A cocktail and industry mastermind is coming home. After working in Singapore for almost 4 years, and receiving more than 10 awards in 3 years’ time, Luke Whearty is heading to his hometown Melbourne to open up his new project BYRDI. Luke is known as one of the most forward thinking persons in the Industry and his BYRDI bottles can already be found in bars around the world. With is mind set to focus on only local ingredients we can expect some of the most unique Australian cocktails to be found in Melbourne soon. Will he be recreating his mums homemade Baileys for his bar? One of Luke’s guilty pleasures…
Interview Luke Whearty
- What kind of education did you do before you ended up in the drinks industry?
Went to Coffs Harbour High School in N.S.W and the went on to study a Bachelor of Psychology at Southern Cross Univeristy.
- What made you want to focus on the drinks industry?
At first it was just a job that I found myself liking because I could work nights and then surf all day. Slowly the creative side of bartending and making drinks took over though and I decided to make a career out of it.
- Who is the person that inspired you the most?
So many people to be honest but I would have to say my younger brother and my childhood friends. Growing up I was always surrounded by inspirational and creative people.
- Best cocktail book written?
The Modern Cocktail by Matt Whiley
- Best Non-cocktail book you would advise everybody.
Perfume, Story of a Murderer by Patrick Susskind.
- Which cocktail are you most proud of?
Its actually a drink inspired by the above book called Perfume. It’s a gin based cocktail with lavender, citrus and distilled jasmine and it basically tastes and smells like fresh jasmine blossoms and is Spring in a glass. I love it because Jasmine is only blooming a few weeks a year so we only serve it during this time. Its gives us something to look forward to each Spring.
- What’s your favorite classic cocktail to drink?
- What’s the most easy and tasteful drink to make and drink?
Also the Americano.
- Favorite glass to drink from?
- Why is a glass that important for a drink?
The glass contributes so much to a drink. From aroma to even the feel of it in your hand it all influences the experience.
- Glass: Durable or Fragile?
Hah hah as a bar owner I would say durable. As a customer I would say fragile.
- Glass: Classic and simple or outspoken?
I think a bit of both. You can be outspoken but still remain classic and simple.
- Of which achievement are you most proud?
The birth of my son Bronson.
- You’re going to open up a new bar soon in Melbourne; Byrdi. How is this bar going to be different than your other bars?
I guess the biggest difference is it will be truly seasonal and have a strong sense of provenance. For example we may only use certain ingredients that are at their peak for a few weeks in the year. We will also be using a lot of different preservation techniques and using fermentation to our advantage to use things from previous seasons. Basically it will be a bar that you have to come and visit to experience because it wont be able to be replicated anywhere else.
- What style of cocktails will you be serving?
We will be stripping things back quite a bit so in appearance the drink may seem simple but it will actually be quite complex. For example on of the drinks we are working on is simply called Apples & Pears and will be based entirely around those two ingredients but manipulated in a variety of ways such as being smoked, distilled, fortified and fermented all the while using specific varieties of fruit from local orchards.
- What style of glassware will you be using in your bar?
Our glassware style will be quite minimalistic and understated to allow the liquid inside to really shine however there will be a strong focus on having glassware that not only compliments the drink aromatically but also offers something in terms of texture and how it feels in the hand.
- What is your main goal of your new bar?
To showcase the amazing and diverse produce that we have here in Australia that is grown by the passionate farmers and producers that quite often don’t get the credit they deserve for their hard work.
- The most underestimated drink in the industry?
It is possibly our greatest resource as a society and its importance is often underestimated. Also on a basic level in hospitality its surprising to me how often people don’t provide water to their guests. In my opinion it is an absolute must.
- What’s your guilty pleasure drink?
Baileys, my mums homemade stuff though, not the commercial one.
- Which ingredient will be used far more in the future?
Anything local. I think people are starting to shift their mentality in regards to exotic imported ingredients. Because of the nature of globalization these ingredients aren’t as exotic anymore as they are more readily accessible. People are going back to using what is growing around them and creating unique experiences around that.
- How will the current and future trends chance the current bar industry?
