Q&A with Halliday

Fast Five: Jess Ho

By J'aime Cardillo

20 Sep, 2023

In this series, we ask industry members to share the five drinks that shaped their lives.

Jess Ho is a freelance writer, journalist and host of the podcast Bad Taste. On top of 15 years' in hospitality, they were previously the food and drink editor of Time Out Melbourne and have been published in Eater, The Guardian, The Age, The Financial Review and SBS and have contributed to restaurant guides and cookbooks. Their memoir, Raised by Wolves, is a fierce and honest insider take on Australia’s restaurant industry and the power of chosen family.

Jess Ho

01. 2002 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut
Champagne, France
I was lucky to have been assigned Sommeliers Australia as a client back in my short-lived PR days. I was 19 at the time and had no idea how to approach fine wine, let alone a goon bag. As I got to know the committee members, they took me under their wing and taught me how to actually taste wine. One of them invited me to tag along to the end of a tasting, and as it was wrapping up, the reps handed them this bottle. They poured me a taste and it was the moment when I finally understood Champagne. Unfortunately, this wine acted as a gateway for great Champagne and will keep me poor forever.

02. Maidenii Dry Vermouth
My housemate back in the day was at RMIT and told me about how one guy in his class bottled all these cordials and they exploded during a presentation. It turns out that guy was Shaun Byrne. I met him while he was working at Gin Palace. He was really geeking out about martinis and asked: why are there no Australian vermouths? He made a few that were so terrible, his boss introduced him to Gilles Lapalus and they started Maidenii together. There is always a bottle of this in my fridge and some nights, you’ll find me sipping it over ice with a bag of salt and vinegar chips.

03. 2016 Joh Jos Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese
Mosel, Germany
My drinking journey is very similar to many other inner-city Australians'. First, you steal some hideous liquor from your parent’s booze cabinet. Then, you reintroduce yourself to alcohol through pints when you get to uni and drink big, tannic reds because that’s all pubs serve. As I slowly learned more, my palate started to change. I stopped seeing sugar as the enemy and understood its place. I remember opening this on a particularly humid day, and on the rare occasion that it’s humid in Melbourne, it brings me back to that moment; just drinking and not thinking. 

04. Tromba Tequila Reposado
For a very long time, I didn’t go near tequila because it’s the one spirit that would probably land me in the local lock up at the end of the night. So, I abstained. That was until I had to build the back bar of my wine bar and needed a tequila on the shelf. An acquaintance was the newly appointed rep for Tromba and insisted that I try the product. I really enjoyed the whole line up, but it was the rich chocolate and caramel notes in the Reposado that really caught my attention. I found myself sipping it rather than throwing the whole bottle in my face. I’ve enjoyed tequila in moderation ever since. 

05. Heaps Normal Half Day Hazy
Canberra, ACT
Not many people know this, but when I had a wine bar, it was when I drank the least. I think all those late nights surrounded by people who drank a few bottles of wine and had no qualms about treating people around them poorly was a wake-up call. I stopped drinking alcohol months at a time, didn’t go for knock offs and it was really isolating even though I was taking care of my mental and physical health. Drinks like Heaps Normal have made it a lot easier for me to go out these days – as I don’t drink as frequently as I used to – and it helps when it tastes good.

@thatdamnjessho | thatjessho.persona.co

This article appears in issue #72 of Halliday magazine. Become a member to receive the print publication as well as digital access.