When I found out Der Raum was doing a degustation for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, I was intrigued; I’d wanted to attend one of their sessions for a while, so when I found out that one of these was on my birthday, I had to go! So my drinking buddy Nick and I booked tickets. I apologize for the blurriness of the photos; this is a product of low lighting and a small camera.
We arrived a bit too early, and I was greeted with a few happy-birthdays from the bar staff. Whilst waiting for the degustation to start I had a celebratory Tobago Sour, a Trinidad Sour variant created by head bartender Josh Begbie. My memory is a bit hazy, as this was almost a month ago, but I think they differ in that the Tobago Sour is sweetened with Cointreau and gomme syrup and contains egg white; I suppose the egg white is here to thicken the mouthfeel like orgeat does in the Trinidad. To be honest, I preferred the Trinidad Sour, the egg white texture didn’t work so well for me in this drink (which is unusual for me, as I chuck eggs in anywhere I can really) and this seemed a bit drier and more Angostura-dimensional (as I can’t bring myself to say Angostura bitters are anywhere near one-dimensional). Now for the official start of the degustation…
Amuse Bouche: Sous Vide Garden Negroni
This little bit of cocktail hors d’oeurve consisted of sous vide infused fruits served on an ice bed with herbs; gin-infused melon, campari infused grapefruit and, best of all, Carpano Antica Formula infused watermelon. Apart from the vermouth watermelon, the flavours didn’t wow me too much here, but the paddy herb and thyme were tasty to nibble on whilst waiting for the next course…
Beer on the Beach: Tequila / Grapefruit / Coriander/ Weiss bier
The boys at Der Raum have put their wackiest foot forward here. The basis of this drink was a kind of tequila-Hemingway Daiquiri, with tequila, lime, grapefruit and maraschino. I wasn’t looking that closely though, and seemed to taste a hint of Chartreuse (though this could’ve been illusory). This part of the drink is shaken and strained into a nonic glass, then topped up with a delicious coriander and Hoegaarden foam (more accurately a witbier) and served on a board with sugar and breadcrumb “sand”, sea salt “air” and beer nuts.
This was delicious and one of my favourites of the night. The beer foam is a really great idea and contributed a unique aroma to the drink. What lay below had a complex, balanced and refreshing flavour profile. The garnish was a lot of fun, the salt air was a bit harsh by itself but paired interestingly eaten with the semisweet crumb sand.
Honey Hay Fog: Honey / Toasted Hay / Tequila / Lemon / Agave
(note that in the picture above I had already imbibed half of my libation)
Another tequila drink! This was masterful, and quite possibly my favourite course here. Essentially a lemon tequila sour sweetened with honey and agave syrup, with some toasty hay flavour thrown in (maybe infused into the tequila? I did not chcek), all topped off with a honey hay “flavour fog”. The flavour fog technique is achieved by dropping some dry ice into a tasty liquid; as the carbon dioxide sublimes, it somehow draws flavours in the liquid with it and forms a heavier-than-air fog in the vessel. The fog is then poured into your drinking chalice of choice, where rich aromas now await your nasal passages. The fog tends to dissipate after a bit of time though, so keep the vial of fog handy for easy replenishment, and use a glass that tapers at the top.
This drink presented another rock solid flavour combo; the inclusion of toasted hay is the tastiest kind of gimmicky. I always dig it when bartenders sucessfully incorporate flavours rarely seen in the realm of cocktails or, as in this case, (human) food in general. Another example would be Murmur’s Kickin’ Koala, which pairs eucalyptus with Drambuie.
Intermission: House Manhattan Marmalade
Halfway through the degustation, and some nibbles were in order. Enter Luke’s Manhattan Marmalade. It’s exactly what it sounds like; a good old fashioned chunky orange marmalade, but it also tastes like a Manhattan. I wasn’t such a big fan of this, but my drinking buddy Nick absolutely loved it. The cherry on top is that we got to keep the rest of the jar!
Commencing the sweeter half of the degustation was this here tipple. Carpano Antica Formula vermouth was built into a fizz in a tumbler, whilst a popcorn rum flip was whipped with liquid nitrogen to produce ice cream. Spoon the frozen flip into the fizz, et voila, a popcorn rum spider! I didn’t like this that much but it was one of Nick’s favourites.
Other icy treats I’ve had at Der Raum in the past include a lemon and avocado ‘margarita’, and their Islay Ice-Cream, which I heartily recommend to any fans of Ardbeg. I think it’s made with Ardbeg 10, a dash of Peychaud’s, an egg and some maple syrup, all nitro whipped then topped with paprika powder. That’s one of my all time Der Raum favourites.
Custard Appleccino: Rum / Lime / Cinnamon / Custard Apple
Winding things down a bit, we were served this little hot treat in a cute espresso cup. This was a sweet dessert drink made with Appleton V/X, lime juice, spices and custard apple puree, all heated with a steam wand and topped with a blow-toasted scoop of marshmallow. This was really nice! Interestingly the underlying mixture is actually quite dry, the sweetness comes from drinking the marshmallow.
Farewell: Suspended Rum Trio
They couldn’t've ended this on a better note! Havana Club Anejo Blanco, Mount Gay XO (I think?) and Ron Zacapa Centenario 23, jellified with a touch of sugar and citric acid. A ‘molecular’ classic concept lovingly pinched from Heston Blumenthal’s whisky wine gums. The texture was sticky and chewy, and the flavours and nuances of the spirit dislpayed in much the same manner as in an Old Fashioned or Daiquiri. The treatment was least successful for the Zacapa unfortunately, which had a dull character next to the other two (and I’ve never had it neat, so I can’t make that comparison), which were sublime. The use of citric acid instead of fruit juice allowed the sweetness to be balanced without adding any flavour or risking detrimental juice oxidation. I would be interested in trying to make a “sour” style cocktail with citric acid in place of the citrus juice to replicate this flavour profile.
Anyway, I would definitely recommend doing a Der Raum degustation; it’s great value for money (this session was $50 for members and $70 for non-members) and the bar team is always hard at work looking for new flavours and techniques to incorporate into their craft. Just make sure you book early with them lest you miss out.