Spring Racing Carnival is here – a time of festivities, fascinators and general all-round frolicking. Thousands descend upon Flemington over the season and millions more partake from afar – as in the local pub – for what is arguably Australia's largest social drinking occasion this side of New Year's Eve.
It's almost the perfect imbibing event – if it wasn't for the occasional horse race that breaks out to spoil the mood. Certainly, for large swathes of the crowd the racing part of the festivities is simply a distraction from the fashionable young colts and fillies of the two-legged variety. But is this a bad thing? Has racing lost its way?
The answer in my mind is no. Racing has always been moderately entertaining at best – its broader appeal has always been due to the supplementary wagering, drinking and social gatherings taking place in the paddock. The crowds increase as the stakes rise, whether the racing is of higher quality or not.
For many, the Spring Racing Carnival is the only excuse to don a suit outside the occasional wedding. And hatters – lest we forget this lost art – would be out of business if it wasn't for racing's fashion-obsessed crowd.
Despite racing's philanthropic support of Australian fashion, it's an easy thing for wowsers to deplore the sport for generating vice. But I believe the Spring Racing Carnival is one of Australia's greatest traditions – on Cup day the entire nation (not just Victoria) takes a well-needed early mark to socially mingle with work colleagues and spread good cheer.
No – if I was to have a gripe with the races it wouldn't be the gambling, it wouldn't be the frivolous fascinators, or even the disruptiveness of the occasional horse galloping around the paddock – it would be the lack of fashionable drinking.
Whilst guys and girls might get into their Sunday best, outside of the occasional well-stocked corporate tent, quality beverages are few and far between. Whilst there's nothing wrong with a pot, schooner or glass of bubbles, I implore you to seek out something more adventurous this racing season.
Here are a few of ideas to get you started:
This classy number is a twist on a 19th century New York drink enjoyed by many a 'bon vivant' - the sporting types found wagering whilst having an elbow propped on the saloon bar's brass rail.
30ml quality Caribbean rum
20ml fresh lime juice
10ml raspberry syrup (preferably one that's not simply corn syrup and red food dye)
10ml orange curacao (Cointreau or Grand Marnier in a pinch)
Dry sparkling wine
Add all ingredients to a shaker (except sparkling), add ice and shake briskly. Fine strain into a champagne flute (or saucer, if you want to go vintage) and top with a splash of sparkling wine.
Georgia Mint Julep
The Mint Julep is perhaps the most famous cocktail in the world of horse racing, you may have even been lucky enough to try one of these potent whiskey tipples in Spring Racing Carnivals past. This take on the Julep, however, is even more genteel that its Kentucky cousin, replacing bourbon with cognac.
50ml VS or VSOP Cognac
20ml crème de peche (that's French for peach liqueur)
A handful of mint
Loads of crushed ice
Grab an old fashioned pewter tankard (or a tumbler in a pinch) and gently lay a few dew-laden mint leaves into the bottom of your vessel. And your liquor and half fill with crushed ice. Skilfully manipulate a bar spoon to combine the ingredients then fill to the brim with more crushed ice. Garnish with a few fresh sprigs of mint and place a straw right next to these so that upon imbibing one can't help but get a nose-full of freshness.
Blueberry Whiskey Smash
Blueberries are of excellent quality at the moment being plump, juicy and just a little tart. They also pair excellently with American whiskey – in this case a dry and spicy rye.
45ml straight rye whiskey
3 wedges of lemon
A small handful of blueberries
10ml sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to one part hot water)
Muddle the blueberries in the base of a shaker then squeeze in lemon wedges. Add other ingredients and ice. Shake with extreme prejudice and pour the lot (ice and all) straight into a tumbler glass. Cap with a scoop of crushed ice and a few fresh berries.
What's your favourite racing-inspired tipple?