Melbourne Cup Day 2023: Why Australia’s best bartender Priscilla Leong can’t drink her own creations | Exclusive | Interview

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Priscilla Leong is one of Australia’s best bartenders, but she can’t even drink her own custom brews.

She is allergic to alcohol.

“On my 18th birthday I had a negative reaction to tequila. And that’s how I discovered I was allergic to alcohol,” the LANDMARK by Lexus Collaborator, who created custom cocktails for the Lexus Marquee in the Melbourne Cup this year, says 9Honey Kitchen.

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Priscilla Leong
Priscilla Leong is one of Australia’s best bartenders, but she can’t drink alcohol. (Instagram)

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“I didn’t hate the taste, but it definitely gave me some bad memories,” Leong continues.

“I think a lot of people have the same problem with tequila!”

It seems like something that would hinder her career, but as Leong explains, she can definitely still get a small taste of her drink.

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“I can taste, that’s for sure,” she says, laughing.

“It’s quite a journey and a process to taste the drinks, and understanding how to develop the taste so that it’s acceptable to people, alcohol can be quite confronting.

“That’s what influences my approach to making all drinks, even the stronger ones, like Old Fashioned.”

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For her, mixing the perfect cocktail is more about the flavors, the ingredients and mixing them together in an interesting way than it is about the booze.

“I don’t think you have to consume alcohol at a high level to really put flavors together to make them work,” she says.

Her career is proof of that: in 2022 she was named Australia’s best bartender, and today she rules the bar at Birdcage’s Lexus Marquee, serving bespoke cocktails.

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Priscilla Leong
As a LANDMARK by Lexus Collaborator, Leong created custom cocktails for their marquee during the Melbourne Cup. (Instagram)

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Leong has recently been inspired by the unique flavors of Asian drinks such as Baijiu, Soju and Shochu, and is encouraging A-listers and everyday Australians to experiment with their drinks.

“They’re products made from Korea, Japan or China. But they use different types of ancient grains that you’ve never heard of,” she says.

“And they also use a really interesting fermentation technique… It produces really cool flavors, from fruity bubble gummy flavors to soy sauce, shiitake mushrooms… it’s so interesting.”

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The best part is that Australians can buy many of these unique Asian alcoholic drinks for a bargain at their local Bottle-O.

Despite being a famous bartender, Leong is convinced that expensive alcohol is not always better. In fact, working in the alcohol industry has proven that to her.

“Price doesn’t necessarily indicate quality. There’s a lot of marketing in selling alcohol,” she reveals. “For example, if you go to France or Italy, they probably don’t have the budget to sell or market their product that well, but they make great products because they work with great ingredients. So I don’t judge anything. based on how much it costs.”

Although she can’t drink alcohol due to her allergies, Leong also acknowledges that some Aussies just don’t like the taste of spirits.

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Leong suggests you go to bars and ask the staff to taste a sample of their alcohol before choosing a cocktail. (Getty)

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But alcohol doesn’t have to taste like jet fuel, as long as you know what to mix it with.

Leong suggests investing in delicious mixers and ingredients like citrus fruits, herbs and garnishes that can bring out the best in a drink if you don’t like the taste of booze.

“Vodka has an ethanol flavor, but for most bartenders it’s a blank slate,” she explains.

“We think of it as a simple canvas and on top of that we just add different ingredients that we like to drink, or what the guest likes to drink.”

The expert mixologist also has a handy trick for Aussies who aren’t sure what kind of alcohol they like: go to a bar and ask if you can try it. Most bartenders like to let bargoers sample different brands of whiskey, gin, or tequila to sample the different flavors.

“Go to a bar, talk to bartenders. Ask them to introduce you to new things. Try things, be curious, don’t be afraid,” she urges.

“You can just say, ‘I’ve never seen that before. Do you mind if I have a little taste?’ And from there they can talk you through those products.”

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