When I first started Then Gin Queen, Gin Palace was the first place to go and learn all I could from then-manager Shaun Byrne (Now Maidenii) and current manager Trish Brew.
In an ever-fickle world, bars come and go and it’s considered a success to pass the 2-3 year mark. So for Gin Palace, Melbourne to be celebrating her 20th Birthday next week, is a truly amazing achievement!
Back in 1997, Vernon Chalker’s vision (along with Daniel Besen, Robert Lehrer, and Michael Kantor) was for a friendly cocktail lounge with no attitude and table service, unheard of in the ’90s!
The bar was designed to imitate an 1870’s lounge bar in Budapest, renovated in the 1950’s. Martinis and cigars were the order of the day, whilst Burt Bacharach and the James Bond theme played until 3am.
Having seen off the The GFC and the change to smoking laws, Gin Palace is now embracing the wave of new local and global craft gins. To celebrate her 20 years of service Gin Palace is closing Russell Place for one day only, not only as a celebration for Gin Palace but also for the laneway and Melbourne itself.
**WIN 2 VIP tickets to the Gin Palace turns 20 party**
Join me on the red carpet for what promises to the party of the year! There will be martinis on arrival, oysters, chicken sandwiches, a band from 5.30 and a roulette table in the Casino Royal! (Swamp room) If you’ve ever been to Gin Palace on World Gin Day, you’ll know the team know how to party!
For a chance to win simply answer the following question:
Terms & Conditions
Competition open to over 18s only
One entry per person (duplicates will be deleted)
Competition closes on Wednesday 1st November at midnight
I am very fortunate doing what I do, I tend to hear about the latest gins before they reach the stores and often get to try samples and early developmental iterations and asked to give feedback. I get to see and taste the latest experimentations from a wide variety of distillers and am in awe of their talent and innovation.
However, I sometimes wonder whether the quest to have a “point of difference” to all the others gins out there (approximately 6,000) means distillers are straying too far from what makes gin (i.e. JUNIPER), gin resulting in little more than flavored vodka with the word gin on the label. I’m not saying there is anything wrong flavoured vodka, but there the cynic in me does question whether “GIN” is being slapped on a label because people know that gin sells.
So it was an immense relief (I may have actually gasped in delight) when I heard about Never Never gin and read the words “Triple Juniper gin on the label. As an unashamed juniper junkie I confess the pine and camphor notes of juniper fizzing around in a gin and tonic are what makes me happy. The last time a gin made this happy was when I tasted Sipsmith’s VJOP, another juniper-rich gin.
Triple Juniper gin is made in Adelaide by Tim, Sean and George from The Never Never Distilling Co. The name comes from the terms ‘Never Never’ which was first recorded in the late 19th century and was used to describe the uninhabited regions of Australia – then called just ‘The Never-Never’. The more remote regions of Australia’s outback are still known by that name. “Heading into the Never Never” was a test of strength and courage, with many an early explorer perishing in the vast expanses of Australia’s harsh outback.
For the team this term best describes the the excitement, dreams and the challenges that stretch out for a thousand miles in the journey of every small Australian distillery.
I caught up with the team when I was in Adelaide recently and had a gander at their teeny tiny distillery (expansion looms) and to find out more about Never Never Distilling Co.
The trio met in typical Adelaide fashion (i.e. everyone knows everyone) with Tim and Sean’s wives being best friends. Tim and George were at Uni together and when the three of them met at Whisky Live one year, the idea of making gin (and eventually whisky) in Adelaide was born.
The still was designed and made in Melbourne by Spark Brewing ( it was one of the first stills to come off their assembly line) and is a 300L copper pot with a 5 plate rectification column and gin vapour basket, both of which can be disconnected from the copper pot if required, allowing plenty of flexibility in terms of what the team can create. They decided to decided to call her ‘Wendy’ because there could not have been a lovelier sight!
As the name Triple Juniper gin suggests, the Never Never team use three different techniques to extract the most flavour from the juniper. They macerate (steep the juniper in the alcohol before distillation), distill in the pot and vapour infuse the berries to achieve the bold juniper flavour profile.
