Viewpoints from Aussie Cuisine
In the recent past, gin was considered an old-fashioned drink. As part of the global craft movement, a new generation of distillers are embracing gin as a rediscovered tradition and are searching for new frontiers. By producing gin with a native Aussie twist, Australian distillery companies are internationally competing for a slice of the global market.
‘There are French gins, there are American gins, there are English gins … there’s no reason why you couldn’t have an Australian gin. Gin was the one true spirit that we could put a flavour of Australia in without sounding naff or duty free’, says ‘The West Winds’ Jeremy Spencer. Many Australian gin companies are incorporating native ingredients such as lemon myrtle and bush tomatoes in their botanicals, creating a unique appeal for the Aussie gin.
By Kerry Staight
In the midst of a global gin revival, Australian distillers are turning to native plants to make their white spirits stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
“There are so many gins. I mean almost every suburb in London and across the UK has its own gin,” Australian Distillers Association president Stuart Gregor said.
“There is a global gin craze and it’s being driven by the craft movement.”
Mr Gregor, who is also one of the founders of Four Pillars Gin in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, says a growing number of local distillers are joining the craze with around 40 dotted around the country and more on the way.
“The gin industry in Australia has had exponential growth over the last three to five years,” he said.
“The whole idea that gin was for your mum or your grandma is slowly disappearing and we’re getting a whole new generation of drinkers.”
While juniper berries are still the backbone of all gin, distillers are using all sorts of other botanicals to add their own twist to the centuries-old beverage.
In Australia, many producers are incorporating native ingredients.
Cameron Mackenzie at Four Pillars uses lemon myrtle and Tasmanian mountain pepper in one of his gins.
“Showing international distillers these botanicals blows them away, because they’ve never seen anything like them before,” he said.
Another prominent local label, The West Winds, has added bush tomatoes, wattle seeds and sea parsley.
“Gin was the one true spirit that we could put a flavour of Australia in without sounding naff or duty free,” The West Winds’ Jeremy Spencer said.
Mark Watkins from Mt Uncle Distillery in far north Queensland has flavoured his gin with 14 native ingredients, including bunya nuts and river mint.
“What we wanted to do was make a quintessential Australian-tasting gin,” he said.
“The only thing that’s not an Australian botanic in it is the juniper.”
Home-grown juniper two years away
Australia’s distillers mainly import their juniper berries from Europe, where they are usually wild harvested.
But a South Australian gin producer is hoping to change that.
Jon Lark from Kangaroo Island Spirits has been planting various varieties of juniper berries at his distillery since last year.
“We are experimenting a lot because no-one knows much about commercial production and how it’s going to go in Australia,” he said.
He will have to wait another two years for the first batch of berries, which are actually more like small pine cones, to ripen.
There’s a bunch of great distillers in Australia and there’s a bunch of people trying to compete in that market too and I think that’s great … competition breeds quality.
In the meantime Mr Lark is using a lookalike berry called boobialla, among other native island ingredients, to make his gin stand out.
“If consumers don’t want to buy my gin they won’t buy it, but at the moment we can’t make enough of it,” he said.
Unlike wine and beer, Australia is not known for its white spirits.
But Vernon Chalker from Melbourne’s cocktail lounge Gin Palace, which stocks around 200 gins from around the world, says the local drops stack up pretty well.
“They’ve got their work cut out for them, but they really are cutting the mustard,” he said.
“There’s a bunch of great distillers in Australia and there’s a bunch of people trying to compete in that market too and I think that’s great … competition breeds quality.”
More consumers will have a chance to judge for themselves, with a number of the local distillers now exporting.
“Why wouldn’t you have an Australian gin?” Jeremy Spencer said.
“There are French gins, there are American gins, there are English gins … there’s no reason why you couldn’t have an Australian gin.”
Staight, K. (30 October 2015). Australian distillers use native plants to add own distinct flavour to global gin craze. ABC News. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-30/aussie-distillers-toast-to-gin-craze-with-own-distinct-flavours/6899992