10 Question with new hotel QT Queenstown’s Cocktail Extraordinaire

QT Queenstown has only just opened its doors but already its Reds Bar is fast gaining a name for having the finest bartenders with the largest selection of spirits and liqueurs in town. Reds Bar Manager Gethin Curtis talks to Get Frank about the extensive cocktail menu he crafted showcasing a twist on the modern and forgotten, and how we can achieve the perfect summer tipple at home.

Q1: Gethin, tell Get Frank readers about your career to date. How did you end up as Reds Bar Manager?

Hospitality is something I’ve been involved in since I was 18. It was never the plan, I’m actually a qualified PE teacher, but I can’t ever imagine myself in that career path now. At first, I saw it just as a job, but quickly discovered that I was one of those people who have hospitality in the genes.

I seem to gravitate towards new projects, as I was part of the opening teams at the Wakatipu Grill in another Queenstown hotel, Ostro/Seafarers in Auckland and Jervois Steakhouse Queenstown, as well as coming on board in my current role at QT Queenstown.

As soon as I understood what they were trying to deliver here at Reds I knew I wanted to be a part of it. To be able to offer guests a cocktail list designed to stand out, the largest back bar in Queenstown, and to showcase as many New Zealand products as possible makes me feel like a kid in a candy store.

Q2: When, why and how did you develop a passion for cocktails, mocktails and drinks in general?

It all really stems from flavour. I really enjoy cooking and the combination of tastes and textures. To be able to experiment with flavour combinations behind the bar felt like a natural extension of that.

Once I decided that hospitality was for me, I really began to absorb as much as possible. Being an avid rugby player in my past life, I only ever really enjoyed a decent pint. But this world I entered opened up the possibilities of a beautifully made gin, or a mind glowingly good Central Otago Pinot Noir. I got hooked and after 15 years in the industry I still have a massive appetite to try new taste or learn new techniques. It’s a better life for me than taking a class register in the rain on a grey Tuesday in the UK!

Q3: What cocktails should we be serving our friends this year to show we are on trend?

I honestly believe that if you take the time to make a mate a drink then they will appreciate it. There is definite boom in the home cocktail kit and companies like The Cocktail Merchant can easily send out a pack for you to make great quality cocktails at home, gone are the days of the pre-mix margaritas.

Also, bartenders have been keeping a secret from you for years, vermouths and bitters are an amazing ingredient, next time you order a Martini ask for it to be served wet, the extra vermouth gives another level of flavour when paired with the right gin.

The current move towards more culinary styles of cocktail I think will continue, pairings like beetroot and bourbon, carrot juice with aperol and thyme, Pisco and turmeric are too good to miss out on.

If you really want to impress your friends, a trend to emulate would be top shelf cocktails. Good ingredients are always important, but you can take it to the next level and use some premium spirits.

Q4: What is your favourite cocktail and why?

I can’t answer that! It’s like asking a mother who their favourite child is. I always love a Negroni, it’s a classic for a reason, a Smoky Gibson Martini always hints the spot, the combination of Islay Single Malt, pickled onions and a good London Dry Gin is a great one.

At the moment, we have a great spring cocktail on the list at Reds, the Zenkuro Haru. It’s a lovely fresh springtime drink that showcases some great Sake that is made here in Queenstown. The recipe is as follows:

50ml Zenkuro Sake

10ml Fino Sherry

15ml Lemon Juice

15ml Dill Syrup (1 cup of sugar, two cups of water, 2 big handfuls of dill. Lightly boil until the sugar dissolves)

Two bar spoons of Frozen Peas

3 drops of Bittermens Scarborough Bitters

Shake all the ingredients with ice. Double strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a snow pea half split vertically.

Q5: Cocktail recipes frequently call for liquors by the measure of a “glass.” Just how large is this?

I haven’t come across this. I would presume they mean a standard pour which would be 30ml. Regarding recipes, I am of the mind that they are flexible, if you’re a lover of Campari, add some extra to a Negroni. I feel that sometimes this industry can be too rigid with these sorts of things, that’s not to say it doesn’t have its place but at the end of the day the customer is the one having the drink.

Bartenders should not be the guardians of the knowledge who dictate how a drink should be served, they should be available to offer advice and use their knowledge to best design a drink for any given cocktail.

As part of our Reds Cocktail Masterclass Lesson we have incorporated a concept I used in other venues, a customer is asked questions such as, what’s your favourite smell, what do you put on top of your pancakes, and is there a particular drink that you feel nostalgic about? From these answers we can tailor make cocktails for them and the guests always appreciate that custom built component.

Q6: What’s your favourite bar and why?

Reds Bar of course! Lake Wakatipu is what I stare at every day also we are so lucky with the team we have, every one of them brings something special to the table and they have a lot of toys to play with!

I have a few bars I’m dying to go visit, Parasol & Swing up in Auckland has just opened and is doing great things, BarChef in Toronto would be like a pilgrimage for me and I would love to go to my old local The Malt Shovel one more time for a real ale served in a real pint glass.

Q7. What tips can you give to stop cocktails developing a foam layer on the top of the drink after being shaken?

Essays have been written on this sort of thing. Obviously in some drinks the foam is an essential part of a drinks experience, but if you don’t want it make sure you double strain your drink through a hawthorn strainer as well as a conical strainer.

It sounds simple but you could also shake softer, some drinks require a hard shake, but a soft shake still works when it’s not required. Also, if you use smaller ice the drink will not form as much foam when you shake it. And if you have a chefs torch you can quickly pass the flame over the drink and the bubbles will disperse.

Q8. Where will you holiday this summer and why? What drink will you serve friends/family when there and why?

I probably won’t be able to get away until March and I would love to go and stay in our sister QT property in Sydney, I’ve also wanted to go and see an opera at the Sydney Opera house, so that would be a tick off the bucket list. In the meantime, I’ll probably try to get away for a night or two, I always love camping at Moke Lake and The Paradise Trust have some great cabins to hide away in.

Q9. Cocktail glassware is a mindfield, what two cocktails glasses should every home cabinet have and why?

I would probably say a good, sturdy, feels-great-in-your-hand rocks glass. It can be used for many things from a dram of whisky, a G&T through to an Old Fashioned. The second glass I would say would be a Marie Antoinette style coupe, there is something ceremonious about drinking a Martini or Champagne from one that elevates it to an occasion.

Q10. What is a project or accomplishment you consider the most valuable in your career?

I’m very proud of what we are providing to customers here at Reds, to be able to offer the range and quality that we do is very satisfying, when people walk into the bar their attention is always wrestled back and forth from the back bar to the view.

We are currently trying to figure out techniques and the delivery of a concept called Blurred Lines which will intentionally have the customers baffled. It will feature things like a Mozzarella Balloon inflated with Islay whisky air and gewürztraminer oysters dressed with mint, dill and gin. When you’re next in Queestown come and try it!

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