A friend I haven’t caught up with in ages invited me for quarter to Friday (Thursday night) drinks at a local haunt. Spring has sprung in Perth, so I grabbed the chance to leave work before nightfall and have an evening of something other than yoga and reading.
One of my favourite things about Varnish on King has always been the ambiance. Outdoor bars are the norm here, so the closed-in feel of Varnish makes it unique; if you don’t know where the entrance is you’re likely to walk right by the unassuming wooden double doors during the week. Once inside, the wooden staircase to the basement level transports you to a different world of dark leather, dim lights and random taxidermied animals (like Justin Beaver, who runs the Varnish Instagram account).
Pulling up to the bar, we were greeted by friendly staff and offered water with fresh mint to start off. Given that whiskey is our bonding beverage of choice and bacon is the ultimate all-day food, my friend and I decided to try their famous “Bacon Flight,” which according to the menu is “4 styles of pork, grilled behind the bar and paired with whiskey.”
Using a sandwich maker, our bartender placed 4 slices of heaven’s gift (bacon) between two sheets of baking paper and cooked it before our eys. While the bacon sizzled, the bartender got our whiskey order together. I can neither confirm nor deny any allegations of drooling while we waited.
Finally, our lovely bartender Xander gave us the low-down; the best way to fully savour the experience is to take a bite of bacon, swirl it around your mouth to get the flavour profile, then take a sip (not a shot, a sip) of whiskey and enjoy the combination. The soda water shot in the middle of the board served as a palate cleanser for transitioning between whiskeys. I chose to start at the left of my board and work my way across.
Before I continue, I have a confession; in a previous life I was a whisky snob who was only about the single malt scotch life. How wrong I was, and how glad I am that I got over my pretentious self and broadened my horizons.
Bacon – House smoked hickory (North American style smoked loin).
Whiskey – Woodford Reserve Kentucky straight Bourbon.
The Woodford Reserve had a solid flavour with hints of smoke and spice, which complemented the smokiness of the hickory in the bacon. The bacon itself wasn’t particularly memorable but the combination with the bourbon made it a winner.
Rating: 3/5 Bacon Slices
By the time I had finished the first pairing I was comfortable with the bite, swirl, sip process and felt confident I’d be able to enjoy the coming pairings without overthinking it.
Bacon – Flat pancetta (Non-smoked central/southern Italian style. Flavours of coriander seed, fennel & raw sugar).
Whiskey – Bulleit Rye.
Firstly, grilled pancetta is king. Because it’s so thinly sliced it always comes out crispy and crumbly and yummy. My palate isn’t fancy enough to have been able to distinguish all the flavours described in the flavour profile, but it tasted good and nothing else matters!
Bulleit Rye is a firm favourite with many bourbon drinkers. The crispness of the pancetta went well with the smoothness of the bourbon but my focus was all on the swine.
Rating: 3.5/5 Bacon Slices
Halfway through our servings, I was explaining #BlackTwitter and its increasing visibility (not to be confused with influence) on mainstream media to my very white, very Australian friend. It struck me yet again that the time spent strengthening relationships will always trump material possessions. If bacon can be part of the process, even better.
But I digress. Back to the deliciousness at hand.
Bacon – Dark molasses and vanilla infusion belly bacon (House infused – giving flavours of bitter & sweet caramel).
Whiskey – Russell’s Reserve 10yo Bourbon.
Belly bacon + molasses + a tease of vanilla = #winning; it is impossible to go wrong with this combination. This bacon reminded me of french toast with maple syrup and bacon (without the carbs). I prefer my drinks on the dry side, so the distinct sweetness of Russell’s didn’t particularly do it for me. However, the bacon made everything alright. Better. Wonderful, even.
Rating: 4/5 Bacon Slices
Oh no – I was almost done, just as I was starting to feel like a guru of the bacon/whiskey two-punch combo.
Bacon – Speck (Southern Australian style cured belly bacon, with flavours of juniper & smoked beechwood).
Whiskey – George Dickel No.12 Tennessee Whiskey.
The George Dickel was easily my favourite whiskey of the night. Smooth, with a latent sweetness and smokey surprise finish. In fact, I liked it so much that I forgot about the bacon after the second round of bite, swirl & sip, focusing instead on just sip.
Rating: 4/5 Bacon Slices
If I had to pick a winning combination I’d go with Set 3, and that’s because that particular bacon made my night. I’d be keen to try a combination of the vanilla infused bacon and the George Dickel No.12 just to see if the two would complement each other.
I’m always up to try new things, and am glad that instead of the usual fare of “surprise me with your creativity oh cute barman” cocktails we explored something new. For the price of two cocktails at an average Perth bar (or one and a third at one of the fancier ones) I got to try new whiskeys, eat bacon at night and catch up with a fun mate.