An international team of bartenders, the Gin Room’s Max Wensauer, Joe Busch, Thomas Lechermann, Sherry Cai and Creigh Bartel all found a passion for bartending and making cocktails through various experiences working in their respective home countries and during their travels.
Between the five, they have a wealth of experience in bartending in various scenes including 5-star hotels, bars and restaurants in Germany, the US, Australia and New Zealand, and on a cruise ship.
“Thomas and I grew up in gastronomy, so since we were young we were working in the industry and fell in love with it and discovered a real passion,” said Busch.
Cai learnt her bartending skills through a 20-day course before she headed overseas to Australia for a working holiday. “I had the great opportunity to work in the Hilton in Sydney – a 5-star hotel. I felt proud of my bartending and found a passion. After finishing work there, I came to New Zealand and found a job at the Gin Room.”
Starting his first bartending gig in college in the US at a home bistro-type bar, Bartel worked his way up to cocktail bartending across various states. “I worked in Australia for a little while, slowly making increases in the skill level required and I’ve gotten to this point at the Gin Room now.”
In a busy role as manager while also working the bar, Wensauer finished an apprenticeship in Germany before coming to New Zealand and started work helping with the painting and decorating a bar nearby the Gin Room. “I helped with that, and they offered me a job at the bar. I just worked my way into it and stuck with it. I fell in love with the work.”
Though the team have varying levels of formal and self-taught training, they agree that working in a bar offers the opportunity to meet a lot of people. “You have a few roles models, and you pick the best things of every bartender and keep it for your own repertoire and, of course, a lot of literature as well, like magazines,” said Busch.
After being in the trade for a while, the team noticed the development and expansion of the popularity of cocktails around the world.
“New Zealand has a niche for it right now – like an untapped market for this scale of cocktail making,” said Bartel.
When creating new cocktails the team consider ingredients that they think would work well together and from there, they start building on that idea and make trials. A lot of inspiration is also drawn from the kitchen – transferring ideas to the bar.
“We are always on the hunt for strange combinations which you normally would read and be like ‘uhh ok…’ but when you actually try it, it’s nice to see the surprised look – I really like that,” said Lechermann.
“I have a more structured approach to it, I think,” said Wensauer, “If we are creating a new menu, I make sure we have all the tastes covered in the drinks. I try to task the guys and give a bit of guidance rather than trying to make a new recipe blind without any end goal to it. Otherwise, it’s hard to come up with something.”
When sourcing ingredients for cocktails, the Gin Room prides themselves on keeping things fresh and original. The team’s fruit dehydrator is constantly running to ensure they waste as little as possible.
“We make our own soda, juices and infusions. When we use a syrup – it’s made in the house at work. We aim to stay fresh. There is a big difference in buying something in the store and making it yourself. I appreciate everyone coming to the table and really wanting to push the envelope in terms of what is possible.”
“We try to use every part of the ingredients. Especially citrus fruits, for example. Before we juice, we take the peel off, so we can cut the rind in a fine julienne and dry it out. We work a lot with dried fruits and use them for garnish as well, so we don’t really throw anything away,” said Busch.
“We try to be creative; we use different glassware and besides the 20s/30s look here, music is very important. Everything should work together, like clockwork. Ambiance is a cocktail ingredient,” said Lechermann.
The team agreed the social interaction with guests is one of the most enjoyable elements of the job.
“When you’re at the bar, and sometimes you get people come in, and basically they may have never been in a cocktail bar before, and maybe they don’t know a lot about cocktails, or even worse, they had a bad experience with one before. It’s nice to discover with the guests together what they really like, what they want in a bar. What spirits? What tastes? I had a few people who developed a passion just because of trying different drinks, and this is nice to see – spreading the culture,” said Busch.
“There is a lot of creative space we have here to create the vibe and cocktails we are interested in, but at the same time, everyone here is pretty passionate about the direction of this place. It’s not strict, there’s not an overbearing set of rules to constrain you to a particular ideal, but at the same time, we’re all committed enough to a common ideal. It’s a fun place to work,” said Bartel.
With a menu full of stunning drinks, the team stress the importance of presentation to represent the high level of quality in their cocktails. Each of the team has a range of drinks they are responsible for creating and have a unique signature drink. From inspiration from their favourite spirit to dishes such as a Thai soup, all cocktails have a unique combination of ingredients, balance between flavours and really showcase the character of each component.
With the design phase nearly complete, the Gin Room is set to get a major makeover next year and a new name. “There are going to be some major shake-ups next year,” said Wenhouser. “I think the aim and goal we are going for is to put New Zealand on the map of best bars in the world. So that’s a pretty tough task to achieve, but that’s definitely something that we want to aim for. Watch this space.”