by David Bloom and Madeleine Burke
Intended publication: NewsworthyAussie Spirit on the Rise
With home grown ingredients, historical roots and flavours for all pallets, Australian Gin is fast becoming the drink of choice
Australia has had a long and colourful history with alcohol, and as our different drinking habits have continually moulded the society around us, each different drink carries its own history and individuality.
Historian Milton Lewis claims that “heavy drinking was an established cultural norm transported to Australia at the time of colonisation.”
The choice of liquor itself has a historical narrative as well. Gin was the first and foremost liquor of early colonists, once labelled an “epidemic” that carried over from Europe with early colonists in Australia according to Lewis.
Our strong ties to the intoxicating elixir date back to colonial times, where alcohol was briefly used as a currency, and the only military coup in our entire history occurred, which has come to be known as ‘The Rum Rebellion.’
It is no surprise then that one of the earliest and most successful beverages of the time was a gin distilled by Robert Cooper in what is now the Sydney suburb, Chippendale.
Cooper was an English emancipist who spent 5 years as a convict in Sydney before his pardon in 1818, after which he lived out his days as a charitable colony member, and fathered 28 children.
After serving his time, Cooper began many business ventures, the most profitable being his distillery, known as “Cooper’s Best Colonial Gin,” which the Sydney Gazette described in 1831 as “a beverage at once mild, palatable, refreshing, and innocent.”
Coopers influence is still felt across Sydney, through his work in founding the Sydney Grammar School, as well as his erection of Juniper Hall, (named after Gin’s most famous botanical) a heritage listed residence that still stands in Paddington.
Since those days, Australia has become a diverse space for a variety of drinks that have taken on their own distinct Australian characteristics.
While the new flavours and wide varieties of craft beer has seen it steadily rise over the past 5 years, a new generation of distillers are channelling similar energy to craft a variety of unique gins.
“Gin, in layman terms is really sexy vodka,” says Andrew Kerrigan, founder and head distiller of Hemp Gin, the first of its kind brought to market.
The freedom of flavour in gin was something that drew Andrew towards the spirit, “Juniper is a legal requirement to call it gin and after that anything goes.”
But he stresses the importance of a range of botanicals to enhance the drink and provide unique flavours.
“There are some standard botanicals that are generally used and these would include some form of citrus note, Coriander and something like Orris or Angelica… native botanicals have seen a massive growth in use in Australia, mountain pepper berries, lemon myrtle, finger limes etc.”
Kerrigan sees a swing away from the Australian stereotypes of Beers and pubs, as “people are generally drinking less, but more premium drinks. There are pockets of bars and clubs that are pushing hard to focus on Australian craft production. People are also more savvy with regards to what to drink. Cocktails are on the rise and people are keen to experiment.”
Kerrigan sees a strong connection between the ingredients and the land, as he feels his British heritage leaves him disconnected from the native ingredients, “I did not feel it would be genuine for me to use these botanicals, I feel this is better left to people who have a strong connection to the land and place of birth.”
This sentiment is perhaps captured best by the Cape Byron Distillery, which sits adjacent to the rainforest that provides them with many of their botanicals.
Alex Spork, Licensee at Bondi Beach’s Ravesis Hotel says it’s the “extra elements of flavour and more uniqueness” that’s been the driving factor behind its recent rise.
One of Bondi’s busiest spots, the two-story bar now has a signature gin, a collaboration with Archie Rose in which Spork himself picked the “6 additional botanical distillates that were added to the blend.”
Beer will continue to dominate the local Australian market due to the benefits of brewing locally, according to Spork. ”Beer will cost you a lot to transport because its in high volume, on top of that it doesn’t last as long, you’ll only get about 3 months worth in transportation.”
Spirits, however, are far more efficient to import, and have a longer shelf life. “There’s no real expiration on a spirit, you can open a good bottle of spirit from 50 years ago and it would still be as good today as it was then.”
He has been following the rise of Gin in Sydney closely, working in bars all over the city for over 10 years, but is wary to avoid the bright colours in favour of complex flavours, “Brand and marketing help to get them out there, will get a lot of different people trying it, but its all back to personal tastes.”
Spork also stresses the importance of another key ingredient, “Have it with a better quality tonic, one that has more flavour or is paired better with the gin, the taste of it is 1000 times better, depending on the gin, if it is the one that’s made to work with the particular tonic.
Despite the wide variety of options available, Spork admits many aren’t adventurous enough to try them.
“A lot of people go for what they know, which is quite sad, unless they have a friend or a bartender say, hey you should try this.
This view is repeated by Matthew, a member of the Australian Hotel’s Association (AHA). “I do see that often [craft distillers] can struggle to compete in a landscape that is often designed for big business liquor”
“The trouble…is that boutique brands are competing in their own field with the biggest brands out there and for many punters it’s hard to choose an unknown liquor over one they’ve always known.
Despite what the everyday punter may prefer Matthew did have some insight into the future of Gin in Australia.
“Liquor as all things is all about trends and I think I can say for sure that Gin has been rising in popularity in a younger crowd that maybe a few years ago had no interest in it. The big brands still dominate but you’ll certainly see that there are boutique brands that will be known across country”
Brands like Archie Rose and Four Pillars Gin which have become synonymous with Gin culture in Australia, but have also launched onto the world stage with acclaim exporting to Britain, China, Denmark, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore and the US and elsewhere.
With the majority of bars across Australia now showcasing a wide range of craft gins, there is excitement in the industry for the future, “The more Australian owned and produced booze in the market, the better for everyone all around.”