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Mt Uncle Distillery

A trip to Mt Uncle Distillery, the home of ‘quintessentially Australian’ gin, Botanic Australis, has always been high on my list of distilleries to visit. Thanks to Tourism Queensland who supported my trip, I’ve been able to tick this one off.

It’s the northernmost distillery in Australia, which fits nicely with the fact that I’ve been to the southernmost distillery (McHenry’s in Tasmania) this year too. Set in a lush banana plantation in the heart of the Atherton Tablelands, Mt Uncle Distillery is about an hour from Cairns and a must-see if you are visiting the area.

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Banana Plantation

Wandering around the grounds of Mt Uncle distillery, it’s easy to see where Mark got the inspiration for his gin. The air is fragrant with the aromas of native plants and trees and as we walk, Mark stops occasionally to pluck a leaf and tell me which botanical ingredient it is. Other than importing his juniper, all of the botanicals used in Botanic Australis are local to the distillery and the surrounding area.

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Lemon Scented Gum

Mark explained that his distillation method, differs to other distilleries because of the volatility of the botanical ingredients he uses. Mark macerates the botanicals in a separate tank for 48 hours, before discarding them. He then runs the infused alcohol is through the still, a Holstein Arnold from Germany, named Helga.

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Macerating the botanicals
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‘Helga’

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“Native botanicals have a lot of astringent properties, and like tea leaves can easily be stewed which as you know, is not a pleasant taste. Using this method I can draw out the flavours I like and leave those “bush” flavours behind”.

I was fascinated to see how this method would affect the way the spirit came off the still. As I’ve mentioned previously, the favours of each botanical come off at different points in distillation (a bit like a rainbow). Botanic Australis was no different, with all the different flavours easily discernible throughout the process.

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Freshly distilled Botanic Australis gin

Off-site Mark and his wife Claire spent some time showing me the lush, tropical region where they live, full of beautiful waterfalls and rainforests where Mark is in his element as a former environmental scientist and keen botanist.

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Gillies Point Lookout
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Millaa Millaa Waterfalls Queensland-the most photographed falls in Australia
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Lake Barrine
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Curtain Fig Tree
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Native Ginger
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Lilly Pilly

We went to another of the family’s properties to forage for native ginger, one of the ingredients in Botanic Australis. Pulling up the plants to see who could find the largest ginger root was a very satisfying way to spend an hour or two. Claire was a dab hand with the machete, chopping it down to size ready for freezing back at the distillery.

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Mark Watkins foraging for native ginger
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Claire and her machete
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Native ginger

As a special surprise, Mark and Claire had arranged a little tree-planting ceremony for me!

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Accepting my Bunya Nut for planting
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My little bunya nut with my plaque! (the Bunya nut is a botanical in Mark’s gin)

This part of Queensland was a magical place to visit and I highly recommend it. Mark and Claire are welcoming hosts and the Cellar door is open 7 days a week (except for public holidays) and there is a fantastic cafe, on site too.

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Tinaroo Lake

I stayed at Mt Quincan Crater Retreat, a set of spectacular tree-houses overlooking the Atherton Tablelands. I felt very spoilt indeed and am looking forward to my return!

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The incredible view from the Mt Quincan Crater Retreat
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Botanic Australis at Mt Quincan Rainforest Retreat

You can follow Mt Uncle Distillery on Facebook and Instagram.

Mt Uncle Distillery 1819 Chewko Road, Walkmin, Queensland

My grateful thanks to Tourism Queensland for making this trip possible and to Mark and Claire Watkins for their incredible hospitality.

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Four Pillars Distillery

It’s hard to believe that Four Pillars Gin launched less than two years ago (around the same time The Gin Queen was born). In that short time the Four Pillars brand has taken the gin world by storm, both here and overseas, winning several accolades along the way.

All of this has been achieved within a small space generously loaned to Four Pillars by Rob Dolan wines, but with 3 different gin styles and Cameron Mackenzie’s creativity to house, it was time to expand into their own Four Pillars Distillery, and last week I had the pleasure in joining the team at the official opening.

Four Pillars have invested in two new Carl stills, Jude, named after Stuart Gregor’s mum, and Eileen, (a much smaller still, arriving soon) named after Matt Jones’ mum.

