I’ve been fortunate to meet many distillers, and visit the places they call home, but few have the unique story that Brendan and Laura Carter have about Applewood Distillery.
Some Australian Distillers started out wanting a change from their corporate lives, others to add to their pre-existing businesses and a very few, to continue their family legacy – Holly Klintworth (Bass and Flinders) and Kristy Lark Booth (Killara Distillery) both spring to mind.
Brendan and Laura on the other hand, came from a completely different direction. After a visit to the distillery in March, I caught up with them to find out more about their distilling journey.
What inspired you to create Applewood Distillery?
“We believe that if farmers focussed on planting crops that are native to Australia, many of agricultural issues around intensive farming could be fixed. Native crops are adapatable, don’t require a lot of water or use of pesticides. The only thing in the way of this plan was a way of monetising native ingredients to incentivise them to grow more natives.
We investigated lots of options – restaurants, food products etc, but we figured out that by specialising in turning tonnes and tonnes of raw produce into gin, might be a good way forward. So Applewood Distillery was born.“
You both come from a winemaking background (check out their label Unico Zelo), were there other spirits you were interested in making?
We already had a line of bitter amaro under the Økar brand name, but we wanted to create a product that had the biggest amount (by weight) of native ingredients, so we looked at both gin and amaro. For every 1000 litres of Amaro, we use approximately 400kg native ingredients and with gin 50kg per 1000 litres.
You are evidently passionate about sustainability, and recently received B certification for sustainability – what does that mean for you as a business? Was it difficult to achieve?
“Sustainability is core to our entire business’ inception.
Being a Certified B Corporation is a difficult and arduous process that took around 12 months – but it’s the gold standard in third party, verified and quantified sustainability and impact that reaches beyond ecological factors, delving into social impact too.”
Applewood has helped many gin brands in South Australia establish themselves by distilling their products. Were there challenges with keeping your gin identity while helping others create theirs?
It was actually remarkably easy, we’ve always had the luxury of picking and choosing clients to work with, and specifically those that delivered us creative briefs that would always inherently be rather distinct to Applewood’s own recipes.
Describe your gins and your choice of botanicals. Did any gin influence your choices?
We have three core Gin offerings: Our Applewood Australian Gin, Applewood Navy and (now) Applewood Coral. All three delve into different aspects of native ingredients and landscapes.
Our signature Gin champions the use of ingredients from the deserts of Australia – Desert Limes, Peppermint Gum Leaf and Wattleseed (amongst 17 other ingredients), whilst our newly released Coral explores the seascapes of Australia with Riberry, Strawberry Gum Leaf and Karkalla – a much more minimalist style of recipe.
The higher ABV of a Navy-Strength gin gave us the opportunity to pack in a lot of flavour, – so we explored an aspect of native ingredients that broke down borders: we’re a part of Australasia – and most native ingredients showcase remarkable similarities in flavour to many native Asiatic ingredients – so we explored the use of Yuzu and Green Tea to really emphasise our favourite native Australian citrus: the Desert Lime.
In terms of inspirational Gin? We love Gins that taste of ‘place’ – that have a crystalline expression of a ‘terroir’ and particular point in time, be that a season or a harvest. The ones that really hit our vibrations are: The Botanist, Monkey47, Ferdinand’s, St. George’s Terroir Gin.
What is the most rewarding thing about making Applewood gin?
The sheer creativity in working with such a wealth of under-explored and exciting flavours on our doorstep.
Each new ingredient we experiment with, is another step towards cultural recognition for contemporary and traditional people’s alike.
What’s next for Applewood?
We’ve largely finalised our core range with the addition of Coral (something that’s actually taken us 5 years to assemble) , but we will continue our array of mono-botanical expressions of Gin each month.
We also have an array of collaborations coming out, but what I think is really next for us is – getting more intimate with telling the stories of native ingredient farming and really quantifying their benefit to Australian agriculture.
To my mind there Applewood is at the forefront of educating us about native gin botanicals and supporting Indigenous communities.
I fell in love with their new Navy Strength while on the Gin Queen Tour in March. It’s a bright and citrus-forward gin with hints of Asian spice. Even at 58%, it’s smooth enough to drink neat over ice, but I love it with soda and garnish with Pomelo – where the flavours really shine.
So, having given my heart to the Navy Strength, I was very intrigued by Coral, yes it’s pink, but I’d heard good things.
Well, having tasted it I will say GREAT things.
It’s beautifully fragrant, with a subtle pink hue hinting at the Strawberry gum and Riberry used as key botanicals. However, just when you think you know where this gin story is going, the Karkalla (also known as Pig Face or Sea Banana) kicks in.
Its salinity cuts through the fruity and floral notes providing a backbone to stope this becoming another fruit gin. The floral and fruit flavours continue to develop in the mouth while drinking, and the savoury notes linger in a lengthy, almost buttery finish.
How to drink it? More like, how to stop drinking it!
The combination of fruit and salinity means that she works in a variety of cocktails. I’ve tested her in a martini, a white lady and a gin and tonic. She didn’t disappoint in any of them!