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By Natalie Mell, Digital & Social Media EditorISSUE #025 WE RISE TOGETHER | Community

Want To Know The Story Behind Big Daddy and Ex on the Beach? Two Queer Creatives Tell All

Being named the official gin partner of the 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras was a big deal for us here at Archie Rose. It also marked the start of a fun new project.

Archie Rose Creative Drinks Manager Rocky Hair was tasked with creating two brand-new Bottled Cocktails that celebrated our partnership with Mardi Gras and payed homage to gay Sydney, from the beaches to Oxford Street. We think you’ll agree she nailed it.

Big Daddy & Ex on the Beach are fruity, juicy and delicious, not to mention bursting with personality, and Melbourne-based illustrator Ashley Ronning had a lot to do with that. Ashley designed the playful labels that decorate our Bottled Cocktails and we love the clever way she’s represented the local queer community, all the way down to the little details—leather Daddy outfits included!

First of all, Rocky, why did you think Ashley would be a great fit for this project?

ROCKY: We obviously wanted to have someone from the LGBTQI+ community, and we had an idea of the style that we were looking for in terms of being able to portray people, and for it to incorporate a really fun element. We narrowed it down to a couple of options and put it to the team and Ashley was voted unanimously.

ASHLEY: Really? I had no idea. How awesome.

ROCKY: Yeah, we have a team of 10 people who vote on these things because it can't just be me and Harriet [Leigh, Head of Hospitality] deciding on everything. So, we got it down to three options and you were everyone's number one pick.

What do you think stood out about Ashley's work in the end?

ROCKY: That she has such a diverse portfolio of work. You have a distinct style, but you do all sorts of stuff, from rock and roll posters to illustrations of cute houseplants. We could see all the different bits of your work that we wanted to bring together on the labels.

Ashley, why did you want to work on the project with us?

ASHLEY: I was familiar with Archie Rose and what you do, but being a part of something connected to Mardi Gras was really exciting. And I liked the fact that everyone in the team had a really clear vision for the drinks, of course, but also for the visual direction itself. I could tell that there was thought behind why you chose me and that is why I've been good for the project. So I was flattered and stoked and ready to go!

Can you both tell me about the process of creating the cocktails?

ROCKY: I basically just wanted to create fun, fruity drinks because at Mardi Gras, you just want to drink fun stuff. Ex on the Beach is a twist on Sex on the Beach, so I tried to keep it tropical. It's got all the fruits in it and it's very easy summer drinking. Big Daddy is a triple strawberry, juicy, delicious number. I really wanted to have the juxtaposition of a black label with a bright print drink—it's like a glow stick in a dungeon.

What about you, Ashley?

ASHLEY: For Big Daddy, right away, I was picturing a club full of leather daddies just having the best time. Dominating each other or cuddling each other, everything that goes on at those kinds of clubs—well not everything! And then when it came to Ex on the Beach, I could definitely see me and my friends having a great time at a beach. I was picturing a beach paradise where queer cuties can just be themselves, and not worry about anything else. Everyone’s just having fun with their friends, their exes and their lovers. So I sketched that up and I think everyone was pretty happy with the direction straight away.

What is your favourite part of the creative process?

ROCKY: For me, it's after the concept and composition is done, when I can really get to work on the details; what everyone's doing and the little things they are holding or little expressions on their faces, and their amazing outfits. Did you know that it's really difficult to research leather daddy harnesses and things like that without finding porn?!

ROCKY: Yes, I did know that...

ASHLEY: But the references are there! So yes, I really liked working on the details and the little references and jokes within the images.

ROCKY: And they're so good. There's that one little guy in the corner [of the Big Daddy label] with his butt out, who’s just yelling at the corner. I love him.

ASHLEY: What do you think he's saying?

ROCKY: I don't know. We were kind of like, is he being COVID safe and coughing in the corner? Or is he just yelling at himself?

ASHLEY: I love both of those, but I was picturing that the club extends beyond the edge of the label and he's talking to someone else like, “Hey, Peter, get over here.”

Ashley (left) and Rocky (right) in their element

What was your favourite part of the process, Rocky?

ROCKY: I liked it when the cocktails were all done, bottled, and ready to go, and we put them online—that's my favourite part. It's sort of like wrapping up the project and gifting it to the world.

Is it a feeling of relief?

ROCKY: Yeah. It's absolutely a relief. Because you don't know how people are going to react, but in this case it was overwhelmingly positive. And it's really cool to have these fun things that are out there. It’s a first, I think, for any cocktail or spirit company to go out and actually put these really cute, queer characters on a label. No one has done that. There's companies that just turn everything rainbow and that’s great, we get it, but I feel like it was much more of a fun expression to release something into the world that’s actually representative and fun.

ASHLEY: I feel like people in our community can see when people are trying. They can see when people have made an effort and not just slapped the rainbow on it.

Do either of you have a favourite out of the two bottled cocktails?

ROCKY: I'm going to pick Big Daddy, just because when I was creating it I was thinking, “I wonder if this will get approved?” And it did, it went through and now it’s a real product. I also love the idea of a queer beach paradise where you can just chill out and have a good time, and I'd happily drink both, but I'm going to have to say Big Daddy.

ASHLEY: Yeah, same for me. It was just so fun to draw, and so was the feeling of drawing something and thinking, “I don't know if I'll get away with this, but let's see what they say.”

Rocky, was that what made this project a bit more special, being able to push the boundaries?

ROCKY: Absolutely—this concept was very much driven by me, rather than what the everyday consumer would want, which is what I generally focus my cocktails on; what other people need to celebrate. But this was very much about asking myself what I would use to celebrate, because I know the people who will drink this and, hopefully, what they will appreciate.

Ashley, I wanted to ask you a little bit about yourself. You’re involved in so many creative pursuits - how did you get started?

ASHLEY: I built up my illustration practice while working in cafes for ages and just eventually tipped the balance of being able to make it work. And I also run a music graphic printing business on the side. I really like working on a lot of different stuff at once. I find that really fun. And then it's so nice in my downtime to have something that's not making art, at least for me not making visual art, which is my band. It’s called Eat-Man and it's a garage rock band, but we're fronted by the most glamorous, beautiful guy with gorgeous red hair and he always dresses up for the gigs.

ROCKY: What do you play?

ASHLEY: I play bass.

Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

ASHLEY: I've been doing a lot of illustrations for a web series that's going to come out soon about making music at home. It's called Soundtrack To Our Lives and it will be available to watch on the Victoria Together website in a month or two. It's really fun and cute—lots of instruments and drawings of different suburban houses and just junk in the backyard.