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Tonic Water Guide - the basics

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Gin and tonics. A marriage made in heaven. But how often have you carefully chosen your gin only to grab the first available tonic water you see on your (or the supermarket's) shelf? In much the way that not all gin taste the same, not all tonics are equal. With an increasing number of tonic water choices available now, here's a short guide to tonic water to help you tell one from another. But first, let's get started with the basics.

What is tonic water and how do you make it?

Tonic water as we know it is effectively carbonated water infused with quinine and to which sugar (as well as other flavouring agents) are added. The process of carbonating water involves dissolving carbon dioxide into the water using pressure (aka charging it with the gas). It is this process that results in the fizziness tonic water is associated with. Much like juniper forms the backbone of gin, it is however, quinine that gives tonic water that signature bitter bite, and sets it apart from say, soda or sparkling mineral water.

Quinine – the hero ingredient in tonic

Quinine is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree. Native to South America, there are now hybrids of the species in other regions, such as South Africa and Java in South East Asia. Historically recorded to be used to treat malaria (also known colloquially as “the fever”), its use over the years has also been recorded to cover a myriad of ailments, from failing appetites to haemorrhoids and leg cramps. The first documented use of quinine for medicinal purposes is believed to have been recorded in the 1600s.

How did tonic water come about?

The most widely peddled (and accepted) theory is that British soldiers stationed in India in the 19th century were given quinine to ward off malaria. To counter the bitterness of the quinine, the soldiers found that adding it to soda water with sugar and citrus made the medicine easier to swallow.  This was in effect the birth of tonic water, albeit in very rudimentary form and also the baseline for the modern day reference to “Indian tonic water.”

Which was the first commercial tonic water on the market?

Englishman Erasmus Bond is said to have released the first commercial brand of tonic water in 1858 but the brand is not known to have survived to the modern era (though there is now a Belgian brand of tonic waters by the same name). Joseph Schweppes followed in 1870 with his Indian tonic water. Schweppes would go on to dominate the global market with its brand of tonic water until a new challenger arrived in the form of Fever-Tree.

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Rise of the “craft” tonic water

With the increasing interest in boutique gin and therefore the number of gin and tonics being consumed, it was only a matter of time before alternatives to the big name tonics (i.e. Schweppes) reared their heads. This came in the form of the British-based Fever-Tree who first burst on the market with their tonic in 2005. With an ethos of using the highest quality natural ingredients, their tag-line of “if 3/4 of your G&T is the tonic, make sure you use the best” soon captured the hearts and minds of increasingly savvy drinkers. It would take some years for that movement to take hold, but take hold it did and other “craft” tonic brands from all around the world soon followed, all with a similar mission of using natural high quality ingredients to create a tonic worthy of complementing the array of boutique gins now available. In Australia, Capi became the first commercially available local tonic water brand when it started production in Victoria in 2012.

Can you make tonic water at home?

Technically yes. Carbonating water is easy enough with machines like Soda Stream readily available at a reasonable price. Given its medicinal qualities, you can buy cinchona bark from selected herbalists or pharmacies (Newton Pharmacy in Sydney sells them in store and online) and play around with incorporating it into your carbon dioxide charged water. HOWEVER, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could be putting your life at risk. Why? Quinine in excessive quantities can be fatal. There is in fact a condition known as cinchonism which results from an overdose of quinine. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Many countries regulate the level of quinine in food and drink and Australia is no different, requiring the use of quinine in water based flavoured drink to not exceed 100 milligrams (or 0.1 gram) per kg. Now, in case you thought you could simply measure the cinchona bark chunks you get from the pharmacy, take note that the bark doesn’t yield 100% pure quinine. And whilst you may be able to lay your hands on powdered cinchona bark, beware as you may not be able to strain it out completely. This article by Camper English on Alcademics highlights the dangers of trying to DIY tonic and breaks down the numbers in more detail.

OK, so best to leave it to the experts. What's the difference between all the brands out there? Watch out for Part 2 where we go through a few of the factors to watch out for.

Or if you're getting thirsty, check out our Tonic Tasting Set and get drinking

A Lost (Angeles) Distillery Tour

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To most, the idea of making whisky and rum is intricately linked with the idea of rolling fields, gleaming pot stills and barrels stacked up high with liquid gold slowly taking on flavours of their vessel. Given the images propagated by decades of spirits advertising and marketing, it is of no surprise that anyone claiming to be able to bypass the years of creation open themselves up to a healthy dose of scepticism and reservation.

