The Rise of Australian Craft Gin.
It’s the perfect time to be a gin lover.
Hot on the heels of the craft beer boom, our nation is experiencing an explosion in the number of Australian distilleries producing high quality Australian craft gins.
Gin’s popularity is on the rise. The resurgence of Cocktail Culture is like a Mexican wave around the globe. Thanks to a hipster-led revival of the art of the aperitif, a new breed of bartenders with global experience in cocktails and craft spirits are celebrating the versatility of gin. It has glamour, it has style. Whether sipping on a classic G&T or a posh cocktail, it’s a renaissance of flavour and variety. Smaller craft distilleries are producing exciting, new styles of gin using fresh, organically grown, locally foraged botanicals from their own backyard.
‘Local’ is the new definition of luxury. By choosing local, fresh, or native ingredients, artisanal distilleries such as Bass & Flinders are able to create unique gins with a distinct origin and expression of local terroir. The closer the source, the wider the appeal. People want a taste of where it comes from, they want to meet the maker and visit the distillery. This connection with the local environment separates a genuine craft gin from a global gin style and Australian distillers are leading the world in this new wave of the Gin Craze.
Archaic laws of Distillation
Until the early 1990’s, thanks to the Distillation Act of 1901 - an archaic law in Australia that banned the use of small stills, distilling used to be reserved for larger commercial producers. The law remained unchanged for over 150 years until Lark Distillery in Tasmania challenged the status quo and petitioned for the Act to be changed. In 1992, Bill Lark applied for and was granted a licence to produce a hand-crafted whisky, and this paved the way for a renaissance in the Australian distilling industry.
Gin is Art
Although the industry in Australia is still in its infancy, we are quickly realising that the making of gin is a form of art. It is a form of expression, a result of experimentation, innovation and passion. In Australia we are lucky enough to be influenced by our heritage, like a traditional London Dry style, but our master distillers also have the freedom to produce gins that show characteristics of their unique place, and a sense of their individual spirit. Using our local native botanicals creates a uniquely Australian expression of gin.
What are ‘Botanicals’?
A ‘botanical’ is a substance obtained or extracted from a plant, or part of a plant, and often used as a medicinal preparation or flavouring agent in products - including spirits. Gin is a distilled alcohol that by definition must include the characteristic aroma and flavour of juniper. Contemporary Australian gins also contain native plants or herbs, or other unique ingredients that create a subtle nod to the distillery’s heritage, or highlight attributes of the local environment. Various parts of the plant are used including roots, berries, seeds and fruits. Some of the most popular botanicals in traditional gin production are Juniper (it wouldn’t be called ‘gin’ without it) coriander seed, angelica root, lemon, orange, orris root, cardamom, licorice and Cassia bark (a relative of cinnamon.)
Juniper the Great
The Juniper berry is the female seed cone of the Juniper bush. Most of its flavour comes from the essential oils inside the berry. They are fragrant and spicy with a bittersweet taste, mostly pine and citrus. Originally used as a medicinal remedy, it has evolved to become the essential ingredient of this popular little tipple we call gin.
Coriander seeds are spicy, fragrant and aromatic and give the gin a complex citrus flavour, while the Angelica root has nutty, woody characters and adds length. Orris root has a very aromatic perfumed character, and adds lovely floral notes to a gin, while Cassia bark - a member of the cinnamon family, adds complexity and a warming earthy spiciness to the mix.
In addition to these classic botanicals, some indigenous botanicals used in home-grown Australian contemporary gins to complement the dry juniper notes are Tasmanian pepper berry, finger limes, strawberry gum, Bunya nut, lemon myrtle, ginger, wattle seed and locally foraged kelp and samphire.
The most common native botanical used in Aussie gins would probably be lemon myrtle. Similar in flavour to lemon verbena, or lemon thyme, it adds sweet lemon citrus notes, perfect for a dry gin style. The Tasmanian pepperberry, or mountain pepper, adds a spicy peppery dimension to the final taste and Wattle seed brings textural depth, and adds amazing flavours of nutmeg, macadamia and almonds.
Some gins are inspired by the Australian outback, in addition to the native flora and fauna. Angry Ant Gin from Bass & Flinders is made from rare, hand-picked ingredients sourced on Wooleen station in Central Western Australia, including Mulla Mulla, Purple Vetch flowers, native lemongrass and sandalwood nuts…and the starring botanical? Pheromones from Australian ants! Some of these bush foods have been used for thousands of years by indigenous Australians and are now finding a true sense of place in the heady new world of craft spirits.
Australian Craft Gin?
So just how do we define our homegrown gin? Master distillers are creating non-conformist spirits that reflect their region and write their own story, but with so much variation from producers is it possible to categorise an Aussie style?
The general consensus seems to be that much like top international chefs leading the way with seasonal, locally sourced food, Australian gins often use traditional gin botanicals and accent them with native ingredients. Aussie gins have a lifted, botanical intensity that impart flavour without overpowering the juniper and a rich, plump mouthfeel. Lemon myrtle is a popular ingredient and lends a leafy-green citrus character to the gins, while a few are producing salty, savoury versions that reflect the vast ocean surrounds of our sunburnt country.
Whether the term ‘Australian Craft Gin’ ever becomes a formally recognised style like London Dry Gin remains to be seen, but whatever the outcome, Aussie gins are winning competitions all over the world and creating a style all of their own. The scene is young and dynamic and is a fledgling industry ready to take flight. Let the fun be-gin!