Triple Juniper Gin Botanicals
In addition to juniper the team use Australian coriander (they felt provided a brighter citrus and less earthiness than other coriander) plus angelica, orris root, native pepper berry and a small amount of cinnamon.
Tasting Never Never Triple Juniper Gin
The divine juniper gin sings out immediately upon opening the bottle, with zesty citrus aromas that made my mouth water. On tasting it has a bright piney juniper flavour with fresh citrus following through and a hint of rosemary. Earthy orris and angelica balance out the juniper and pleasant heat from the pepper berry provides a warm finish. Delicious and full-bodied with plenty of texture, Triple Juniper Gin makes a stunning G&T but is outstanding in a martini as I discovered at Maybe Mae in Adelaide.
Dark Series Southern Strength
Never Never’s Dark Series will consist of experimental and limited edition spirits. The first of these is their Southern Strength. Described by the team as a “beast of a gin” and coming in at 52% ABV you can see why. They used the same technique as with the Triple Juniper gin, but have tweaked the recipe slightly.
It’s certainly bolder than the original, without being overpowering. The smoothness hides the higher ABV. It has a slightly oily, resinous texture. Juniper is still the driving force, but the tweak to the recipe has given it a lengthier finish. I used this to make a glorious Army and Navy cocktail.
I am often over enthusiastic about gin. I do LOVE it so. However, with Never Never Triple Juniper Gin, I would go out on a limb and say that this is probably the best gin I have tasted all year (so far!).
The newest Australian gin from Adelaide will not disappoint if your dad is a juniper junkie like me. I’ll be doing a review in the coming weeks, but all you need to know right now is that Triple juniper gin is freaking delicious! (the juniper is treated in three separate ways, partially steeped, partially in the pot and partially in the vapour, hence the name!
I adore these The Nachtmann NextGen line PUNK highball glasses which have has been developed in cooperation with the world-famous arts and design college Central Saint Martins in London. An edgy way to serve up your G&Ts!Available from David Jones.
(NOTE: I HAVEN’T BEEN PAID TO ENDORSE THESE PRODUCTS, THEY ARE JUST THINGS I THOUGHT YOU’D LIKE!)
The IWSC (International Wines and Spirits Competition) is up there with the San Francisco World Spirits Awards in terms of prestige. Now in its 48th year, the IWSC not only has an experienced judging panel, but also puts each entry under chemical analysis to ensure the products are what they say they are. Integrity, accuracy and impartiality are at the heart of the competition’s ethos.
This year, the IWSC received nearly 400 gin entries from 35 different countries – an enormous 571% increase since 2013!
23 Australian gins were awarded medals; One gold medal, 17 silvers and 6 bronze.
Four Pillars Barrel Aged Gin, Healesville, Vic ~ Wood Finished
Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin, Healesville, Vic ~ Contemporary Styles
Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin, Healesville, Vic ~ Contemporary Styles
Four Pillars Spiced Negroni Gin ~Contemporary Styles
Kangaroo Island Spirits Wild Gin ~ Contemporary Styles PLUS Silver 2017 in Gin & Tonic category
Kangaroo Island Spirits Old Tom ~ Old Tom category
Kangaroo Island Spirits Whisky Barrel Gin Silver Outstanding ~ Cask Finished
While I didn’t manage to crack 8 distilleries in 7 days like I did during my 2015 trip, I was able to pop into a couple, including 58 Gin in Hackney, where I caught up with owner and Master Distiller, Mark Marmont.
Originally from Australia, Mark settled in London after meeting his wife. He didn’t like gin back then, put off by his dislike of cardamom and star anise which he found in many of the gins he tried. He started to take an interest in the London cocktail scene and as he learned more about gin from his bartender friends, decided to develop his own gin.
Mark opened the 58 gin distillery on Australia Day 2014, fitting for the former dive master and boat skipper from Sydney. Nestled under the railway arches in Hackney, the distillery is a tiny space filled with alembic stills in a variety of sizes. I was struck by the tidiness (I’ve been to A LOT of distilleries that could learn a thing or two) and Mark proudly showed off all the carefully designed hidden storage space that keeps the distillery in order.