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Lost Spirits Distillery has seen its fair share of controversy over its self-developed technology that claims to produce the equivalent of a 20 year old spirit in…6 days. Founders Bryan Davis and partner Joanne Harula initially started off in 2010 with absinthe making before the idea evolved into accelerated spirits making. There’s far too much technical detail to cover but in a nutshell, the technology works by immersing wood chips in a glass reactor containing newly made spirit and then exposing the reactor to intense wavelengths of heat and light to simulate the kind of reactions happening between the liquid and wood. So far, they’ve produced whiskies and rums; and have garnered some good reviews along the way, though predictably, there have also been fierce opposition from certain quarters of the drinking community.

Whatever your predisposition, if it is the one thing that nearly everyone seems to agree on, it’s that Lost Distillery lives up to its crazy scientist moniker when it comes to their tours. In a city of dominated by big movie studios, it seems apt the tour is designed more as a theme park attraction than a dry production walk through. Combining geeky science know how with a mix of theatrics that draw on references such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Chronicles of Narnia, the team changes up the details every few months just to keep things interesting. Our tour in June 2018 encompassed a short boat ride, hopping on a spinning carousel and traversing wild jungles the likes of which would feel more at home on a Warner Bros studio tour than a boutique distillery (despite their technology, the distillery is not pumping out millions of litres of pure alcohol and supply is such that you are likely to only find their products at a handful of stores or at the distillery itself). And for all of the slick production details, there was still a certain level of human element underscoring the whole proceedings – the tour team include their scientist and the founders themselves, so parts of the tour felt less scripted than what it could be.

Heading into Lost Distillery does require leaving your prejudices at the door. You get a tasting of three of their spirits interspersed at various points of the tour, ending at their gift shop complete with talking parrots (or were they parakeets?). Whether you agree with what these guys are doing, if you are in Los Angeles, the tour is a must do; though you will have to book in advance – such is its popularity that reservations fill up weeks in advance.

A tale of two Havana Clubs - the background

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Walking past the rum aisle in any bottle shop in Australia, you’d be hard pressed not to find a Havana Club in the rum section.  And with good reason – this Havana Club sells more than 4 million cases annually. Yet behind the label of this ubiquitous bottle lies a saga that almost beggars belief, a story that has spanned decades and a battle that pitches one Goliath of the drinks industry against another.

Few may realise that there are in fact two different Havana Clubs in the world - the version sold in the USA alone is made by Bacardi in Puerto Rico and the version sold in Australia (and the rest of world) is made by Pernod Ricard in Cuba. So which is the real Havana Club?

Like any other scandal, the answer to that question is mired in allegations vs counter-allegations and whose side you choose to take. The roots of the dispute lie in the Cuban revolution in 1959. It has been widely accepted that in the lead up to the revolution, the Arechabala family made Havana Club, primarily for export to the USA. Post 1959, the nationalisation of many of the country's industries saw the government (forcibly) taking over ownership of distilleries previously under the stewardship of families such as the Arechabalas. A state-owned organisation Cuba Ron was set up to manage the country's rum production. In time, Cuba-Ron entered into a joint venture with Pernod Ricard to market and sell Havana Club, which by this time was being produced in Cuba via a collective effort of a group of rum masters employed by the state. Pernod Ricard would come to market and sell the "new" Havana Club globally, with the exception of America (due to to trade sanctions imposed following the revolution).

Having fled the country in exile and without recourse to any facilities, the Arechabalas ceased making rum and crucially, let their trademark for Havana Club lapse when it came up for renewal in 1973 in USA (reportedly because they believed they needed to be producing rum in order to be able to submit their application). Notwithstanding that it couldn't sell its Havana Club in USA at the time, Cuba Ron re-registered the trademark in its name and subsequently assigned the rights to it to Pernod-Ricard as part of their joint venture agreement.

All remained calm until the late 90s, when the Arechabala family sold their recipe and any claim they had to the Havana Club name to Bacardi. Exiled along with the Arechabalas, the Bacardis had also been producing rum in Cuba before the revolution.  Fortunately for the Bacardis however, they had expanded to countries such Puerto Rico prior to their exile, which allowed them to continue making rum post 1959. It was when Bacardi started selling their Puerto Rico-made Havana Club in the USA that the fuse was lit for a legal battle that would rage for the years to follow. The legal wrangling continues to this day - at the heart of it, the Arechabalas (and Bacardi) insist that they never voluntarily gave up the rights to the trademark whilst the Cubans insist otherwise. Much has been written about the ongoing battles (Both Cocktail Wonk and writer Paul Senft have done detailed write ups here and here) and thus far Bacardi has managed to keep the upper hand. But with the adoption of a new foreign policy by the Obama administration, it seems the day may soon dawn when the Cuban product will grace the shelves of US liquor stores. 