Cam told me in no uncertain terms that opening the distillery was not part of a plan to become contract distillers. “Far from it!”, he said “Collaboration is what we have always been about and having Jude and Eileen will offer us increased flexibility to create unique gins with selected partners”.

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Wilma and Jude side by side
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Jude
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Studs mum, Jude, commissioning the new still, named after her.

In spite of the shed’s vastness (and very high ceilings!) the team have created a welcoming bar space with a fantastic team behind it, including Troy (St. Ronan’s cider maker and formerly of Innocent Bystander up the road) and Scott Gauld. The bar is stocked with some great local tipples as well as Four Pillars aplenty.

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The bar

A small shop offers books, Four Pillars branded glassware and 200ml bottles of Four Pillars. Handy!

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Minis!
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A very tempting box
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Four Pillars French 75s!

I cannot wait to see what’s in store and am heading back to take a peek at Eileen when she arrives!

The distillery welcomes walk-in tasters ($10 per head, refundable with any retail purchase) Thursday- Monday 10.30am-5.30pm and from November 16th Thursday-Sunday 10.30am-5.30pm and Friday and Saturday 10.30am-9.00pm. For more information click here.

Four Pillars Distillery, 2A Lilydale Road, Healesville.

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Hayman’s Distillery

I visited Hayman’s Distillery on the same day as my visit to Beefeater. Given the family connection between these two iconic gin brands, it was a fitting juxtaposition.

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Hayman Family Tree

I was looking forward to meeting Lizzie Bailey, Hayman’s Master Distiller and one of only 4 female gin distillers in the world. Lizzie has recently joined Hayman’s since they brought gin production back in-house from Thames Distillers in 2013.

Lizzie was kind enough to interviewed and took me around the distillery, introducing me to Marjorie (their still named after Christopher Hayman’s mother) before leading me through a personal gin tasting of their range.

Did you always want to be a distiller?

I love flavour and I come from a farming background and being able to have raw materials and turn it into something is something I’m very passionate about. Gin botanicals and messing about in the lab, I absolutely love it.

Entering the industry I worked at Chase and Sipsmith before learning that Hayman’s were looking for a distiller. Knowing how influential the brand is, it was a great opportunity not only to become a distiller, but also to go out into the trade as the brand ambassador. I love the feedback and seeing people drink gin that you’ve made.

I went for the job and then came down several times for a fairly intense interview process. It was a serious business introducing someone into the Hayman family. Fortunately, having worked at Sipsmith, which also has a Carl still, I knew how to manage Marjorie.

In terms of the gins, is it like Beefeater, more of a custodial role?

Yes, that is partly the case. There are certainly perimeters for the brand, that need to be adhered to, but I do have time scheduled for R&D. We are doing new things, I have a small pot still (called Eve) that I use to try out recipes.

However, we are also serious about bringing back gins from the family archives. From an educational perspective, these are the expressions that show the history of gin.

What’s the most challenging thing about distilling?

I get very excited about distilling, so I enjoy the challenges! The biggest one for all distillers is probably achieving consistency. If Marjorie is having an off-day, for example. In the winter, she struggles a little to get going. My job is to work out how to change things on the still to maintain that consistency in the spirit.

After our chat, we moved onto the more important part of my visit. The tasting!

 

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Lizzie leading the tasting
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Hayman’s gin range (from L-R : London Dry, Old Tom, Family Reserve, Royal Dock (Navy Strength), Hayman’s 1820 gin liqueur, Hayman’s Sloe)

What we tasted

Hayman’s London Dry Gin (40 % ABV)

The winner of the Best Gin award in San Francisco Spirits award 2014, this gin is a classic London dry with a delicious citrus nose and bright juniper notes. A very well-balanced gin.

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin (40% ABV)

As a fan of classic cocktails, I’ve been using Hayman’s Old Tom for a while. Made to an 1870’s family recipe, it is softer, mellower, and more approachable than the London Dry. It’s not too sweet and is fantastic in a Martinez cocktail.

Hayman’s Family Reserve Gin (41.3% ABV)

This gin is a very old style of gin sold in the 1800s. Before the Bottling Act of 1861, gin was transported and served from old whisk(e)y barrels, as seen here in this illustration.