Why 58 gin? Fortunately, this isn’t a reference to the number of botanicals, but is the number on the door of Mark’s house. The angel wings on the label represent Angel, the London borough where Mark lives.
Mark follows a traditional (one-shot) method of producing his gin. The botanicals are steeped over night and distilled very slowly to get the maximum flavour from the ingredients. It’s a painstaking process and only 90 bottles are produced at a time.
58 Gin Botanicals
Mark, like many distillers, initially experimented at his kitchen bench, playing around with different ingredients and refining his recipe. At one point he told me he had 30 different botanicals on the go and in his words “it was ridiculous! I couldn’t find any balance”. After paring everything back to the basics he settled on nine; juniper, coriander seeds, orris root, angelica, cubeb pepper, Sicilian lemon, pink grapefruit, bergamot and bourbon vanilla.
Tasting 58 Gin
Juniper and grapefruit notes are really clear on the nose. On the palate, it totally hits the mark with good juniper flavour and delicious citrus notes from the grapefruit and bergamot. There is a little lingering pepperiness from the cubeb and a merest hint of vanilla that thankfully doesn’t overpower. It’s a full-bodied gin with a smooth, round finish. So tasty!
Drinking 58 Gin
With lots of juniper and citrus, 58 gin is a natural winner in a G&T, but savoury enough to enjoy in a martini. Mark’s preference is in a Gibson (silverskin onions are always available in the distillery fridge) and I tend to agree!
While 58 Gin isn’t available to buy in Australia at the moment, it can’t surely be long before we welcome this delightful gin. I’ve already started nagging Mark about Junipalooza Melbourne next year!
“A gentleman is simply a patient wolf “~ Lana Turner
Lana’s quote is an apt one for Dave and Matt at Patient Wolf gin. Plenty is required when setting up a distillery. Like many before them it took the team almost three years to set up in Brunswick, Melbourne. Finally in October last year they welcomed Sebastian Mueller, 4th Generation still maker, to Melbourne to help them build their stunning Mueller still and what a beauty she is!
Matt and Dave then had the tricky task of taking the recipe they had created on their tiny desk-top still and making it work on the full-size one. Not an easy feat as many distillers will tell you. The team spent hours with several of Melbourne’s top bartenders like Trish Brew at Gin Palace and Seb Costello at Bad Frankie sharing their test batches and looking for feedback. They were finally happy with the recipe in December and launched Batch 1 on crowd funding site, Pozible.
The gin features both native and traditional botanicals. Steeped overnight and distilled in the pot are juniper berries, coriander seeds, orris root, angelica root, cardamom, cubeb pepper and the interesting (and extremely expensive) tonka bean. Tonka bean is a relatively recent inclusion in gins, but it’s long been used as a replacement for vanilla, in perfumes and tobacco. Fresh local organic ruby grapefruit, fresh organic oranges and aniseed myrtle (from northern NSW) are vapour infused in the botanical basket. Dave found the aniseed myrtle too overpowering to use directly in the pot still!
Tasting Patient Wolf gin
I was fortunate to taste some of Matt and Dave “gins in progress” while they were refining the recipe and it’s exciting to see how far they have come from the initial batches. I recently received Batch No. 5 to taste and trial.
On the nose Patient Wolf has hints of citrus, light vanilla and earthy/musky notes. To taste, citrus starts us off before moving into floral, earthy notes with a faint touch of parma violet (I’m guessing from the orris root and angelica) followed by a lengthy spicy finish. It has a wonderfully smooth feel on the mouth.
Drinking Patient Wolf gin
Patient Wolf makes a fine gin and tonic, not as juniper forward as I like, but delicious with a wedge of ruby grapefruit as per their recommendation. For martini lovers, I’d try it in a wet rather than a dry. Where Patient Wolf really stood out for me was in a Negroni. The musky, earthy notes provide a good backbone against the sweetness of the vermouth and bitterness of the Campari.
