WE are in a crowded bar in Perth for a gin tasting and one of the bald men swings by with the last drink. “You’re my favourite,” he tells my wife, as he hands over her glass. “What about me?” asks our daughter. “No, her,” he says, swinging away.
The gin tasting is a late birthday treat for my wife – and an early one for me, arranged as a surprise. The bar is heaving. They’d expected 20 guests and found themselves with closer to 50. As the evening wears on, and the gin is poured, the bar gets pleasantly lively.
Four Pillars is a small Australian distillery that makes various gins and by now we’ve tried a few. A very pleasant G&T kicked things off, made with their ‘rare dry gin’ and served with orange and Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic.
This gin is made by a coterie of bald blokes, possibly four, although I can’t quite remember. Two of them are here tonight: the stocky showman who complimented my wife, in between delivering outrageous patter and leading a Christmas singsong – they have a Christmas gin, you see – and a tall, more serious-seeming former Olympic athlete, who tolerates his companion’s boisterousness with good grace, and the occasional cutting remark.
Neat gin is a neat idea, until you stand up to leave. There’s a navy-strength one to give you sailors’ legs; that Christmas one to make you sing; a Bloody Shiraz gin that steeps Yarra Valley Shiraz grapes. And that paring drink, a Negroni cocktail that only I manage to finish.
“We used to make wine and drink gin,” one of the baldies said earlier, “then we decided to do it the other way round.”
The gin is very good, unlike – they quip – the wine they once produced. The former athlete is the chief distiller, tasting every 15 minutes of his working day, while his mate distils characterful clamour every 15 seconds, or so it seems.
All great fun and we weave our way back to the station in good if tired shape. Our daughter goes off in her direction, and we catch the train to Fremantle. In the darkness before the last stop, you can see the docks lit up at night, the hulking shadows of ships and new cars neatly lined up on the quayside. Fremantle is a great mix: cultural, trendy, full of hipster-style bars and cafes (Hackney on Sea, if you like) and a working port, too. Many of the buildings are old hotels that have a Wild West feel and there is much to see and do.
We have toured the old prison, visited the maritime museum and the shipwreck museum and the old roundhouse jail on the seafront. Yesterday we spent time in an art gallery housing indigenous art, fantastic paintings, all dots, swirls and mysterious shapes – often aerial views of landscape, the gallery owner told us.
We lay on the beach for an hour and then, in readiness for that gin, had a meal at somewhere called Bread In Common, a former medical supplies warehouse that now supplies top-notch bread and good food in a cavernous space. Being a bit of a bread head, I stood by the ovens to feel the departing heat. Another great find has been Little Creatures, a brewery with bars on the seafront.
Waiting for the bus after the train, it is cold and I am coughing, having managed to bring along a holiday chest, which is annoying, but there you go. The previous day we caught the wrong bus and ended up walking a long way back. But tonight, having worked out the right stop beforehand, and my wife having steered me away from confidently choosing another wrong one, we are safely, tiredly, transported back to our Airbnb for a post gin-sozzle cup of tea.