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Gin served from whisky barrels

It’s not an aged  gin, but is described as ‘rested’. Lizzie uses 3rd fill whisky casks. The impact is subtle, but adds to the complexity of the gin. This one makes a great gin old-fashioned cocktail.

Hayman’s Royal Dock Gin (57% ABV)

This very gin was supplied to both the English Royal Navy and the trade from 1863. As you’d expect from an Navy Strength gin, it is bold and punchy, but I liked the fact that it was still smooth enough to enjoy neat.

Hayman’s 1820 Gin Liqueur (40% ABV)

Described by Lizzie as “Gin’s cousin” this spirit is the creation of Christopher Hayman’s creation. An original recipe using gin base and adding sugar to create a delicious sipping liqueur. This drink has an extra hit of juniper and would be perfect neat over ice with a twist of orange.

Hayman’s Sloe Gin (26% ABV)

Hayman’s Sloe gin is made by steeping sloe berries in a gin base. Every year Hayman’s runs a little competition amongst its employees to see who can bring in the most sloe berries. The prize is…well, bottle of the finished sloe gin!  Lizzie explained that although this is a fun exercise, additional sloe berries are needed to add to the stockpile.

The sloes are left in the gin for 3-4 months and just given it an occasional stir. Sugar is added at the final stage, with the quantity varying year on year depending on the sweetness of that year’s sloe harvest.

My grateful thanks to Lizzie and the team for sharing so much information (and delicious gin) with me.

You can follow Hayman’s on Facebook, twitter and Instagram

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City of London Distillery

In the shadows of St. Paul’s’ Cathedral and situated in one of the oldest parts of London, you could be forgiven for thinking that the City of London Distillery has always been there, but as owner and Master Distiller Jonathan Clark explained, it’s not the case.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral
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City of London Distillery

Jonathan’s relationship with the venue began in 1976 when he began working there as a kitchen porter, doing the washing up. To use a well-worn cliché, Jonathan is your typical “London boy made good”, as twenty years later, not only did he own the premises, but another 5 bars.

After one of his tenants turned the venue into a “ladies bar”, as Jonathan delicately put it, he was hauled before the City of London authorities and told not only did he need to take-over the venue, but he had to find something else to do with it. The idea to open a distillery came while on holiday when he was enjoying a gin with a friend. (Jonathan had decided to start drinking gin aged 50 as he decreed it an “Old Man’s drink!)

He contacted Carl (the still makers) with the exact specifications for the stills (that occupy a small space under the stairs) and after checking costs and delivery dates headed off the States on a reconnaissance mission. After seeing a bar within a distillery he decided this was how he wanted his distillery to look. He placed his order for the stills and returned home.

Great, you might think. Except when he visited the City of London authorities they handed over four pages of reasons (many health and safety) why Jonathan could not open a distillery.

Nine months later and Jonathan had ticked off all the issues the City had presented to him, even installing bomb-proof glass in front of the stills. Jonathan proudly stated that even if there was an explosion you could carry on drinking and the glass wouldn’t be warm (let’s hope no-one ever puts this to the test).

The City of London Distillery eventually opened in December 2012 and two years later the Mayor officially opened it. Since then Jonathan has been made a Freeman of the City of London, an occasion that he is rightly proud of considering his humble beginnings.

The City of London Distillery makes four gins; City of London Dry Gin, ‘Square Mile’ (a super-premium version) and Sloe Gin, as well as producing an Old Tom gin exclusively for the Dorchester Hotel.

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The London Dry is a good, traditional version and comes in at 40% ABV.

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Square Mile has a punchier ABV of 47% and is perfect for a martini.

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The sloe gin is a happy accident at 30% and full of almond flavours owing to the fact that Jonathan left the sloes in the gin three months longer than he planned as he forgot about it!

The bar has an impressive selection of gins from around the world and lots of gin artefacts and antiques that Jonathan collects.

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The Bar
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Old Tom gin dispenser

You can also make your own gin in the workshop.

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The gin-making workshop where the miniature stills are named after the Seven Dwarves.

The City of London is a very special place. Everything from distilling to bottling and labelling occurs at this award-winning micro distillery. If you get the chance to visit, Jonathan is a great host and raconteur!