For now, the two versions sit alongside one another (metaphorically speaking) and dramatic stories aside, the real question is: how will they fare in the taste test?

A drinker's guide to San Francisco distilleries

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In spite of the country’s strong association with a certain dark spirit, it is arguable that the modern American craft spirit movement owes its beginnings not to whiskey, but to brandy.  

The Californian pioneer - St George Spirits

Widely acknowledged as being at the forefront of the craft distilling boom in the country, St George Spirits was founded in Emeryville just outside of San Francisco in 1982 off the back of lawyer Jorg Rupf’s desire to make brandies and eau de vie with Californian fruit, but using the old world distilling methods learned in his native Germany.  In the same year , the Germain-Robin Distillery was founded in nearby Ukaiah, California to produce brandies that would later go on to be favoured by American presidents, whilst a year later, the Karakasevic family began making wine and brandy in their winery/distillery called Charbay, also in Ukaiah. All three continue to make brandies, with St George and Charbay since branching out into other spirits.  

Of the three, it is St George that has arguably grown to become one of the most well known American craft distilleries; in his article titled "The Cocktail Revival in 51 Critical Moments", drinks writer Robert Simonson references the founding of St George as having laid the groundwork for the American craft distilling boom that followed. Australians will also more likely recognise St George from the availability of its gins (and some selected spirits) in the local market. For visitors to San Francisco as well, it is St George that is the more accessible of the original trio – in addition to being a bit further away from the city, Germain-Robin doesn’t currently offer distillery tours whilst Charbay only offers tastings at its distillery by appointment (though you can drop by their winery in Napa Valley). St George, by contrast, is now only a 20 minute ferry ride away from San Francisco bay area in Alameda and offers guided tours five days a week that take visitors onto the production floor and for visiting Australians, give them the opportunity of acquainting themselves with the breadth and depth of the spirits now produced by the distillery. Technical information on production aside, the tour also includes anecdotal tidbits about the people behind the operations and the industry.

Located in a former naval hangar spanning 65,000 square feet , the current premises are a far cry from St George’s humble beginnings at its original location in Emeryville, where Jorg made do with tasting tables jerry-rigged on sawhorses. In some ways, this is no different to the rite of passage followed by many a craft distillery in Australia, who will likely also find some solidarity with their Californian counterparts over the inequality of treatment traditionally given to spirit producers vs wine and beer makers in the state. Being state based, liquor regulation in the USA is a hot 52-way mess but in California at least, distilleries (with the exception of brandy producers) were not allowed to host paid tastings at their premises until 2013 or sell direct to the public at their cellar door until 2015.

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At St George, the guided tour of about an hour is followed by a tasting of six of their spirits and no more. In case you thought this mean, this too is regulated by the law in California, which limits tasting rooms to pouring a maximum of 1.5oz in total (approximately 45ml) of distilled spirit per guest per day. If you were planning on tasting their entire range, which is easily double what you’re allowed to have, you might want to travel with a friend and be strategic about what you each choose to taste. Californian fruit and produce feature heavily in the current line up, encompassing various vodkas, gins, brandies and liqueurs, all of which carry the essence of the source ingredient from which they were derived. And with good reason – each bottle of pear brandy for example uses 30 pounds of pears! For all of St George’s impressive growth and size however, reminders abound of a personal element still underlying the operations – the Douglas fir used in the Terroir Gin is grown on the property of a friend of current owner/master distiller Lance Winters (Jorg retired in 2010) and the NOLA coffee liqueur was inspired by head distiller Dave Smith meeting his wife over a coffee.

St George Distillery's tour and tastings can be booked via their website here (reservations recommended). Ferries run from San Francisco to Alameda and the distillery is either a short Uber/Lyft car ride from the ferry terminal or you can download the Limes app and utilise one of the bicycles for hire.
At time of writing, St George All Purpose Vodka, Terroir Gin, Botanivore Gin, NOLA coffee liqueur  and the trio of mini gin pack is available at selected liquor retailers Australia wide (Try Vintage Cellars or First Choice Liquor).

Other notable distilleries

For those keen to explore more of the city’s burgeoning distilling scene, San Francisco has more to offer.

