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