Patience has certainly paid off for Dave and Matt. Producing a quality gin is not as easy as you’d think! Patient Wolf was a worthy recipient of a Silver Medal at the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards in 2017 and I’m looking forward to watching what the team does next.
I’m about to head off to the UK for some more ginanagins in the lead up to Junipalooza. Finalising my itinerary I’m reminiscing about my visit two years ago when one of the (many) distilleries I visited was East London Liquor Company, the first vodka, gin and whisky distillery in that part of London for 100 years.
Part of founder Alex Wolpert and distiller Tom Hill’s mission was to create a gin that was accessible in terms of price without compromising on flavour. They achieved this with their first expression that I reviewed here.
Like most distillers, it wasn’t long before Tom was itching to create another gin. Distillers are wont to do that. In spite of producing something spectacular, the love of playing (sorry distilling) with all sorts of ingredients is part of the magic of gin production. The possibilities are endless.
Not content with producing one, Tom ended up producing two and I was thrilled to learn that East London Liquor Company Premium Batch No. 2 is now available in Australia.
East London Liquor Company Premium Batch No.2 Botanicals
Looking at the list of botanicals used in Batch No. 2 my mind immediately leapt to an image of a traditional english herb garden. Juniper, coriander seed, orris root, angelica, and lemon peel are all familiar ingredients in gin. However, the addition of winter savoury, fennel seeds, sage, bay leaf and lavender adds a herbaceous dimension to this complex gin.
Tasting East London Liquor Company Premium Batch No.2
On the nose the herbs come through, particularly the thyme and fennel. To taste, initially there are bright citrus notes that develop into delicious, almost chewy herbal flavours with sage and bay leaf most evident. There is a subtle hint of lavender before a lengthy finish rounded our with white pepper. The bold flavours are supported by a 47% ABV but this is still a smooth, sippable gin.
Drinking East London Liquor Company Premium Batch No.2
Garnished with thyme and lemon, Batch No. 2 makes a solid gin and tonic. As a lover of savoury gins (think West Winds Cutlass and Gin Mare) this gin stands out as a perfect martini gin. Try it wetter (with more vermouth) to encourage those herbaceous notes to come to the fore. I was also inspired to try it in Ryan Magarian’s The Lady Sage Cocktail.
Manly Spirits gin comes, unsurprisingly, from Manly Beach in New South Wales. Owners David and Vanessa, first floated the idea of opening their own distillery in 2015 during a visit to Tasmania. David has a background in chemical engineering and Vanessa’s is in marketing and design (more on that later), so a pretty useful combination!
Two years later they welcomed Tim Stones (former Global Brand Ambassador for Beefeater Gin) as Head Distiller and Production Manager and launched their Pozible campaign. During his time at Beefeater, Tim learnt from Desmond Payne, (the longest-serving distiller in the world) and Sean Harrison, Master Distiller at Plymouth Gin as well as studying for his General Certificate in Distilling and completing hands-on training with the teams both in London and Scotland.
David and Vanessa are Manly locals with a deep connection to the area, in particular to the sea (both are keen swimmers, divers and surf lifesavers). The team approached established forager Elijah Holland (who worked with renowned chef René Redzepi at the Noma pop-up in Sydney last year) to assist in selecting botanicals for the gin.
Elijah recommended sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) which clings to rocks and can be readily harvested at low tide (it’s the only seaweed that can be harvested freely, everything else has to be foraged under license).
Manly Spirits Gin Botanicals
Aside from the sea lettuce, Manly Spirits Gin contains; juniper, angelica root, coriander seed, orris root, orange peel, cardamom, finger lime, aniseed myrtle, and mountain pepper leaf. Tim says he found working with Australian botanicals challenging, but “inspiring”.
On the nose Manly Spirits gin has bright citrus notes, delicate pine aromas juniper and the merest hint of ozone. Tasting it, the citrus comes through as well as fresh pine. It has a savoury characteristic, not quite umami but getting there, and rounds out with a white peppery finish. Well balanced, delicious flavours and a good length, Manly Spirits Gin is a quality spirit that will serve you well in a variety of drinks.