For vodka lovers - Hangar One Distillery

Located next to St George in Alameda, Hangar One Vodka is also worth a visit and runs distillery tours and tastings at times that you could easily schedule before or after your visit to St George. Unlike most other distilleries, Hangar One positions tasting stations at various points on the production floor, so you are effectively tasting as you go along on the tour, rather than at the end. With a focus also on using Californian produce, their vodkas don’t toe the conventional line, ranging from the Buddha’s Hand Citron vodka and a rose wine vodka through to more limited edition expressions such as a honeycomb vodka and the more questionable Fog Point vodka (supposedly using in its distillation water drawn from the fogs of the city). Interestingly, Hangar One was originally produced as a line of vodkas by St George and the co-founder of Germain-Robin. The brand was subsequently sold in 2010 to Proximo Spirits, a company operated by the same family that owns Jose Cuervo tequila. Sharing a building with Faction Brewery, Hangar One additionally runs a bar on its premises which is quite handy if you wanted to kick on.

Hangar One distillery tours can be booked here. As with St George, the distillery is accessible via ferry from San Francisco Bay.

For rebel whiskey drinkers - Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery

If ferry hopping is not your thing, consider a trip out to do a distillery tour at Seven Stills in Bayview, who are not just brewing beer, but then distilling the same beer into whiskey. If you’re a whisky purist (or hate beer), these whiskies won’t be for you but are worth trying nevertheless for those with an open mind. The brewery/distillery itself is located in a very residential area that is about a 20 minute car ride out of the city and offers a glimpse into a more motley side of SF distilling. At the time of writing, the distillery has just launched a round of equity funding to raise $1 million to fund the opening of a new 18,000 square feet location in the edgy suburb of Mission Hill, which will make it closer to town.

Further details of Seven Stills Brewery & Distillery tours can be found here. The company also operates a taproom and whiskey bar in other locations around the city.

For the urban experience - Hotaling & Co

Closer to town, Hotaling & Co runs a tasting room that provides tastings of its vodka, Junipero gin and whiskies that also encompasses information about the history of distilling in San Francisco as well as its own process. Currently located on the premises of one of San Francisco’s long standing breweries, Anchor Brewing, the distillery itself is not open for touring but that may well change soon. Drinks insiders might recognise Hotaling & Co as the new name for Anchor Distilling, which was part of Anchor Brewing until the latter was sold in 2017 to Sapporo. As the distilling arm was not included in the sale, the distillery is said to be looking for a new home so be sure to check in for updates on that front.

Details for tastings at Hotaling & Co can be found here.

Are there any other distillery tours in or near San Francisco worth doing? Let us know on here!

5 child friendly cocktail places in Sydney


Kids and alcohol - never the twain shall meet, unless you happen to be a cocktail loving parent of young children. It never occurred to us how difficult it would be to go out and explore a city's cocktail scene if you had children with you until we had to show around a friend visiting Sydney from overseas who had young kiddies in tow with him. Although impeccably behaved (thanks largely to the iPad) at 5 and 7 years of age, we struggled to find places that would even accept children in their midst that weren't RSLs, pubs or hotels. What we learnt? Generally, places with restaurant licenses are fine though even then, kids cannot sit or be at the bar itself. And thank God for Merivale. So where did we go? Here's a roundup of 5 places where kids are welcomed (to a degree - see comment about about children and alcohol mixing)


A restaurant at its heart, this Viking den also boasts a first rate cocktail bar that is a destination in itself. Although you wouldn't be able to sit at the bar counter with kids, you can still take full advantage of the cocktail menu if you book a table at the restaurant. The welcome shots of mead from mini drinking horns add a theatrical flair to the whole thing (fill the children's drinking vessels with water and you can still skal with them) which coupled with its suitably impressive decor, can still wow the kids into submission.

Monkey's Corner

Although children aren't actually allowed inside the bar itself, what most people don't know is that cocktail loving adults can sit on the tables/chairs outside and still partake of the full Asian inspired cocktail menu whilst the children play on the makeshift lawn in that stretch just outside Koi Dessert Bar. Order an excellent looking tart from Koi, find one of the seats outside the adjacent Monkey's Corner bar and forget your child minding woes with a pandan flavoured tiki drink. All the while looking over your kids playing in a largely pedestrianised zone (there are still a few cars about so watch out)

Coogee Pavillion

Whilst most of Merivale's venues are probably kid friendly bar a few, we're singling out CP for the kid friendly zone out back complete with giant sized board games that keep Michael Junior happily entertained whilst Michael Senior enjoys an alcoholic beverage on a table nearby. It's a great pit stop if you're doing the Bondi to Coogee walk (we suggest finishing at Coogee just in time for lunch if you can manage it) plus the kids will thank you. Newport Arms on the Northern Beaches have something similar too.

