Interview: Sebastian Costello, Bad Frankie
“There are distillers who brew excellent product in Melbourne, and I want to show it off to the world.”
- Sebastian Costello
It is common to become intoxicated by the discovery of food and drink tested and tasted within the cultural and geographic bounds of its origin: pintxos and white sherry in the cobblestone back streets of San Sebastian, panzanella salad in some Tuscan trattoria, or a dosa straight off the cart in the laneways of Chennai.
Perhaps what’s slightly less common is bartender Sebastian Costello’s reaction to his own journey of culinary discovery. Excited by the experience of drinking his way through bourbon in Nashville and tequila in Tequila, Sebastian took up the gauntlet these two regions remain unaware was ever thrown.
Sebastian: “We came back and I thought to myself, ‘we’ve got whiskies from Tasmania, gins from the Yarra Valley and the Margaret River – let’s do this, let’s show Australian spirits to the world.”
The end result is Bad Frankie, an off-Smith Street bar showcasing more than 150 spirits representing 40 of the 50-or-so boutique distilleries currently operating within our border.
It’s a quirky concept. Australian-only spirits, beers and wines matched with what Sebastian imagines as our national snack – the humble jaffle.
As concepts go, it is undoubtedly one that could come off as gimmicky in the hands of a business owner with less honest intent and more commercial drive. Instead, the space (with the help of interior designer Sally Holbrook) evokes all the colloquial warmth Aussies have for the idea of the small town watering hole.
Sebastian: “When you’re in Tequila the Jose Cuervo distillery is right there on the corner, and you’re eating tacos because that’s what you eat and it’s awesome because you’re there – no one’s trying to sell it. They don’t have to. This is what they do.”
The key to the realisation of the Bad Frankie vision is in Sebastian’s absorption of that notion. There is no hard sell, here, instead just a real knowledge about the birth of Australia’s boutique distillery industry and its importance in our modern food history.
Certainly he relates the dates and happenings as if he had lived them. Of Van Diemen’s Land Governor John Franklin’s outlawing of small-scale pot stills in the 1800s that saw the death of the boutique distillery industry in Tasmania and eventually – when the law was passed in to Federation law in 1901 – across Australia. Of the 1992 overturning of the archaic law upon the efforts of Tasmanian Bill Lark, founder of Lark Distillery.
As of the offering, he’s not afraid to be a little parochial in the tastiest possible way. Like the inside joke that is the jaffle lamington, and a cocktail list that reimagines the Sunday roast as a strangely tasty Old Fashioned championing Gun Alley whisky.
Sebastian: “The response to what we’re doing is really great. Everybody loves it. Everyone’s worried about their carbon footprints and people are keen to taste product we can trace to just around the corner. We wanted to give them that opportunity."
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