The Weekend Series: acquire a taste for Australian small-batch gin
From microbrewery beer and cider to organic artisan wines, the focus on small, quality-centred production runs of liquor has now extended to niche gin distilleries. Employing the vision of drink better, not more, Australians are becoming more conscious of where not only their produce comes from, but their Friday evening tipple as well – birthing a new generation of local gin distillers. Stepping aside from the time-honoured confines of the British dry gin method, these modern makers of the clear liquor are using native Australian botanicals to infuse their gins with a point of difference. We’ve tracked down several local brands championing the modern Australian gin trade.
McHenry Distillery (Tasmania)
The William McHenry Distillery sits on a picturesque spot on the side of Mount Arthur, overlooking the Tasman Peninsula. As one of Australia’s southern-most distilleries, McHenry takes advantage of the pristine environment in its spirit making – with plenty of pure spring water and crisp air making the conditions perfect for its small-batch operations. McHenry Distillery currently produces four kinds of gin, ranging from barrel aged and classic London dry gin to a potent navy strength and a sloe gin.
Mt Uncle (Queensland)
Far north Queensland is home to one of the country’s hidden gems in Mt Uncle Distillery. Situated a few hours inland from Cairns in Walkamin at the foot of Mount Uncle itself, Mt Uncle Distillery was founded in 2002 by head distiller Mark Watkins, whose work is centred on creating premium liqueurs and spirits using as many Australian ingredients as possible. In addition to single malt whisky, vodka, rum and cane spirit, Mt Uncle makes two popular Botanic Australis gins – one navy strength variety and one regular.
Poor Toms (New South Wales)
With a bit of initial inspiration drawn from Shakespeare’s King Lear, Jesse Kennedy and Griffin Blumer’s decision to start a gin distillery gained traction when the duo brought on board trained chemist and gin making legend Marcel Thompson. Poor Toms is a Sydney-based distillery that seeks to craft unconventional gin while remaining committed to making it world-class. This boutique outfit currently makes two sublime, sip-worthy gins. The original Sydney Dry Gin is made by steeping ten botanicals in Australian wheat spirit, before being distilled in a German copper still. Those with trained tastebuds can pick out green apple, strawberry gum leaf and chamomile in the mixture. Poor Toms Fool Strength gin is a bolder brew, with a full-bodied taste boasting a grapefruit and liquorice finish.
Applewood (South Australia)
The Gumeracha Cold Stores in the Adelaide Hills was built originally for the cold storage of apples, but has been converted to house a craft distillery, appropriately named Applewood. This distillery experiments with small-batch distilling, creating some truly unique flavours throughout its range of gin and whiskies. The signature Applewood gin is a citrus-driven gin that imbues botanicals such as ginger root, lemon myrtle, Earl Grey tea, lavender, vanilla, lemon and orange peel. The WTF Gin is based on a flavour profile spearheaded by wild thyme and finger lime with a peppercorn gin base, while the Thai gin is infused with tamarind, chilli, lemongrass and ginger, then diluted using coconut water. Finally, the Feijoa gin is a remarkable limited-release batch that is made from the fruit of the Feijoa.
Four Pillars Distillery (Victoria)
A small Australian distillery based in the Yarra Valley, Four Pillars Distillery was established in late 2013 when the company launched its first product, the Rare Dry Gin. This Victorian drop captures the flavours of both Australia, Asia and the Mediterranean using native and imported botanicals – a fusion of whole oranges, cardamom, star anise, Tasmanian pepperberry leaf and lemon myrtle. Using a copper pot still from Germany, Four Pillars Distillery produces small batches of 420 bottles, with each bottle individually numbered and hand-labelled.
Archie Rose (New South Wales)
This distillery also dabbles in a variety of spirits, but its gin was earned many fans. One of the first independent distilleries to set up in the city of Sydney, Archie Rose seeks to challenge tradition, experimenting with Australian botanicals in stills made from copper imported from Scandinavia and built to precise specification. Archie Rose’s two gins are differentiated by strength – the Distiller’s Strength boasts a bold flavour profile made from fifteen botanicals distilled separately, while the Signature Dry is accented by Australian blood lime, river mint, lemon myrtle and Dorrigo pepperleaf.
The Melbourne Gin Company (Victoria)
Though its name implies city-based origins, The Melbourne Gin Company, too, is based in the Yarra Valley. Handcrafting small batches of dry gin, The Melbourne Gin Company is the creation of winemakers turned distillers. This tonic blends classic botanicals like angelica root, orris and cassia bark with exotic infusions such as grapefruit peel and rosemary from Gembrook Hill Vineyard in Victoria, macadamia, sandalwood, lemon myrtle and locally sourced organic navel oranges. Each botanical is distilled separately using a copper alembic still, and then blended together using a recipe inspired by winemaking traditions. This gin isn’t chill filtered, so keep an eye out for its slightly cloudy look when mixed into a cocktail.
The West Winds Gin (Western Australian)
Western Australian-based distillery The West Winds Gin was founded in 2009 and uses Australian native botanicals like wattleseed and bush tomato, as well as triple-filtered Margaret River rainwater, to form its British-style gin. Using a German still, the company produces two strains of gin. The Sabre harnesses notes of citrus, juniper, coriander seed and wattleseed, while The Cutlass sees highlights of bush tomato and coriander seed. Last year the company won gold and silver accolades at the San Francisco International Spirits Competition for both blends.
Kangaroo Island Spirits (South Australia)
Based on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, Kangaroo Island Spirits crafts a range of gin, vodka and liqueurs. This boutique micro-distillery has transferred the idea of slow food to form a process of slow spirits – the use of high-quality local ingredients, prepared with care. The company’s gin is additive- and preservative-free and made using native botanicals as well as locally grown or sourced ingredients. Kangaroo Island Spirits’ Wild Gin uses native juniper as its base, and was most recently awarded a bronze accolade at the Hong Kong International Spirits Competition last year. The company also crafts a Mulberry Gin – similar to a sloe gin but with no added sugar, and made from local mulberries, coriander seeds and almonds. You’ll also find notes of cardamom, mace, cassia, pink pepper, caraway, lime zest, ginger, mint and boobialla – a native berry of Kangaroo Island – among the infusions.
Stone Pine Distillery (New South Wales)
Founded in 2008, Stone Pine Distillery makes spirits and liqueurs in Bathurst in New South Wales. Using high-quality raw ingredients, the company’s Dry Gin is pot-distilled in small batches with processing kept to a minimum. A blend of native and traditional botanicals creates a robust flavour, sporting herbal and floral notes with a spicy citrus and resinous complexity.
Honourable Mentions: If these local drops have piqued your interest, you can also cast your educated eye towards the Godfather Pepperberry Gin by Lark Distillery or Shene Estate & Distillery’s Poltergeist Gin from Tasmania, The Weaver Gin from Loch Brewery & Distillery in Victoria, Ink Gin from the Northern Rivers, Copperwave Gin by Hunter Distillery and Vintage Dry Gin by Distillery Botanica, both in New South Wales, and two varietals by Great Southern Distilling Company in Western Australia.
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