Lost Luau

OK, so this is a true blue bar through and through. And a tiki rum loving bar at that. If you're a tiki rum loving geek, you might want to know you can come here with kids if you have them though we suggest you ring ahead. Weeknights before 8 pm are best because really, when the bar is busy, it isn't a great experience for kids anyway to be jostling for space with and fielding death stares from Joe from finance and Mary from HR. Otherwise, the colourful and cocktail creations are bound to make both Pa and kid happy (the latter from playing with the cocktail umbrella and whatever paraphernalia comes with the drink) and the cheerful bar staff will definitely not make you feel like a failed parent for wanting to enjoy a drink with your child in tow. (hands up, you've ALL been there right??)


Ok, so this is really more a restaurant with an adjoining bar that seems more a holding ground for waiting diners rather than a destination bar proper, but when you've got Dr Phil Gandevia (ex Eau de Vie) behind the stick, trust us, you will want to visit the bar in itself. Park yourself in a booth, order up some nibbles and let Dr Phil serve you some of the best cocktails this side of town from one of the most eclectic back bars we've seen.

Dead Ringer

If you're angling to get into Bulletin Place but are hampered by the kiddies, do the next best thing and head over to their sister venue Dead Ringer in Surry Hills. Grab a table on the verandah and although you won't get the full BP daily changing cocktail menu, the BP emphasis on fresh is best is still evident in the food and drinks menu. Cocktails are equally as skilful so you won't be missing out.

Maybe Frank

Yes, on the outset, it looks more like an Italian joint but what people don't know is that the bar boasts some pretty serious heavy hitting bar talent, in the guise of Andrea Gualdi, ex Artesian Bar in London (yes, that same Artesian that was voted World's Best Bar three years running). Again, you won't be able to sit at the bar but when you can order off the same cocktail menu, trust us, it's a small price to pay for the #ehlamadonna life.

Are there any other kid friendly places you've been to you think is worthy of a mention? Let us know in the comments below!


5 Sydney drinking holes raising the bar for food


It seems that fine dining in Sydney has exited stage left and arriving right on time in its place is the bar-restaurant hybrid - where ‘all in one’ experiences reign supreme. Well honed bar owners are bringing their innovative and experimental attitudes to the food scene in truckloads and we couldn’t be happier about it. Here’s 5 bars in Sydney that aren’t afraid to play around with the ‘dining’ rulebook.

Big Poppa’s

Bucket loads of fine cheese and Biggie Smalls, name a better pair, we dare you. This Oxford St offering on the Surry Hills side of town is led by hospitality vets Jared Merlino and Lewis Jaffrey, who have come together to bring you Italian inspired delights with hard to beat tunes. The menu is small and considered, with Handcut Pappardelle and Pork & veal polpette as some of the faves. The cheese menu is a destination on its very own. Of course, it goes without saying that these guys more than over-deliver on the cocktails.

96 Oxford St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010

Henry Deane by Hotel Palisade

While the top floor of Hotel Palisade boasts some of the best views in Sydney, equally as pleasing and innovative is the menu. Prep yourself for a sensory overload because former head chef of Mr. Wong, Brendan Fong, has consulted on the latest menu showing through in fresh Asian flavours with a hint of Lebanese influence amidst a strong lean on seafood. From King Prawns with Yuzu Kosho, to smokey eel croquette and over to Lamb cutlets with a mediterranean sauce, there’s a lot to love here beyond just the atmosphere.  

35 Bettington St, Millers Point NSW 2000  

Continental Deli

It would be rude of us not to mention Continental Deli when we’re talking big flavours and relatively small bars. Presented to you by Elvis Abrahanowicz and Joe Valore from Bodega and Porteno, Continental Deli in Newtown is a ‘pickers’ dream where cold cuts, cheese and canned goods set the scene. Our preference is to sit at the bar and spread the net wide with a range of almost 20 tinned fish and a generous assortment of charcuterie and cheese. For the larger appetites there’s a mediterranean style bistro menu or you can simply dive into a Ham, cheese & pickle sandwich, because what more do you need?