I think as I said above. Using local and seasonal ingredients to create ever evolving and adapting menus that create unique experiences that cant be replicated in other parts of the world. People will be given a reason to explore again.
- What’s your opinion on the whole simplicity trend?
The idea that less is more even though its kind of a trend at the moment its something that has been around for ages. A great example of this is the wabi sabi philosophy pioneered by Japanese tea masters as early is the 15th Which finds beauty in simplicity and imperfection.
- What your favorite bar to visit yourself?
Here in Melbourne it is a bar called Above Board by Hayden Lambert. Internationally it is Scout in London by Matt Whiley.
- Which restaurant would you recommend to everybody?
Here in Melbourne it is a restaurant called Lesa by chef Dave Verheul internationally Lyles in London by chef James Lowe.
- If you could go back in time and change any existing/classic cocktail glass, which glass would you change and why?
If I had the ability to go back in time changing a cocktail glass would be the least of my concerns.
- If you could travel back in time, who would you like to meet and why?
Id go back to meet myself to give the younger version of myself the heads-up on a couple of things.
- After simplicity and the non-alcoholic trend, what will be the next big thing?
Local, local, local.
Luke Whearty & Aki Nishikura are bar operators, restaurant innovators and drink creators. Creativity is evident in everything they do, and they do it with passion. Between them they have over 20 years’ experience. And what an experience it’s been. They’ve travelled far and wide, each new place shaping them along the way, and ultimately leading to their latest venture, BYRDI.
There’s a bar on the horizon, and BYRDI bottled cocktails are already available in selected bars and restaurants.
Luke and Aki have travelled the world and gained a wealth of accolades along the way. They’re at the forefront of forward-thinking minds in the world of bartending, and have presided over some of the most progressive drinking programs.
Luke cut his teeth (so-to-speak) at the internationally acclaimed Der Raum, as head bartender, winning multiple awards.
2009 – Winner – Cocktail List of the Year, Australian Bartender Awards
2010 – Winner – Cocktail Bar of the Year, Australian Bartender Awards
2011 – Winner – Cocktail List of the Year, Australian Bartender Awards
2012 – Ranked No. 1 – World’s Best Bars
2012 – 3 Glass Rating – The Age Good Bar Guide
Luke then made the move to South East Asia where he worked alongside Chef Ryan Clift at the highly acclaimed Tippling Club. While Aki trained under her father Hiro Nishikura, at arguably Melbourne’s best traditional sushi restaurant, Shira Nui. Coming back together they joined forces again in Singapore opening Oxwell & Co in 2013, with celebrated chef Mark Sargeant. After establishing this as a mainstay in Singapore’s bar and restaurant scene, they went on to open a trail blazing cocktail bar by the name of Operation Dagger.
Created in a basement space, Operation Dagger is an experimental and innovative bar, pushing boundaries with new equipment, culinary influences and techniques. In its first few years of trade, it made waves around the world.
2015 – Winner – Best New Bar, Singapore Bar Awards
2015 – Top Ten – Best New Intl. Cocktail Bar, Tales of the Cocktail
2015 – Top 30 – Greatest Bars in the World, Conde Nast Traveller
2015 – 57th Best Bar in the World – Drinks International
2016 – Winner – Most Creative Cocktail Program, Singapore Bar Awards
2016 – 7th Best Bar in Asia – Asia’s 50 Best Bars
2016 – 21st Best Bar in the World – World’s 50 Best Bars
2017 – 6th Best Bar in Asia – Asia’s 50 Best Bars
2017 – 24th Best Bar in the World – World’s 50 Best Bars
2018 – Top Ten – Intl. Bartender of the Year, Luke Whearty, Tales of the Cocktail
2018 – Top Ten – Best Intl. Cocktail Bar, Tales of the Cocktail
B Y RD I (Melbourne, Australia)
Luke and Aki’s latest creation has taken them back to their hometown Melbourne, Australia. It’s still in the making opening soon in September 2019, but you can expect the local environment to inform the drinks at the new bar, and a concept that’s uniquely Australian. BYRDI bottled cocktails are already stocked in selected bars and restaurants, so get a taste of what’s to come, early.