Former chef turned bartender Dan Gregory took inspiration and technique from his time in the kitchen to become one of Brisbane’s finest bartenders.
You have been challenged to make a cocktail with Jim Beam Double Oak.Tell us about the liquid and the inspiration behind your creation.
I tried the Jim Beam Double Oak ahead of its release into the Australian market and it is god damn tasty. The signature sweet vanilla and caramels you get in bourbon are well balanced with autumn fruit, and ageing it 2 times in new charred American oak barrels comes through in the aroma and delivers a dry smooth finish wanting you to go back for another sip. The inspiration of the drink was working around this beautiful bourbon, which I wanted to enhance the rich autumn fruit flavours by incorporating granny smith apples and rhubarb. To showcase the bold oak I’m using vanilla and honey that I have cooked out to a dark caramel.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in the industry.
I was a chef before I started exploring the bar world, but I got started when the cocktail culture was making big noise in Brisbane back in the mid 2000s. At the time, the place I was working at had a good bar; it was the first restaurant that I worked at that took cocktails seriously. I started to play with flavor combinations and different ingredients with the bartenders, and in return I got to learn more about their side. I had a holiday at the same time the last Melbourne bars show was on and went down with the bar manger I was working with. That opened my eyes for what is possible to do in this line of work. When I got back to Brisbane I quit my job and started bartending. I remember thinking to myself, what the hell was I doing? I wasn’t the best at the start, but I’m glad that I stuck to my guns.
You’re currently working at The APO, tell us a little about the venue (theme, décor, cocktail menu).
The APO was Brisbane’s first apothecary, which dates back to 1862. Elie and Johnny, the guys behind the venue, wanted it not to be about one thing or the other, but to be about food, drink, music, art and ambience. They created a striking venue that blends a contemporary chic atmosphere with an experiential and innovative approach to dining and drinking. The guys in the bar and kitchen work together and help each other out with ideas for the menu that changes very regularly. Fresh produce, innovative techniques and flavour combinations are the key to our cocktails.
Are there any new ingredients that you have recently discovered and enjoy working with at the moment?
There are so many different and new ingredients I come across on a weekly basis, so it’s hard to pin point one or two that I’m crazy about because it changes so much. The thing I enjoy is exploring what I can do with each ingredient with different techniques and cooking processes. This could be as simple as using the ingredient fresh, when it is at
its peak in season or jumping back in the kitchen. You can change the texture or the flavour of what you are using; there are a lot of crazy tools and modifiers nowadays that
the possibilities are endless. It’s nice not to be pigeonholed on one thing – everyday should be a school day!
Best part of your job?
There are a lot of great things about this line of work. For me, it has been the travelling and the people you meet along the way. People you work with are like family and customers can become close friends. Not many other jobs have this in common, plus a cheeky after work beer with a bit of banter is a pretty big highlight of my day.
What has been your proudest moment behind the bar?
It has to be the first shift behind every bar I’ve worked at. I’ve been lucky enough to work at some amazing venues along the way. These places are where I love to drink at, so working at them made it very easy to enjoy. But that first shift is always the proudest; what lies ahead will be a special part of your life. I know it sounds corny, but those are some great memories to have.
And your most embarrassing moment?
Any time that I either spill a drink on a customer or a tin brakes open when I’m shaking. It doesn’t happen often, I hope it doesn’t anyway, but every bartender has done it before. It’s one of those things that you can’t help and I’ve seen some good ones. When it happens, you have that split second where you just want to drop and hide. The hardest thing to do is trying not to apologise too much, which can make for an awkward situation and pray that the person takes it in their stride and doesn’t get too upset. Those are always the most embarrassing moments.
Describe yourself in three words.
Gives good hugs.