Smokes, dusts, airs and soils are not your standard cocktail ingredients but for Cameron Attfield, owner/operator of The Gin Room on Auckland’s Vulcan Lane, these unusual ingredients are simply another opportunity. “We see our drinks as an experience, not as a point of consumption – what they smell, feel, hear, taste and see – sensory bartending, if you will – we want them to have the best possible experience,” said Attfield.
Attfield sees himself as an accidental bartender, a profession he fell into while he was studying at university. He instantly fell in love with the flavour and the possibilities and, of course, the alcohol. He was self-trained, but had two great mentors – one in Melbourne and one in Scotland. Before The Gin Room, Attfield worked at Ace Hotel in London and Boilermaker House in Melbourne, the latter named best new bar in Australia 2015 and best whiskey bar in 2016.
This experience has placed him in good stead, reflected by his success in a number of competitions. In 2015 he was a finalist in the World Class Bartender competition and in 2016 was a finalist in the Bacardi Legacy Competition, the 42 Below International Champion and travelled to Trinidad to compete in the World Finals of the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge. He was also awarded runner-up in the 2017 East Imperial Gin Jubilee competition held in Auckland.
Attfield’s favourite part of the industry is the creative freedom – a freedom which allows the use of dusts and soils in a drink. “I can create menus on whatever I like, as long as the ingredients are available.” At The Gin Room, the menu is constantly changing. There is a new menu every month as well as a seasonal menu which changes every three months. “For this we spend around two months of research before touching any ingredients. Inspiration wise we tend not to focus on classic. We start with a flavour or a feeling we want our guest to feel and enjoy.”
Finding the right staff for his operations is always a challenge, but Attfield said he would always choose passion over experience. “It’s way more important. You could be well-trained and lazy and arrogant – I’ve seen this a lot. I would still choose a novice who is excited about every flavour they taste and every piece of homework they get – yes, I give my staff homework!”
In terms of ingredients, Attfield uses only the best. “They must be fresh. I always say take the hit on the cost by 10 per cent to make the flavour explode by 50 per cent.”
This emphasis on freshness is what he wants to focus on in the future, with plans to open a farm-to-table style bar and restaurant with weekly menu changes according to what is available at the time. “A small plot of land with a local organic farmer would determine what our menu would be. Fresh, vibrant, locally supported clean food for future drinkers and diners – save the world and enjoy consuming at minimal carbon footprint cost.”
For emerging bartenders, Attfield offers this advice: “You can never know everything, so find your own style and work with that. Never try to emulate someone else’s passion.”