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Clash of the cocktails

By Heather 8 Aug 2016

I was lucky enough to taste a range of Visa Wellington On a Plate (WOAP) Cocktail Wellington offers recently, and find out a little about the inspiration behind each.  

Before I get into the delicious details, here's what you need to know:

  • Restaurants and bars create a cocktail and matching tapa with 41 delectable offerings to choose from this year.
  • The matching tapas range from entrée-style to meaty to desserty, so there’s something for everyone.
  • Each establishment also provides a mocktail, which might match their cocktail, or be completely different.
  • There’ll be ‘standard drink’ icons around advising how much alcohol is in each creation, so you can make good choices.
  • By scoring each Cocktail you try out of 10 at CocktailWelly.com you help select the winner and enter a draw to win a Cocktail Wellington night out for you and five friends (who doesn’t want that?).
  • The inaugural competition winner last year was CoCo at the Roxy’s Fizzy Pop, matched with popcorn chicken and lollipop.
coco at the roxy Photo credit: Roxy

Naturally enough, CoCo at the Roxy are keen on winning again. Mixologist Ray is in a foraging phase at present, so it shouldn’t have surprised me to find his entry made entirely of items foraged from the south peninsula (with the exception of the Paddy Borthwick red wine foraged from the Wairarapa) - literally presenting Wellington on a [wooden] plate. With the help of the staff, who all take part in the picking, plucking and freeze-your-ass off seafood collecting.

One element of surprise is being held back until the festival gets under way, but I particularly enjoyed the delivery, the surprise umami yet sweet and silky kumara nori dumplings (I’m assuming the kumara was foraged from someone’s garden!), and the gorseflower and egg white cloud-over-the-peninsula drink. He's managed to create quite a contrast between the drier wintery depths, and the puffy clouds of a sweet summers day.

All components are edible, compostable or recyclable, and they’ve chosen to forage only sustainable items, which is honourable (there are also not many dishes to wash, so pretty crafty as well methinks). And for each drink sold, you’ll go in a draw to head out foraging with Ray sometime. If you can prise yourself away from the comforts of CoCo, that is. 

conch street Photo credit: Word on the Street

Coene’s wanted a light and refreshing entry that's fun for all ages, with a splash of summer in dark ol' gloomy winter.  So SpongeBox SquarePants it was.

Because SpongeBob lives in a pineapple at 124 Conch Street, they’ve crafted a butter pineapple rum, and matched it with fresh lime and agave - just a simple three ingredients. It comes adorned with candied pineapple (very moorish), savoury sponge (I hoped I wasn’t actually eating Bob), and a twirly umbrella (yep, definitely summery). They didn’t have eel for the croquette side on my visit, but assured me it’s a surprise against the cocktail. 

The mocktail is a totally different kettle of Bob - a Fix and Fogg peanut butter-infused Six Barrell creaming soda. Apparently it’s a drink from the Krusty Krab restaurant where Bob works. I like that it's a little left field, totally Wellington in components, and more of the SpongeBob story, rather than just swapping out the alcohol. I’m definitely going back for this during the festival (although they pretty much had me at creaming soda, to be fair).   

Their WOAP burger is also inspired by the Krusty Krab (soft-shell crab), and keep an eye out for a new cocktail menu launching soon with drinks matched to the Commander’s adventures. And some other fun additions for summer. Bring it on!

hawthorn Photo credit: Luke Calder Photography

It’s Hawthorn’s 10th birthday this year, so they’ve decided to celebrate with a little gunpowder and a very surprising take on the toastie that's been their traditional fare for all that time.  

The starting ingredient is a vibrant red cabbage sauerkraut, as head man Pete has been being trying to figure how to slip different types of vinegar into our drinks for ages. Apparently there’s all sorts - sweet, sipping, fruity, spiced – with all that vinegariness providing a pleasant cooling note as the drink goes down. Who knew? 

There’s a whole raft of other ingredients in the cocktail, including an akvavit made by another of the staff with a Scandi background, and a drizzle of Panhead Port Road Pilsner to finish. This drink is a surprise in the mouth, and very definitely brings celebrations to mind. 

The side is really quite something, and there's no way I'm going to spoil it here, so channel your inner Picasso and get yourself along to Hawthorn.

