In the middle of 2019, PS40 co-owners Michael Chiem and Thor Bergquist nixed their cocktail list and formulated an entirely new menu inspired by their favourite festivals around the world. They even gave that menu a name: Festivus. If that sounds a little silly to you, remember that no bar commits to reinvention with more conviction than PS40, and that any idea or theme is just an excuse to let these gifted imaginations run totally free.
Thanksgiving isn’t even a festival, it’s a holiday. It’s also what they’ve called their delicious riff on a Rye Whisky Sour, spiked with sweet potato and sage, because why the hell not? Hanami, named after Japan’s cherry blossom festival, takes a slightly more literal approach by drawing deep red colour and ripe perfume from clarified beetroot juice before layering it with dark rum, vermouth and orange bitters. It’s a winner.
The ride only gets wilder from there. Order the Harvest, and you’ll get a pearly solution of fermented rice served in a metal pan with a chunk of honeycomb, aromatised with peaches and Manzanilla sherry so it takes on the distinct dairy-sweet tang of a cloudy sake. A similarly dizzying degree of complexity unravels in a Lunar New Year, where red beans and pandan leaf lead whisky and Cognac down a path of nutty twists and turns.
Creativity has been the watchword here since they switched on the lights in 2016, but that’s always had as much to do with the soft drinks as the hard ones. This also happens to be a soda factory we’re talking about, and as non-alcoholic alternatives become a bigger part of the conversation, it’s important to remember that PS40’s been moving the needle from day one. The $15 soda flight that lets you sample each one of the housemade creations is one of the most exciting ways to exercise your palate in town.
For these guys, waking up in the morning is another opportunity to continue redefining our perception of what a drink can be – and you don’t even need to be seated at the bar to appreciate their efforts. Walk into Newtown’s P&V Merchants and you’ll find the aquavit they made in partnership with South Australia’s Never Never Distilling Co for sale on the shelf. Sit down to lunch at Single O in Surry Hills and order a bottle of Smoked Lemonade (made with the help of the mammoth smoker at LP’s Quality Meats) to go with your sanga. Heck, you can even pull up a pew at Old Mate’s Place to see what those clever cocktail specialists do with the sodas, which is a tick of approval if ever there was one.
In a mere three years, PS40 has managed to leave an indelible stamp on this city’s drinking scene. So much so, in fact, that demand has outweighed supply and forced them to move soda production off-site. That leaves a lot of space for new ideas to take flight on Skittle Lane – and enough room for Time Out’s 2020 Bar of the Year trophy, too.