The gins are available on the City of London Distillery website or via Masters of Malt for international customers (remember to check delivery costs).

Follow City of London Distillery on Facebook or twitter.

Bombay Sapphire Distillery

Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill opened to great fanfare in 2014 and in a very short time has become a major tourist destination.

The site itself dates back to c.903, and in the 18th century became a paper mill, eventually supplying bank-note paper to the Bank of England until 1963. It fell vacant in 2005 before being purchased by Bombay Sapphire in 2010.  The beautiful Thomas Heatherwick designed glass-houses have attracted critical acclaim, as has the distillery’s commitment to sustainability and carbon-neutrality.

When I began planning my gin tour to the UK, I knew I had to go. As luck would have it, the team from Bombay Sapphire Australia were visiting at the same time and invited me to join them as part of a VIP experience to the distillery.

 

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First up, I interviewed Master Distiller, Nik Fordham, (I’ll be sharing that interview at a later date) and met Sam Carter, Senior Brand Ambassador in the beautiful Bombay Sapphire bar where cocktail masterclasses are held.

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Laverstoke Mill Cocktail Bar

Laverstoke Mill Back Bar

Nik was quick to point out that this isn’t just a tourist hotspot, but a working distillery and every drop of Bombay Sapphire is now produced here. (It used to be distilled in Warrington at G&J Greenalls).

After asking me to hand over my camera and phone, Nik gave me a VERY exclusive tour behind the scenes, where I saw the stills, the steel baskets packed with botanicals ready for vapour infusion and  a small lab room where different gins were awaiting inspection.

Bombay gin is sampled from the still every 30 minutes during the distillation process. These samples are checked and tasted to ensure product consistency. I was given a glass to taste and much to my relief I correctly identified it as Star of Bombay!

Then it was time for a cocktail masterclass with Sam where we learned how to make two signature cocktails: The ‘Laverstoke’ (my favourite) and the ‘Modern Epicurean’, as well as learning more about the history of Bombay Sapphire. I love that Sam’s trousers are so on-brand!

Laverstoke Mill Cocktail Masterclass

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The ‘Laverstoke’ Cocktail

Inside Laverstoke Mill Glasshouse

Standing inside the Glasshouses was incredible, if a little warm! The two glasshouses are entirely separate. One contains botanicals from the Mediterranean and the other contains those from Tropical regions. Chris Cotterill, the Head Horticulturalist, (who formerly worked at Kew Gardens) explained that the waterfall-like beams were in fact heat conducting, and use energy created by the distillery to warm the glasshouses.

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Nik Fordham talking about botanicals

Next Nik took us to the dry botanical room and Dakin still house where we were able to smell, handle and taste Bombay Sapphire botanicals and see the magnificent stills.

FYI Grains of paradise do not taste nice. Also, do not trust a Master Distiller when he says “taste it, you’ll be fine”. He lied.

Thomas and Mary Dakin stills (image courtesy of Prue Andrews, Bombay Sapphire Australia)
Bombay Sapphire Juniper Berries
Juniper!
Bombay Sapphire Coriander
Coriander
Bombay Sapphire Orris Root
Orris Root

We learnt a bit more about the evolution of the Bombay gin before heading back to bar for one last cocktail, expertly made martinis from Sam.

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Sam Carter chats history

History of Bombay Gins

Can you tell I loved Bombay Sapphire Distillery? The magnificent glasshouses, the beautiful English countryside, the stills. All of it.

It was an incredible experience and there is nothing like seeing at close-hand how gin is made. Nik and Sam outlined a few of the plans for further development of the distillery which will only add to further enrich the visitor experience.

If you are anywhere near Whitchurch, I urge you to go. There are a variety of ways you can enjoy your visit from a basic 2 and half hour self-guided tour (15GDP), all the way up to the VIP Experience (150GDP). You can find more information here.

Grateful thanks to Will Brix, Sam Carter, Nik Fordham and the team at Laverstoke for spending so much time with me and to Bombay Sapphire Australia for the invitation!

Bombay Sapphire Distillery, Laverstoke Mill, London Road, Laverstoke, Whitchurch, Hampshire

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Beefeater Distillery

Having visited Sipsmith Distillery, the first gin distillery in London for 180 years, I had to visit Beefeater Distillery, the oldest continuously distilling gin producer in London.