Hillside Ad Hoc salty sour Photo credit: Word on the Street

Co-owner Asher is another lad who’s super-hot on local, seasonal, fresh, and honouring the bounty of land and sea. So the Pâté de campagne is a classic French terrine of  local Longbush pork and ham hocks (the ‘hoc’ part of the entry), wrapped in house bacon, while the drink is a homage to the sea. 

There are twists to their ‘classic’ whisky sour that give a surprisingly light and refreshing result – a briney and seaweedy Isay Smokehead whisky, a little magic with egg whites and lemon for a foamy south seas cap, and a house-crafted rim of sea salt mixed with a dry caramel. Throw in a large floating ‘rock’, serve it on the rocks (literally), and you’re immediately transported to the wild south coast. 

The effort that goes into all this is impressive - 3-4 days to collect the sea water and extract the salt, 4-5 days for the terrine to mature, and a couple of days for the sourdough. That’s commitment. And typical of the teams at both The Ramen shop and Hillside

(And some sneaky insider info! These lads are diversifying - keep an eye out for Cultwinenz, a new wine shop on Murphy Street). 

Lobby Lounge cool breeze Photo credit: Word on the Street

I expected something elegant and subtle at the Lobby Lounge, and they didn’t disappoint. Head mixologist Juan Gomez is Columbian but has lived in Wellington for six years, and considers both places home - the starting point for his 'Cool Breeze' entry.  

He’s used 42Below vodka, local Six Barrel grapefruit syrup, fresh lime, and French chartreuse, which is apparently very similar to a favourite Columbian liquer (Juan assures me he's tried plenty and the French chartreuse is the next best thing!). The result is a deceptively sophisticated drink that starts lightly tangy and sweet, and then ends up lightly sour. I somehow didn't expect that, although maybe should have with grapefruit involved. Nicely done.

It was an excellent match with the falafel on tangy pickled carrot and lightly chilli minted goat yoghurt, with each component enhancing the other.

So I thoroughly enjoyed my cosy time at the Lobby Lounge away from the weather choas outside, and went home thinking of sunshine and, interestingly enough, melons.

bgr at cgr Photo credit: Luke Calder Photography

Duncan and James have done a very clever homage to BurgerWelly with their cocktail and tapa entry. And I’m already hanging out for a repeat experience. 

Their ‘burger’ is a sweet macaron from a small local bakery, with a Wellington Chocolate Factory chocolate and peanut butter pattie, raspberry ‘sauce’ and Linkwater aged mature cheddar (one Moore Wilson age themselves). And while that might sound like an odd combination, it really works. 

The ‘beer’ match is in fact mulled red wine spiced with their own salted caramel-infused rum, chilli syrup and other goodies – warming and delicious. 

CGR are also putting on a series of eight other Wellington cocktails during WOAP inspired by the different quarters of the city – Courtenay, Cuba, Lambton and the Waterfront. So there’s plenty of fun to be had here through the festival.

foxglove Photo credit: Foxglove

This creation pays homage to Pooh Bear’s 90th birthday, with a honey theme, and visions of a summer ‘picnic’ at the Beehive (one of Pooh’s favourite places). 

The cocktail has Lighthouse gin, honey syrup, lavendar, lemon juice and rhubarb bitters, giving a slightly tart finish without losing the lightness and hint of honey. Whereas the mocktail has Six Barrell ginger and soda instead of the gin, and was sweeter overall. So the cocktail contrasts the sides if you’re not a major sweet tooth, while the mocktail sweetly complements for a more full-on fix. 

The baby scone was light with delicious house-made jam, the trifle silky, and the leamington definitely honey sweetened. I certainly felt like I’d had a mini high tea respite from the cold outside.

I also suspect that one of Foxglove’s emerging secrets is chef Scarlett’s skills in the patisserie and dessert department. I certainly have very fond memories of their choux dessert burger on last year’s Dine menu.

So there you have it...

A wide variety of day, night and anytime cocktails / mocktails, and some really creative and surprising components. 

Plot your schedule, get your scoring finger ready, and don’t forget to share your images with the tag #CocktailWelly. 

And if you need some tips on how to tackle the WOAP beast in general, check out our previous post on just that topic. 

Let the challenge begin.

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