Will you be popping champagne or sipping cocktails as they jump?
In celebratory terms, it's a battle of David versus Goliath proportions. Champagne corks will be heard popping all over Australia as the Melbourne Cup is run and won on Tuesday but also, increasingly, cocktail glasses will be lifted in celebration.
Cocktail culture remains a niche experience in Australia, but the more-ish mixers are growing in popularity and stature among party people. Can the humble cocktail knock off bubbly as the celebratory tipple of choice?
In a word, no, says cocktail bartender Luke Ashton, who will be doing his best to put cocktails up in lights on the big day at the Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve marquee in Flemington's Racecourse's famed “Birdcage” area.
Ashton, the current Australian champion in the World Class bartender of the year awards, concedes champagne has a firm grip on the celebration market but maintains that cocktails can provide a more lasting memory.
“The sound of a champagne cork popping is always going to be synonymous with celebration,” he says. “But a cocktail is a more personal experience, and people tend to remember where they were and what they were doing when they had that particular drink.”
The Sydneysider has concocted a unique drink for guests at the Johnnie Walker enclosure on Tuesday that includes the scents of cut grass and saddle leather designed to create a “sensory memory” that guests will remember and tell their friends about.
Ashton will be joined in the marquee by Sam Bompas, one half of the renowned English food and drink experimentalist firm Bompas and Parr.
Bompas describes himself as an “architectural food artist” but part of his work comprises taking fine spirits and using them as the basis for centrepiece constructions such as waterfalls and fountains. He will render the featured spirit in three forms – solid, liquid and gas – in order to help break down the featured whisky's flavours for guests.
An avowed whisky fan, he labels champagne clichéd and dull. “Everyone defaults to champagne when they're having a celebration, which I think is incredibly boring. Not least because it makes the breath of everyone who's drinking it smell like smelly feet,” he jokes.
“By contrast, the honeyed, rather fruity note of the whisky has far more mystique, and that's the thing to go for.”
Champagne, though, will remain the firm crowd favourite at the Cup and with good reason, says Australian wine critic Tyson Stelzer.
The author of the recent released 2014-15 Champagne Guide says no other premium alcoholic drink can match the history and complexity of the sparkling wine that originates from the French region of the same name.
“The difference in the Champagne region is that they are able to do a style that will age gracefully, that attracts a premium price point because of the inherent quality of the product, in a way that no other region has been able to do yet,” he says.
“There is no sign that any cocktail or pre-mixed drink will be able to do it quite the same way. There is an allure and a beauty to champagne, not just in its reputation, but in the wine in the glass when it's well made, that no other wine region or style or other sparkling beverage style has been able to replicate yet.”