This article was published online and in the print edition of the Newcastle Herald ‘Weekender’ on 15th June, 2019. Image courtesy of The Farmer’s Wife Distillery.
Gin is in. While a decade ago there were only a handful of distilleries in Australia making craft gin, it’s estimated there are now more than 100.
Distilleries and breweries in Newcastle, the Hunter and the Central Coast have gotten in on the action too and are producing craft gins with a local spin.
Many are using botanicals – seeds, berries, roots, fruit and herbs – that have been grown in their backyards, foraged locally or sourced from the region to make gin in their own way.
Here are five local craft gins to try.
Achilles Gin by Styx Brewery
500ml bottle, $79
Housed in a converted coal-testing facility, Carrington-based Styx Brewery makes delicious small-batch craft beers. It’s a philosophy they’ve also applied to their first gin – Achilles.
“We grow almost all of the botanicals ourselves and also forage locally for the ones that we can’t fit into our garden,” says Analee Isbister, head distiller at Styx Brewery.
She notes that Styx mainly uses Australian natives and local fruit from nearby Black Hill in making Achilles.
“We then distil these individually in our tiny, hand-hammered pot still. That way we can control the flavour profile of each botanical before we blend them together to create our small batch gin.”
Analee says Achilles is best enjoyed neat or with an ice cube – as she herself drinks it. But notes you can also pair it “with a good tonic”, for those that prefer their gin with a mixer.
Murray’s Gentleman Smith East Coast Gin
500ml bottle, $66
Murray’s do gin too? Many Novocastrians know and love Murray’s for their craft beers but some may be surprised to learn they also produce small-batch craft spirits.
In late-2017, Murray’s added a distillery to their Port Stephens-based brewery and winery and started making gin and vodka under the name of ‘Gentleman Smith’.
“This gin is all about balance and versatility,” says Benjamin Cross, Murray’s head distiller.
Gentleman Smith is a full-flavoured new age gin made with traditional and contemporary botanicals.
“It starts with the classic pine-needle flavour of juniper followed by earthy notes and cuts through with citrus to lighten the palate,” says Benjamin.
“I like to have it neat or with a little ice – like a good whisky it opens up with a few drops of water.”
Benjamin recommends G&T lovers pair East Coast Gin with their favourite tonic and a slice of lime.
The Farmer’s Wife Distillery Autumn Dry Gin
500ml bottle, $65
In the small town of Allworth, around 50 minutes from Newcastle, is The Farmer’s Wife Distillery. It’s here, on the family farm, that Kylie Sepos handcrafts her Autumn Dry Gin.
Made in a traditional copper still, this gin is created using 13 traditional and native botanicals and purified rainwater.
“Our Farmer’s Wife Autumn Dry Gin has the complexity and softness to be served neat over ice but with its 48% alcohol beverage volume (ABV) is also at home in a traditional gin cocktail,” says Kylie.
“For traditional gin lovers, it’s served best with a dry tonic, a slice of lemon and sprig of rosemary.”
The Farmer’s Wife Autumn Dry Gin was awarded Silver at the prestigious 2019 London Spirits Competition.
Moore’s Dry Gin by Distillery Botanica
700ml bottle, $59.95
Located on three acres of lush gardens in Erina on the Central Coast is Distillery Botanica. Moore’s Dry Gin is one of four gins they produce.
In 2017, Moore’s Dry Gin became the first Australian-made gin to receive a Gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC).
“In the London dry gin style, the aromas and flavours of juniper berries, earthy roots, citrus fruits and spices are blended together to create a harmonious whole,” explains Philip.
“Three Australian natives make a great contribution to our gin. They are wild lime from Queensland, macadamia nuts for texture and Illawarra plum. We also use the pink peppercorn, which is widely spread throughout Australia.”
Describing Moore’s Dry Gin as an “immaculately clean” spirit, Philip says to “splash it over a large ice block to savour its pristine flavours”.
Hunter Distillery Copperwave Distilled Gin
500ml bottle, $70
The Hunter Distillery in Pokolbin is a certified organic distillery that produces a variety of locally made spirits and liqueurs, including gin.
Their Copperwave Distilled Gin is an aromatic spirit made with more than 11 botanicals. Hunter Distillery Door Manager Neil Langdon describes it as a “contemporary gin that is very citrus driven with lots of subtle flavours”.
“Serving-wise, many people enjoy Copperwave Distilled Gin neat on ice,” says Neil.
For those that like their gin with a mixer, he suggests skipping the tonic. “I feel the flavours are perfectly balanced, so I’d recommend soda water or sparkling mineral water.”