Beefeater Gin is one of the most recognisable gin brands in the world, and is synonymous with London.  Master distiller, Desmond Payne is one of the most respected distillers in the UK, unfortunately for me, Desmond was off in New York when I visited, but Tim Stones, Global Brand Ambassador was on hand to show me around.

I began my visit with the excellent self-guided tour!

The detailed history of the origins of gin, James Burroughs (who founded Beefeater) and London has all put together by well-known drinks historian (and Sipsmith Master Distiller) Jared Brown. It was fascinating.

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One of the original stills at the Beefeater Distillery
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James Burroughs, Founder Beefeater Gin
An 'Old Tom' Cat.
An ‘Old Tom’ Cat.

I loved reading about the innovative ways people came by their gin. See the Black Cat above and the blurb below.

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This might be why a black cat appears on some ‘Old Tom’ gin labels.

After completing my tour Tim caught up with me (actually he jumped out and scared me to death!) and took me through to the working part of the distillery.

The building has a distinctly 1960’s feel, (Beefeater moved from Lambeth to the current distillery in 1958) and most of the stills are from that era. They were all produced by John Dore & Co Ltd, one of the oldest still-makers in the world.

The stills!
The stills!

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The stills were on a scale I hadn’t seen before and weren’t the usual shiny copper pots I’m used to seeing. And there were so many! Tim explained that they weren’t all running at the same time and that different stills produce different gins. Beefeater currently has 4 gins in its portfolio; Beefeater Dry, Beefeater 24, Burrough’s Reserve (a barrel-rested gin) and Beefeater Garden (limited edition, only available from the distillery.

They were producing gin while I was visiting and it was an impressive sight to see the gin gushing into the spirit safe. For some reason, I’d assumed the gin dripped through slowly!

Beefeater Gin gushing into the spirit safe
Beefeater Gin gushing into the spirit safe

Tim then showed me the variations of gin produced at different times of day. 10am, midday and 3pm. All different visually and also on the palate, with different botanical notes more pronounced in each variant.

Variants of Beefeater gin
Variants of Beefeater gin

We then moved to where the botanicals are stored.  The smell was incredible and the quantities were huge!

Sacks and sacks of juniper as far as the eye could see!
Sacks and sacks of juniper as far as the eye could see!
Scales for weighing the botanicals
Scales for weighing the botanicals

The distilled gin is stored in massive vats before heading up to Scotland for bottling. Tim pointed out that there has to be a short time where the gin ‘rests’, allowing all the botanicals to marry together.

It was eye-opening to see gin being produced on this scale. Whatever the size of distillery, the distillers are all similar methods and core ingredients dating back hundreds of years, but with differing results. Isn’t it amazing?

I could have spent much longer chatting to Tim (he has the most amazing office bar) but had to head off to visit Hayman’s which fittingly has family connections to Beefeater (more on that in another post). I’ll also be sharing my interview with Tim at a later date as well as delving into the Beefeater gin portfolio in more detail.

Beefeater Distillery 20 Montford Place London SE11 5DE

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Sipsmith Distillery

As soon as I’d booked my flights to dear old Blighty, I began compiling a list of places to visit. It will come as no surprise that Sipsmith Distillery was at the top.

I have a great deal of time for team Sipsmith, not least because of their superb gins, but because they take the time to visit Melbourne on a regular basis.

Situated in a the heart of West London, Sipsmith Distillery is tucked away in a nondescript building at the back of a car park, the only hint of the sorcery within is the magnificent swan logo painted on the external wall.

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The Sipsmith swan

The distillery was buzzing at 3pm on a Monday afternoon. Scanning the room I saw a bartender training session in full flow, a tour group standing in front of the stills learning about distilling techniques and Ollie Kitson, Head Distiller flitting between the stills and visitors.

Sam (Galsworthy) proudly showed me round and introduced me to the only Sipsmith I haven’t met, Fairfax, plus the fantastic team behind the scenes.

Front and centre are the gorgeous Carl stills, Constance and Patience. I’ve yet to discover the reason distillers name their stills. I suppose they are like their children, so need names? Patience was resting, with botanicals mascerating gently in her pot.

