Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
For Quynh Nguyen, 1978 was the year his life changed – even though he was barely five years old. “1978 is the year that we migrated to Australia,” he says. “My dad passed away last year so my drink is a bit of a tribute to him, a memory of my dad for bringing us over to Australia. It was all his idea bringing us over to Australia because he wanted us to have opportunities.”
For Quynh (pronounced “Quinn”), who’s just back from dodging typhoons – and sorting out the InterContinental bars – in Fiji, Australia did indeed prove a land of opportunities. “Being Australian means freedom. It’s an amazing lifestyle. What I’ve found later in life, being Australian we’re very nomadic, we love to travel around: I really embraced that,” he says. “I’m really enjoying this stage where I’m at with my career: I’m being given opportunities to fly to another country to help create cocktails.”
Nguyen’s creation for Heering is a celebration of the 1978 move that transported his family from Vientiane, the capital of Communist, developing Laos, to the freedom, wealth and opportunity of New South Wales. Bundaberg Small Batch represents Australia; Johnnie Walker Black stands in for his father, whose favourite spirit it was. “It’s a take on a Mai Tai, it’s like a smoky Mai Tai but using the Heering as the fruity element, with the pineapple making it really nice and tropical,” Nguyen explains.
Over the last few months, Nguyen, who last worked regularly at Sydney’s award-winning Charlie Parker’s, has focused on freelancing – for clients including drinks agency Sweet&Chilli – and independent consultancy. “It allows me a bit more freedom. Because my dad passed away last year, I wanted a bit more time to be sure I could look after my mum,” he says. “It’s that aspect I like: knowing I’ve got that flexibility, knowing I can plan ahead, knowing I can say yay or nay if I want to work.”
Like so many others, Nguyen fell into bartending after pursuing a creative career – in his case, as a musician. “What I really enjoyed when I started bartending was all these stories – just delving into the cocktail world, reading all these stories about how drinks evolved and how they were created,” he says, citing the tale of the Singapore Sling. “The romance of the drink I enjoyed the most – above everything else that’s what really drew me in.”
Veteran bartender Grant Collins also proved an inspiration during his early years, when Nguyen worked under him at the White Hart. “I learned a lot working from him,” Nguyen says. “In the early stages he was the person that really showed me a lot.”
Today Nguyen is also inspired by two of the biggest trends in Australia – sustainability and native ingredients. “It’s a bit of a buzzword at the moment the whole sustainability factor. I think it’s more about being a smarter bartender,” he says. “I think one of the biggest trends now is sustainability in every facet: your life, your health, your career and the ingredients that you’re using.” (He opted for ingredients accessible to every bartender in his anniversary cocktail, rather than native favourites like finger lime or wattleseed.)
And Nguyen is positively evangelical about seeing women in their rightful place behind the bar. So much so, in fact, that he’s importing America’s women-only cocktail competition Speed Rack to Australia. “I think above everything else equality for everyone is the best thing. I think the person who’s better for the job, regardless of who they are, is the better person for the job and there’s no difference whether they’re male or female, black or white,” he says.
Speed Rack, which happens in late July, is set to be a challenge and a half – even following the template set by founders Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero. “This is the first event I’ve ever done of anything like this sort of magnitude,” Nguyen says. “I’m still like a deer in the headlights to be honest but I’m lucky that everyone’s being really supportive of it and we’ve got enough sponsors to be able to cover our costs.”
It’s the sort of initiative that would have made his dad proud. “His whole premise of coming to Australia was creating a better life for us then we could just do our thing,” Nguyen recalls. “That was his whole mission or purpose was to come here and create a better life for all of us – and that’s what I wanted to do with this drink was just pay a homage to what he allowed us to do.”
Garnish:Mint sprig & dehydrated orange wheel
Method: - Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain into chilled glass.
30 ml Bundaberg Small Batch
10 ml Johnnie Walker Double Black
15 ml Peter F Heering Cherry Brandy
5 ml Ricard
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
25 ml Lime juice
15 ml Pineapple & cinnamon syrup*
*Pineapple & Cinnamon Syrup
Juice of 1 whole pineapple with equal parts of sugar. Heat mixture and stir untill sugar dissolved. Add cinnamon quill after and leave to cool down. After one hour remove quill. Pour into a squeeze bottle and date.