It may surprise some of you to know that many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away I was a bartender.
From moment I stepped behind I the bar I loved it, and so I threw myself into learning my new trade with as much enthusiasm as my 21 year old self could muster (which was considerable).
I learned how to run a real ale cellar and waxed lyrical about wine appellations, grew wise about mysteries of whiskey and ruminated about the origins of rum.
But for some reason I had a blind spot when it came to gin. Gin was always just gin as far as I was concerned – pretty much the same regardless of the fanciness of the bottle it came in.
How wrong I was.
I finally had the chance to rectify this oversight in my spiritual education (see what I did there?) last Wednesday at The Gin Queen’s first ever Brisbane gin tasting, held at Dutch Courage Officers Mess.
For those who don’t know The Gin Queen is one Caroline Childerley, a gin connoisseur from Melbourne who is determined to bring the joys of this oft overlooked spirit to to the masses.
The evening started with Caroline taking us on a brief tour through the history of gin where we learnt…
- The term “Dutch Courage” came about in the 17th Century, when Dutch troops fighting alongside English would give them a swig of their gin prior to going into battle
- Gins are flavoured by a potent mixture of herbs and spices known as botanicals
- Juniper berries, one of the key botanicals that gives gin its trademark flavour, are an utter PAIN to harvest. Not only do they need to be shaken off the bush by hand, they also need to be dried out for 2 YEARS before they are able to be used!
This tasting was particularly unique as all four Gins on offer were from Australian craft distillers. I was curious to see how much of a difference there was between these boutique Aussie gins and the well known mass produced brands like Gordons, Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray.
Turns out the answer it A LOT!
For a start these Aussie gins are made in much smaller quantities by people who are, quite frankly, a little bit nuts.
And by nuts I mean absolutely and completely devoted to distilling gins that meet the very specific definition of perfection that they have in their heads. For example…
- They set up gin stills in their apartments. Yes you read that right. IN THEIR APARTMENTS.
- They insist on using Australian native botanicals like Bunya Nuts that have shells so tough that they have to run over them with a FORKLIFT to crack them.
- They decide to use fresh oranges when every other gin distiller since time immemorial had used dried peel.
Mad bastards all of them.
But it’s that single minded stubbornness to make gin THEIR way that lifts these New World gins onto another plain of existence. These are gins you can sip neat like whiskey – they are really that good.
So here is a very brief intro to each of the gins we tried which will hopefully whet your appetite for trying them yourself.
The Melbourne Gin Company
A small batch Gin in the London Dry style, heavy on the Juniper but also flavoured with Rosemary and Grapefruit grown in the distiller’s family’s vineyard.
Perfect in… a Lime Rickey, which is gin, lime & soda
Stone Pine Gine
These guys keep their gin recipe cards close to their chest, but we do know they use finger limes and other natives to produce a citrus driven gin that is precisely blended from individually distilled botanicals (i.e they make gin flavoured with each particular herb or spice and then blend them to create the final product)
Perfect in… a classic G&T with a good quality tonic water like East Imperial Tonic.
We were lucky enough to hear from Mark Watkins, owner and head distiller of the Mt Uncle Distillery, about how he makes the heavenly Botanic Australis Gin. Located on an idyllic but isolated property on the Atherton Tablelands, Mark looks to the natural environment on his doorstep to source 14 Australian native botanicals including lemon myrtle, strawberry gum (called aleda), and bunya nuts.
Before the event started the bartender told me this gin “tasted like Australia”. He was right.
Perfect in… a Lawn Mower! Don’t let the name put you off – see the Gin Queen’s recipe here
If Botanic Australis tastes like Australia then Four Pillars tastes like the Spice Islands. Using whole oranges, cardamom and Tasmanian pepperberry this gin delivers a big, bold flavour that warms you from the inside out.
Perfect in… a Negroni. The orange marries perfectly with the Campari. I could literally drink these all night.
Feeling a bit obsessed yet? Don’t worry you’re not alone! Here is all the info you need to get an Aussie gin in your glass post haste…
The Gin Queen: for everything GIN! News, reviews and cocktail recipes and more
Dutch Courage Officers Mess: for the finest selection of gins in Brisbane. Seriously, if they don’t have it it aint worth drinking!
Nip of Courage: Distributor of craft spirits, and major sponsor of the Grazing Garden at the upcoming Good Food & Wine Show. Check out their stable of amazing Aussie distillers.