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‘Patience’
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Patience filled with botanicals
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Ollie Kitson, Head Distiller

To the left on the stills is Ollie’s ‘den’ for want of a better word. The back wall is lined with jars with mysterious contents and hand written labels. A large blackboard dominates the space, outlining the distilling schedule with abbreviations in chalk hinting at secret projects (I didn’t photograph it for obvious reasons).

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The ‘den’

Next to the bar is is a wall covered with large glass jars with names, dates and ABVs scribbled on the front.

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More experiments!

Ollie explained that these were the results of some of his experiments (and those of Jared Brown the master distiller). With taps on the front for easy pouring it seemed rude not to sample some! Sam also told me that they encourage locals to bring excess fruit from their gardens into the distillery for Ollie to play with and that they then come and sample the results at a later date.

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Olive Gin!

I was particularly drawn to the Olive Distilled gin which was AMAZING. Like the best kind of dirty martini. (If they ever launch that commercially I will be buying it in crates.)

It was wonderful to visit the home of one of my favourite gins and exciting to see where the magic happens. Some of the experiments going on were so intriguing and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Olive Gin becomes more widely available. As a parting gift Sam gave me one of those little experiments to take home, a Gin Cordial for Gimlets.

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Sipsmith’s Gin Cordial

These are not for sale and I am so happy to share one with the lucky winner of the World Gin Day Mega Giveaway Hamper (competition closes on Friday 19th June).

Sipsmith Distillery, 83 Cranbrook Road, Chiswick, London W4 2LJ. Follow them on Facebook, twitter and instagram.

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Making Gin at McHenry and Sons

During my whistle stop visit to McHenry and Sons Distillers, I was invited by William McHenry, the master distiller to make my own gin. How could I refuse?

I have blended my own gin , thanks to Bass & Flinders, but I hadn’t distilled gin before and couldn’t wait to have a go.

The  workshop takes place in the tasting room at the distillery. it’s also where the whisky and barrel-aged gin are aging nicely. Perfect surroundings!

First, guests are invited to select their botanicals from an array of the usual and very unusual botanicals…onion flakes anyone?

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Choosing botanicals

I’m afraid I was very conservative in my choices. This was such a unique experience for me that I didn’t want to go home with something undrinkable! My choices were juniper (obviously), coriander seeds, orange peel, lavender and orris root. William helped me crack the coriander seeds to allow the flavour to be drawn out more easily.

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Cracking coriander with William McHenry

Next we set up the miniature distilling pot. Vodka was poured into the flask and placed into the heating unit. Cold water flowed around the condensing pipe to assist with distillation. Then it was time to add the heat.

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Test still at McHenry & Sons Distillery

William explained that when distilling properly using his copper still there are three different temperature gauges to prevent the pot from over-heating. If this happens there can be a reflux effect where the alcohol boils up and overflows into the condenser, spoiling the gin. With the small unit we had to rely on our eyes. A rolling boil was what we were after, as seen in this video.

Making gin.mp4 from Caroline Childerley on Vimeo.

It wasn’t long before the spirits were flowing and I couldn’t resist letting a drop or two fall on to my fingertip in order to taste it. Quality control and all that!

What was interesting was how the different botanical flavours come through at different points during distillation, all distinct from one another.

Before bottling, William did a quick test of the ABV which came in at 78%, clearly requiring the gin to be cut with water! Usually, he does this with the guests at the time of the workshop, but it was easier for me to transport home in a smaller bottle!

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My Gin!

Making gin at McHenry and Son workshops are available through Bespokse Tasmania and can be booked here. Grateful thanks to William McHenry for gifting me this fabulous experience.

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William McHenry & Sons Distillery

William McHenry & Sons Distillery is the most southerly distillery in the world. Based in Port Arthur, Tasmania, William and his team produce vodka, gin and whisky. I am a big fan of this Classic Dry Gin and couldn’t wait to cross the Tasman to see the distillery.

William told me that the plan to become a distiller involved something of a tree change for him and his family.

“I was part of the corporate world for a long time even spending 5 years in Manhattan before returning to Australia and basing ourselves in Sydney. A few years of working for a company flying back and forth from Perth on a weekly basis made me question “is this it”? Then after a particularly stressful day, I drove home with my mind full of that day’s business and ran a red light, narrowly escaping an accident. It shook me up enough to make me realise that I wanted to do something else with my life”.

