The drinker’s guide to Alquimie

by Steve Watson in September 2013
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Sometimes a new magazine launches and it’s suddenly everywhere at once. I enjoyed reading Jeremy’s review of new drinks journal Alquimie on the magCulture blog on Friday and I heard its creative director Nicholas Cary on Monocle’s The Stack on Saturday, so now I’m joining the fray with an interview with Nic (as I call him) and his two co-founders, editor in chief Josh Elias and photographic director James Morgan.

Based in Melbourne, Alquimie is an exceptionally stylish and incredibly assured title (Nic also co-founded the very lovely Process Journal) and they’ve got big plans for their new baby. With distribution in select newsagents and “bottle shops” across Australia, the UK and Hong Kong, they’re targeting some of the world’s most important wine markets, taking the magazine direct to the sort of aficionados who will love their straight-talking, resolutely un-dumbed take on the world of drink (I admit I had to google ‘malolactic fermentation’ and a couple of other important terms while reading).

There’s no doubt about it – this is a serious magazine. But what exactly are their hopes for it? And how do they see it fitting into the current feast of independent food and drink magazines?


So what is Alquimie?

Josh: It’s a beverage magazine that covers everything drinkable, from wine and spirits to coffee, tea and even water – we’ve got a story in the second issue where we take a trip down to Tasmania to a company called Cape Grim, who say they have the purest water in the world.

In the first issue the content is about 55% wine, but we’re deliberately looking wider than that. James is a photographer and Nic is a designer and I studied for my Master of Wine in the UK, so I’m the only one really from the wine world. That means we get a new visual perspective, as opposed to something like Decanter, where you’ve got an editorial and design team that’s all associated with elbow patches and smoking cigars and all that old British aesthetic.

Drinks coverage in Australia is very conservative and we’re trying to shake that up a bit. We want to be a bit edgy and also timeless, so we’re not trying to be hot and trendy, but more a sort of coffee table book that looks into the nuances of very complicated beverages from an accessible perspective. There’s a common feeling that magazines can be a very disposable medium – you see it in the thin pages and it’s all very superficial, like a candy bar – there’s no real energy in there that’s going to last you a long time. We wanted to get away from that.


Why launch this more substantial drinks magazine now?

Nic: There are a lot of magazines akin to this in the food world, but not so many in the drinks world – we couldn’t find one that we’d want to read from start to finish. But you look at the food world and you’ve got all these magazines, from The Gourmand to Kinfolk to Gather, and they’re all looking at the culture behind food, getting at the stories behind food.

Josh: Everything else is either very trend-driven and very hip, and that immediately alienates people in the 40s to 50s spectrum. Or it goes the other way and only caters for those older readers. The whole thing is too cliquey for me. You end up reading about the latest bar opening or tastings that you weren’t at, and that doesn’t help me as a reader. It’s not exactly scratch and sniff – I can’t get a sample of the 1950s wine they sampled at that tasting, so that’s not helping me to decide what wine I should buy off the shelf right now.


You mention magazines like Kinfolk and Gather in the food world. Have you looked to drink magazines like Noble Rot or Hot Rum Cow?

Nic: Yeah, and Gin & It. We looked at all of those and their approach is quite different.

Josh: The content is certainly driven much more from a hip perspective, and the way that they’re geared in terms of the drinks they have are available in certain eclectic bars, and the feel of those bars. The way it comes across is very arts-driven and idiosyncratic, and that’s why we think there’s room for us to take this more timeless approach. But regardless of that it’s definitely a good thing to have all these drinks magazines coming out at the moment, because it’s galvanising the market and interesting people in the real story behind the drinks.

James: The other thing we tried to do is be very accessible, and that doesn’t mean dumbing it down. So for example the story on sake production and how it should be served – that’s real meat you can sink your teeth into. It’s not about the latest trends or something; you can read that and come away feeling like you’ve learned something, and I think that’s valuable.

Josh: That’s a good example. Masahiko Iga is a sake master, and when you serve sake you don’t say 5 degrees or 10 degrees, you serve it at the temperature when the hana flower blossoms. It’s things like that, little lines like that, where I think you’re not going to hear that down at the latest bar. It’s very intricate and very delicate and it’s not a sell – it’s just a beautiful way of telling the story. There’s a beauty beyond the cool.

** UPDATE **
See more from Alquimie with a selection of our favourite spreads on the Stack Facebook page.

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