South Australia is home to some of the best Australian gins. Relative new-comer Imperial Measures Distilling have picked up a slew of awards recently, so I caught up with Chris and David to find out more about them, their gins and their future plans.
Tell me the story behind IMD? How did you two meet?
David and I met working behind the bar at The Apothecary in Adelaide back in 2014 and quickly bonded over a common love for Gin and Cocktails.
Were you always interested in making gin, or did you have other spirits in mind?
Gin was always at the forefront of our minds as we both have a bit of a geeky fascination with flavour and its sources. Botanicals are a natural extension of that, and gin is so wonderfully and uniquely botanically expressive that it became a bit of an obsession for us to pursue the path of distillation.
We were singularly focused on getting our foot in the distilling door by making an approachable and delicious gin suited to a classic ‘G ‘n T’ format before thinking too seriously about other spirits.
Having said that, we have had thoughts and discussions about many other categories – amaro and vermouth have great appeal to us – and we often like to gaze into the crystal ball and ponder about what the next big thing might be…
Initially, Brendan Carter at Applewood Distillery made the gin. What made you take that route?
Necessity and opportunity! We had been developing the flavour profile of Ounce Gin ‘Signature’ in-house for almost a year before the idea of using Brendan’s still was floated. Our goal was always to drum up enough money to purchase our own still and find a venue, but the financial realities of life meant that without significant investment we would be nothing more than hobbyists at best.
Brendan has been a great friend of ours for ages, and the opportunity to use his still came up out of a dinner party conversation. It turned out to be a timely and mutually beneficial idea at the relatively early stages of his and our distilling careers.
We were the first brand to be contract distilled out of Applewood and at the time we were chuffed at the amazing offer and remain eternally grateful to Brendan and Laura and all of the Applewood crew for the opportunity they gave us to launch our brand.
What made you decide to take production in-house?
As great as it was being able to get our hands dirty with someone else’s 300 litre still, it was never ours to use as we wished, and so we were limited by what we could do and when we could do it.
That, and the fact that we had to prepare and run all of the botanicals of our recipe up to Gumeracha from Adelaide as well as 120+ litres of our own filtered water, then come down the hill with 300 odd bottles of Ounce Gin near twice a month, and I’m sure you can see the desire to move out of ‘Mum and Dads place’ as it were and into our own was pretty strong.
During that time, you gave the brand a complete overhaul and began using those stunning decanter style bottles. What was the inspiration behind that?
Thank you! We love the bottles too. We felt that with the move to new digs, juice now coming from our own brand new 500 liter still, and a transition from three key business partners to two, that we could afford to upgrade to a 700ml bottle and spend a bit of time on the redesign and relaunch the brand.
Our general branding has always given a stylistic nod to the Victorian era , and we felt that a lovely decanter style would be a fitting way to present our product. We spent a great deal of time and effort on what went into the bottles so it seemed only fitting to package it in something beautiful…and we love that people are repurposing them for water and vases and oils and other things.
Describe your gins and your choice of botanicals. Did any gin influence your choices?
So we have 2 gins – Ounce Gin ‘Signature’ and Ounce Gin – ‘Bold’.
Signature was designed to be an approachable, drinkable, contemporary styled ‘Gin & Tonic’ gin, with emphasis on the lovely bright fresh citrus that we grow all over southern Australia.
Along with the classic profile of juniper, coriander seed and angelica root, we added ruby grapefruit, vanilla and green cardamom as key flavour botanicals. With pimento and black cardamom for mid palate spice, and macadamia for richness and mouth feel. It makes a delicious gin and tonic, but also combines well with citrus, so it makes great cocktails such as an Army and Navy or any Gin Sour, and the orange element also makes for a fantastic Negroni (particularly with our own Ruby Bitter Aperitif).
Ounce Gin ‘Bold’ is the polar opposite of Signature. Bold harks back to the more classic herbal and savoury notes of ‘London Dry’ styles of the past. A big whack of juniper is the primary driver, as well as coriander seed and angelica. Big bunches of sage and thyme that we grow at the Distillery go into the vapour basket, as well as black pepper, lemon rind and orris root.
Bold is also great in more traditional style gin beverages, including mixed with tonic or particularly soda but it really sings in a Martini.
It’s a bit hard to say whether any one gin influenced our choices because in some ways every gin did, even if it was in clarifying what not to use, or what we didn’t particularly like. We weren’t trying to emulate any particular style with our first gin, we were just seeking drinkability and deliciousness.
What is the most challenging and the most rewarding thing about distilling gin?
The most challenging thing is to try not to be all things to everyone. Gin drinkers are prolific, passionate, and also prepared to try new things, but like any aficionado they have personal preferences and favourites, and as a distiller you just have to go with your instinct and believe in what you are doing.
The most rewarding thing is probably seeing people enjoy the gin, whether they be long time gin lovers, or most satisfying of all, new converts.
You’ve picked up several awards recently at the ADSA and Tasting Australia Competitions (Congratulations). How did that feel?
Amazing. Humbling. Reassuring. All of the words…
Picking up the ADSA award in Melbourne was mind-blowing as we really didn’t expect it. Bold has managed to win Gold Medals before (5 from 5 competitions entered, including one of only two Australian Golds at the World Gin Awards), but we’ve never been fortunate enough to win a ‘Best in Category’ before.
Nabbing the Tasting Australia Award for Best Gin from a field of near 170 odd outstanding gins and gin producers, on our home turf (Adelaide), was an incredible feeling that won’t soon be forgotten.
How does winning awards impact the business?
Well, it does a few things, not the least of which is to increase our profile. Rightly or wrongly, it legitimises what we do. More immediately it has caused a noted uptick in interest and sales, and we are trying hard to determine the best way for us to capitalise on that wave.
You will debuting at Junipalooza Melbourne this year. What are you hoping to get out the experience?
New friends and new fans broadly. It will also be one of the few times that we have travelled together ,given that one of us usually has to be at home base, so it should be fun.
What are the best ways/signature serves of each of your gins?
We love ‘Signature’ served with a lovely fresh wheel of orange it just accentuates the best aspects of our gin. Ruby Grapefruit or Lemon are also good and any fleshy fruit such as mango works a treat as well.
We like to serve ‘Bold’ with some delicious green olives. Capturing some of the briny goodness in the glass really brings out the wonderful herbal and savoury characteristics. If olives aren’t your cup of tea, a slice of lemon and a sprig of thyme work beautifully as well.
What’s next for Imperial Measures Distilling?
Keep on, keepin’ on! We’ve opened a cellar door in West Thebarton and that is growing in popularity. We want to promote it as a welcoming venue where you can try our gins or learn more about distillation.
Once wine vintage winds up, we are looking at adding a product to the repertoire. Then we will be focusing on expanding our interstate sales, and looking seriously at exporting.
Our general plan is to keep on making quality booze. Our mantra is to make the right things for the right reasons, and not to settle on a product if it isn’t of exceptional quality. We don’t want to compromise on that, certainly not now that a light has been shone on us.