How wonderful does this martini look? You’ll be pleased to know that it tasted just as good. A cracker in my opinion. Bright citrus flavours and aromas are drawn out by the vermouth and a good peppery finish.
Aside from being a delightful gin, I must mention the attention to detail that has gone into the packaging of Manly Spirits Gin. In an increasingly crowded gin market, standing out from the other brands on the shelf is as important as making a tasty liquid. Vanessa’s design skills are apparent in the custom-made bottle. The fibonacci sequence pattern gave her inspiration for the textured base and represents balance and perfection in nature, the blue glass is a nod to her connection to the sea and the eye-catching lid features the Eastern blue devil fish, the Manly Spirits emblem.
Australian gin distillers have once again performed well against stiff global competition at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. I am so proud of our Australian gin distilling industry and the recognition they are receiving on the international stage.
The number of gins entered into the competition increased to 268 entries in 2017 from 197 in 2016 (not including flavoured or aged gins).
This year Australian gins won 2 Double Golds (up from 1 in 2016), 4 Golds (down from 7 in 2016), 11 Silver (same as 2016) and 8 Bronze (up 1 from 2016). That means a total of 26 medals (the same overall result as in 2016).
The state with the most medals was Victoria (7), followed by South Australia and New South Wales (6 each), Tasmania and Western Australia (3 ) and Queensland with one medal.
This is an amazing achievement for our fledgling industry. I can’t wait to see what they do in 2018.
Here are the results:
DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL 2017 (Outstanding; earning top marks from all judges.)
What is the San Francisco World Spirits Competition?
Launched in 2000, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition is considered the most respected and influential spirits competition in the world, with a rigorous judging process involving highly controlled blind-tastings with an expert panel who only receive information on spirit type, ABV and age (where applicable) to remove bias.
Red Hen Gin is made at the first urban distillery in Adelaide. Created by four school friends, Luke Page and brothers Michael, Anthony and Daniel Vallelonga, the gin is named after the train that they used to catch to school together.
The boys grew up in the gateway to the Barossa and they are all passionate about South Australian produce. The Vallelonga brothers have made their own wine with their Nonno (grandfather) from grapes they grew themselves, and together with Luke have also brewed beer as a fun side project. Since they began distilling they’ve uncovered some family connections with the booze industry in Australia. Both grandfathers were Publicans in Gawler, where they grew up, and Luke’s Great Aunt was the first woman to hold a Publican’s License in Australia.
It took the Red Hen team two and a half years to perfect their recipe while they battled through the council regulations and licensing requirements (a common theme that crops up regularly when chatting to distillers!). The time was obviously well spent with Red Hen Gin immediately winning a gold medal in the Contemporary Gin category at the 2017 Australian Distilled Spirit Awards, and it was also crowned Champion Small Batch Spirit in Australia!
Made from grape based spirit from the heart of the Barossa valley, Red Hen gin is 100% vapor-infused in a 100-litre still. There are 15 botanicals, including juniper, coriander, orris root, licorice root and cassia bark. Although the team wanted to created a London dry style gin they have used some native ingredients like Muntrie berries which are indigenous to the South Australian coast and give off a sweet crab apple flavour. The inclusion of fresh celery leaf offers a herbaceous peppery note.
Tasting Red Hen Gin
On the nose there are lime zest and sherbet aromas with fresh pine coming through from the juniper. Flavour-wise there is no mistaking Red Hen gin is citrus forward. There is a good juniper flavour and a subtle hint of apple. The finish is lengthy with a pleasant hit of white pepper cutting through the citrus.
Drinking Red Hen Gin
A good gin will work in a variety of drinks. Red Hen gin is excellent in a gin and tonic and I highly recommend it in a dry martini with Maidenii dry vermouth.
The team is planning to create a Navy Strength Gin next as well as a secret spiced rum. They are also collaborating with a local brewery to create the first locally distilled whisky.