian’s bar and beverage scene.

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