Meet Daniel Hilton of The Lobo Plantation in Sydney, winner of the 2019 Sydney Cider Cocktail Competition.
Daniel Hilton has recently won the 2019 Sydney Cider Cocktail Competition, impressing the judges with his cocktail, Surry Hills Fizz, using rye whisky with Manly Perry cider and elderflower liqueur in a take on the Ramos Gin Fizz. In this candid interview, he speaks to Cocktails & Bars about his winning cocktail, the role of cider as a cocktail ingredient, current trends, what the Sydney bar scene needs more of and offers advice for bartenders entering next year’s competition.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, how long have you’ve been bartending and how you started in your career?
My star sign is Sagittarius, Creme Caramel is my kryptonite and I believe pineapple goes on pizza. My career started out in Perth with me needing to make ends meet, it started with me just picking up glasses and I was really proud of that. As I worked up to the bar, I began feeling a sense of belonging and meaning behind what I was doing, something I never had before. It’s been 5 years since then, in and that time I’ve moved to Sydney and somehow landed in my dream gig at The Lobo Plantation.
You’re the winner of the 2019 Sydney Cider Cocktail Competition. Briefly describe your cocktail, the flavour profile and the inspiration behind “Surry Hills Fizz”.
The Surry Hill Fizz at a glance is a simple riff off the timeless Ramos Gin Fizz, reworked to celebrate the Manly Perry. I looked to Sydney Brewery and their ethos for inspiration to work a Sydney-fied expression. The Ramos was made not for the bartender but for the guest, and I wanted to make a drink that carried that torch. I’d describe it as a fruitier and fuller flavoured Ramos, without sacrificing on that light and fluffy texture, a holiday in a glass of you will.
Why did you choose Manly Perry cider from Sydney Brewery and what role does it play in the cocktail?
The Manly Perry has always been my personal favourite. It’s light, bright and floral but still comes packing with flavour. Whilst you can say I’ve used the Perry in lieu of soda in my cocktail, it actually more the keel that held and bonded all my flavours together, everything else would have fallen flat otherwise.
Your cocktail ingredients also include clarified lemon apple sherbet. How did you go make it and why did you choose this particular combination?
I wanted to simplify the cocktail, the Ramos has a long list of ingredients and I wanted to reel that in. I wanted the fragrance of lemon but also the sharpness of apple, it just made sense to bring them together in a sherbet. I left sugar and lemon peels together to macerate, then lengthened it out with clarified apple juice to add that subtle acidity and fresh summery flavour. I did add a touch of tartaric acid to the mix, just to help brighten it all up a smidgen and round out the mouth feel.
This is the third year that the competition has been running. What do you think the Sydney Cider Cocktail Competition sets to achieve?
This was my second year reaching the finals, and to me it’s about offering a platform for bartenders of all experience levels an encouraging and supportive environment. There are a lot of comps out there, most of which are very demanding, that make it hard for bars and bartenders to commit to. Sydney Brewery’s ethos is about showing off what makes Sydney so unique and iconic, something that is blindingly apparent through this competition.
Where do you see cider positioned as a cocktail ingredient?
What I love about competitions is seeing how other bartenders approach the same idea. Some used it like a soda or wine, others like a spirit and we even saw it as a water count for foams/syrups. For me cider is best used when you can still achieve that crisp sharp flavour through the drink.
What advice would you give someone considering entering the competition next year?
Just enter! I wasn’t in a good place whilst entering but the support and encouragement you receive from Sydney Brewery and the team is incredible. They just want you to do your best and for you to have fun, the feedback is always there and you can really find your confidence in competitions here.
Are there any cocktail trends that have impressed you of late?
I’m definitely interested in bartenders finding places for all those ‘trashy’ cocktails ingredients. Midori, Alize, Blue Curacao? Bartenders love to hate them but it’s all tasty juice. I love seeing bartenders get inventive and creative with it and I’m seeing more and more bars stock them un-ironically.
What does Sydney bar scene needs more of? And less of?
I’ve always said this but I’d love to see less ego and more enthusiasm around drinks. I recently went to a seminar and everyone just hazed on the Espresso Martini. It’s a tasty drink, so are Long Islands and Appletinis! As we continuously break new ground with cocktails, it seems bartenders are losing appreciation for where a lot of it started for most. I don’t go into a bar and test the bartender with a Daiquiri, I look for how they react to these orders and how much fun they can have with it.
Any closing comments?
It’s actually little off topic but so very important to the industry and me. I recently found myself in a real dark place, after reaching out I was floored by all the love and support around me, even from complete strangers. It can be hard to see and believe it’s there but if you’re reading this, if you’re struggling, please reach out to people! If you can’t please know there will always be a seat at Lobo and my ear if you ever need it. It’s okay not to be okay, but please know that your journey is far from over!
In partnership with Sydney Cider and Sydney Brewery