Wellington bartenders - The talent behind the cocktails at Highball

Highball is showcasing a line-up of Wellington bar takeovers, featuring favourites such as Crumpet, The Library, Hanging Ditch, Cuckoo and more.

That means some of the capital’s very best talent in bartending will be creating your cocktails at Highball. We chat to two of them in the lead up to New Zealand’s first cocktail and spirits festival on what their favourite ingredients are, what their go-to drinks are, and what makes the Wellington cocktail scene a snifter above the rest.

Abi Chilcott, Havana Bar

How or why did you get into the world of spirits and cocktails?

Kind of by accident. I left school and needed a job, so I did a few different waitressing jobs and ended up working in a restaurant that cross-trained me on the bar. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I surrounded myself with people I could learn from, went to tastings and fell down the rabbit hole. The more you learn, the more you realise how much more there is to learn.

What do you love most about your job?

There isn’t really anything more satisfying than a customer giving you an idea of what they want to drink, and making a cocktail for them that is exactly what they wanted. Tiny pats on the back like this are always a joy.

What ingredients do you like to experiment with?

Since arriving in Wellington and realising quite how easy it is to go foraging for ingredients, I enjoy using whatever I come across and what’s in season.

What or who influences you when making cocktails?

Everyone I have worked with past and present has taught me something, so I guess my influences come from the people that have helped me and worked with me in this career.

What’s special about the Wellington cocktail industry?

I love that Wellington is a smaller city with a big personality and culture. The industry here is a great little community where everyone helps each other and pushes each other to keep trying new things and encouraging each other.

What’s your favourite thing to drink?

Really depends on what mood I’m in. When I’m out and about, I’m most likely to have a lovely glass of red or a gin and apple in hand. Cocktail-wise, I always have time for a daiquiri. Recently have been loving an Angel Facegin [gin, apricot brandy and Calvados].

Why are you excited about Highball?

I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase Wellington’s cocktail industry.

Dan Felsing, Crumpet

What ingredients do you like to experiment with?

I just like seeing what’s in season and how I can use fresh produce to create different things to put into drinks or using ways I can use the same ingredients to make jams or chutneys to go with our crumpets.

What or who influences you when making cocktails?

I really like [Martinborough gin distillery] Reid and Reid’s use of native botanicals to make a really interesting and delicious gin. Recently, a friend and colleague of mine, who has been making cider for quite some time now, has just started making an apple cider brandy, and I believe he’s the only one in the country to do it. His brandy is delicious and tastes like juice.

What's special or unique about the Wellington cocktail industry/culture?

I wouldn’t say it’s a unique trait to Wellington, but it has been what has made it so easy for me moving over here and falling in love with it: the real sense of community in the hospitality industry. It’s like a small family.

What's your favourite thing to drink?

Favourite thing to drink is probably a daiquiri and a shot of whiskey. Nothing better after a long shift.

Why are you excited about Highball?

I’m excited to see how the general public react to something like Highball. A big part of the culture surrounding drinks, at the moment, is people being more aware of what they are drinking and choosing quality over quantity, as well as generally and genuinely showing an interest in spirits and cocktails.

See the full lineup of Highball bar takeovers here. And grab your Highball tickets below!

Andrew Stantiall