Chatting with a friend at a barbecue, William shared his desire to change direction. His friend replied “With a name like William McHenry, you should be making whisky!”.

William says it was like a light coming on and he and his wife Alison began scoping property locations in Tasmania.

The property in Port Arthur piqued William’s interest on two levels. Firstly, he loved the area, but secondly the property had natural springs, with extremely pure water, an essential ingredient in distilling.

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William showing me the natural spring
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William’s renovation project!

The McHenry copper still was manufactured in Tasmania by the same company that made Stone Pine Distillery’s still. At 500 litres, it is also a similar size. Visitors are welcome to visit during distillation and William even sets up lunch for guests in front of the still.

William McHenry and Sons Copper Still

William loves showing off the area to its fullest potential and has built a ‘bothy’ close to the distillery where visitors can enjoy lunch and tastings of his spirits, while gazing out over the stunning views.

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The beautiful ‘bothy’

One of the highlights of my visit to meet William and find out more about McHenry and Sons, was foraging for sloes for his acclaimed sloe gin. These are all picked by hand and are tricky little suckers as the bushes they grow on are covered in sharp thorns. I tasted one or two and they are sweet and juicy, but the tannin in the skins stripped my mouth of moisture in no time!

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Sloes!
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Spot the sloe berries!
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Sloes mascerating in a jar

There are 4 styles of gin in the McHenry range: sloe, barrel-aged, London Dry style and Navy Strength (over-proof). William showed me the solera system used for making his barrel-aged gin, and allowed me to sample some from the first barrel. Delicious!

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Sampling McHenry and Son Barrel-Aged Gin

I was also invited to make my own gin under Williams’ expert guidance, which was an amazing experience, one I’ll be sharing on another post. William offers these workshops through Bespoke Tasmania and you can book via the link below. If you are visiting Tasmania, I highly recommend making sure a visit to McHenry and Sons is on your itinerary!

William McHenry & Sons Distillery, Port Arthur, Tasmania. Follow them on Facebook and instagram. For gin-making workshops click here.

(With grateful thanks to William and the distillery team for giving up their time to share this wonderful distillery with me)

 

Melbourne Gin Company Dry Gin

The Melbourne Gin Company Distillery

While writing for Alquimie magazine, I got to spend some time with Andrew Marks, founder and master distiller of The Melbourne Gin Company Dry Gin (MGC)

Andrew comes from a winemaking family, his parents were one of the first to plant vines some 30 years ago in the Yarra Valley.

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Andrew went into the wine business on leaving school, and it’s in Gembrook, at the family vineyard, where Andrew spends the majority of his time, tending the vines, but at weekends it’s all about distilling.

Andrew is self-taught, but in a way that highlights his skills as a vintner. He distills each botanical separately and then blends them together to make the gin.

Andrew explains “I wanted to understand the properties of each botanical. To create MGC I played with 15-20 different botanical distillates to figure out how they would go together. To me it was all about building the palate. Flavour, texture and aroma are very important and I’m not sure I could have achieved what I have by using the one-shot method.”

melbourne-gin-company-stillAfter the blend was decided, Andrew upscaled to this Portuguese still. It holds 130 litres, which is tiny by distilling standards. If filled to the top it would take days to distill but Andrew prefers to run small batches, typically taking 8 hours.

Once each botanical is distilled, Andrew stores them in kegs in an insulated warehouse where they remain until needed. He’ll blend a small batch which is then cut with Gembrook rainwater collected from the roof before bottling. Andrew explained the intricacies of blending the botanicals with different alcohol strengths and I marvelled at the maths involved!

Before I left, Andrew proudly showed me some juniper bushes (Junipers communis) that he’d planted a few years ago. Juniper needs cold alpine conditions and Andrew is hopeful that he’ll get to harvest his own juniper for the gin soon. We discovered three berries but that doesn’t dissuade Andrew.

“I’d love to have a botanical garden growing all my ingredients, wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

Visits to Melbourne Gin Company Distillery at Gembrook are strictly by appointment only. Email INFO@MELBOURNEGINCOMPANY.COM

You can follow Melbourne Gin Company on Facebook, twitter and Instagram.