What makes Australian gin different to gins from the rest of the world? We spoke with the teams at Big Tree Distillery, Black Cat Distillery, High Spirits Distillery, Granddad Jack's Distillery, Imperial Measures Distillery, Karu Distillery, Mount Compass Spirits, Never Never Distilling, Noble Bootleggers' Distilling Co, SouWester Spirits, and That Spirited Lot Distillers to get their take on the 4 things that make Australian gin special and why it is attracting attention from around the world.
The Australian Botanicals
One thing that there is certainly consensus on is the importance of Australian botanicals. With over 20,000 species of vascular plants in Australia, the diversity is enormous and many of these are unique to Australia.
The team at Karu Distillery in NSW agree that "Australian gin is spoilt for accessible and unique botanicals that cannot be found elsewhere in the world", while David Martin of Mount Compass Spirits in South Australia cites the importance of "the abundance and diversity of high quality ingredients".
Kristin Lemura of Noble Bootleggers Distilling Co furthers this, saying that "being able to celebrate these native ingredients that are uniquely Australian helps Australian gin to stand apart from the rest of the world". And Luke Ridden at Granddad Jack's Distillery in Queensland says, "people are really taking advantage of all the amazing Australian botanicals we’ve got and different fruits, like bush tomato, Davidson's plum and lemon myrtle. People are really trying to use what is local to them and that’s what makes Australian gins different and popular."
Diane Stewart of Barossa Valley's Black Cat Distillery gives a perfect example of this, explaining that "Australian distillers can take advantage of the unique botanicals found in the landscape which impart flavours that can’t be replicated elsewhere. For example, our favourite new thing is the Tasmanian Pepper Berry and we have revised all our blends to substitute this delicate, flinty and resinous pepper for the traditional peppers we were able to source early on".
The Environment & Agriculture
In addition to the botanicals themselves, Australian distillers also credit the environment and its impact on flavours, as well as the suitability for agriculture which also had a significant impact on the Australian gin industry.
Danielle Costley of SouWester Spirits in Margaret River notes that "it’s not only the botanicals that make our gins different. It is also their environment. We are based on the coast in Margaret River and barrel age our gins, so the gin has a strong coastal influence from the environment it is aged in, as well as the rainwater which also has a coastal influence due to our close proximity to the ocean".
Mike Caban of High Spirits Distillery in Perth highlights that "gin starts with agriculture, and distilleries which take advantage of Australia’s farmlands as well as a dense palette of native ingredients are able to create flavours which are both delicious and uniquely Australian".
And JP Willigenburg of That Spirited Lot Distillers in Seaford near Melbourne furthers this with his example, saying that "we are very fortunate to live in a wine producing region (Mornington Peninsula), giving us access to a lot of wine to produce soft, quality neutral spirits".
The botanicals and landscape provide much of the potential and opportunity to the gin industry. However, it is the people that have the skills and dedication to utilise these resources, and who determine the quality that is so important to an industry's reputation.
The team at Karu Distillery state that "the distillers care so much about quality, which shows", and Diane Stewart at Black Cat Distillery picks out the importance of the Australian spirit, saying "Australian’s typically like to ‘have a go’ at almost anything, so re-working traditional flavours to create their own version is becoming a national sport!"
But that's not to say that being a gin distiller with wonderful botanicals is easy. Gary Jago of Big Tree Distillery in Victoria explains that passion is what makes Australian gin special, and "the people who distil gin in Australia have had to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to small batch distil and then they have had to contend with some of the highest alcohol taxes in the world. So unless you're passionate about it you wouldn't bother and this passion comes out in our gins."
The Culture of Creativity & Innovation
As well Australia having a wealth of history in alcohol production, especially in wine and whisky, this has positioned many wineries and distilleries well for being able to turn their hand to gin production. However, there are a number of other key characteristics of the industry in Australian that have helped drive the creativity and innovation that make Australian gins different, distinctive and special.
Chris Jones at Imperial Measures Distillery in Adelaide highlights one of these characteristics, saying that "Australian Gin doesn't necessarily suffer from the perceived restrictions of its traditional roots. so we have a wonderful and diverse palate from which to work; and being a Northern Hemisphere creation the use of Southern Hemisphere botanicals opens a whole new world of creative possibilities."
Mike Caban of High Spirits Distillery notes that "the relative youth of Australian Craft Gin has meant there is a lot more freedom to explore and push the boundaries of distilling." And JP Willigenburg of That Spirited Lot Distillers cites the impact of the craft beer scene and people's interest in the craft alcohol industry which has presented "a good opportunity for boutique spirits to follow the same pathway, for distillers to create interesting unique spirits."
Sean Baxter of Never Never Distilling in South Australia astutely summarises this factor, saying that "in Australia we have always been a melting pot of culture and style. You can find it in food, sport, religion, architecture and now the spirits industry. We make whisky like the Scots, brandy like the French, Rum like the West Indies and Gin like the Poms. Within all of these various styles we bring our own creative interpretations, often dictated by our distance from traditional ingredients or the prosperity of local alternatives. No other spirit has seen that influence more than the gin industry."
Summary & Supporting AGD
Paul Jackson, Editor of The Gin Guide concludes that "a wonderful combination of factors makes the Australian gin industry what it is and presents the immense and exciting opportunity that now exists. The botanicals, landscape and weather provide distinctive raw ingredients which are utilised through agriculture and the skills of seasoned alcohol producers and a new generation of distillers alike.
The global boom in gin has been wholeheartedly embraced in Australia by distillers and mixologists, but with a sense of creativity and innovation rather than simply following the trend and reinventing the wheel. For both local markets and international markets, Australian gin is deservedly attracting an increasing amount of attention and this looks set to grow and grow."
Show your support for Australian gin and distillers on Saturday 23rd November 2019. Enjoy a gin tasting at home, visit your local bar for an Australian G&T or cocktail, or visit your local gin distillery.
Don't forget to post your photos of your Australian Gin Day celebrations using the hashtag #australianginday and tagging @australianginday.