210 Australia Street, Newtown, 02 8624 3131

The Unicorn

When a ‘ratbag crew of mates’ from Mary’s, Young Henry’s and Porteno get together to open a pub it’s guaranteed you’re probably going to be spending a fair chunk of your time and salary there. Bringing their usual mix of casual attitudes and spontaneity into Paddington, the Unicorn has proven a new home to many, and not just for the good times and late nights. While the menu reads a bit like that of a 1995 Saturday sports canteen without the Pluto Pup, the flavour, quality produce and creativity is what you came for. Wrap your mitts around a Vilis Meat Pie, Chiko Roll or simply hit up a ‘Fancy Steak’ if you’re looking to treat yourself. The trifle and chocolate lamington for those with a sweet tooth don’t go astray either.

106 Oxford Street, Paddington, 02 9360 3554

Chester White Cured Diner

A diner style bar with an Italian inspired menu - you couldn’t get two great juxtapositions, but boy does it work. Run by two gentleman, Nick and Stu, Chester White’s packs a punch when it comes to their food offering. With an Aperol Spritz in hand, you’ll be inclined to dabble in any one of their charcuterie plates and shouldn’t leave without doing so. And their Vitello Tonnato - 16 hour slow roasted brisket - is first to go, so get in while you can. But of course, the absolute highlight is the truffle pasta served out of a Sardinian truffled Pecorino cheese wheel. An experience not to miss.

3 Orwell St, Potts Point NSW 2011

Women in Whiskey - What I learnt from Master Taster Elizabeth McCall

 Elizabeth McCall on her recent visit to Australia in November 2017

Elizabeth McCall on her recent visit to Australia in November 2017


There's no question that whisky (or whiskey depending on where you live) has been portrayed as a masculine drink, where the men are macho, and the women their handmaidens. Though largely a beast created by canny marketers, media programs such as Mad Men have no doubt also played its part in fanning those flames. One might say too, that this attitude isn't unique to whisky, though in much the same way as society seem to associate darker colours as being masculine and lighter colours as being girly, white spirits such as vodka and gin have arguably gone the other way in playing up their feminine appeal.

But as society progresses, advertisers and producers have become more attuned to changing attitudes on this gender divide, and it's evident that in recent times there's been more of a movement towards making the spirits category more inclusive. In whisky in particular, it's hard to ignore the number of initiatives aimed at changing the perception of women in whisky, either as drinkers or the makers. If public data is to be believed, it is only in the past few years that more women have embraced the dark spirit. Yet despite that, ladies have long been involved in the production of whisky, a fact highlighted by Fred Minnick in his 2013 book "Whiskey Women". They may not all have been actually distilling, but there is no doubt they've played (and continue to play) a significant role in the industry.

It's a sentiment echoed by Elizabeth McCall, Master Taster at Woodford Reserve, who recently flew into Australia to host a series of sessions, including one exclusively for women as part of the Women in Whiskey initiative by parent company Brown Forman. Speaking to a packed room of about 30-odd ladies (all of whom it seemed were no stranger to the liquid), Elizabeth professed whilst rattling off the names of the females she worked with on the production chain, "When people ask me what it is like to be working in such a male dominated field, my answer is that I don't know, because I actually work with so many women in the field."

 Elizabeth addressing the room at the Women in Whiskey tasting at Tankstream Bar in November 2017

Elizabeth addressing the room at the Women in Whiskey tasting at Tankstream Bar in November 2017

Listening to Elizabeth speak, it's hard to believe that up until 8 years ago, she didn't even drink whiskey. Originally a psychologist by trade, it was a chance encounter that led to her working for Brown Forman as a sensory technician. Her role?  Quality testing and understanding how to improve that quality from a sensory standpoint. It was here that the psychological background came in useful as her job effectively required her to read human responses to the product or sample to ascertain if it met specific standards. At a learning session with master distiller Chris Morris in 2014, she impressed him sufficiently that he asked if she would like to train to become the company's Master Taster. Following the conclusion of her training nearly a year later, she spent some time on Old Forester before settling in to work exclusively on the Woodford Reserve brand. Today, she works directly with Chris, focussing on innovation and how to navigate Woodford Reserve in the modern burgeoning market.

 Sensory elements to assist with bringing out selected flavours of the whiskey, experienced at the Women in Whiskey tasting. Did you know there are 212 flavour elements in Woodford Reserve?

Sensory elements to assist with bringing out selected flavours of the whiskey, experienced at the Women in Whiskey tasting. Did you know there are 212 flavour elements in Woodford Reserve?

But what exactly does a Master Taster do? Well, it seems...just that. In her words, "I sit with him (Chris) and taste. We work out what we like about that particular batch or sample, what we don't like, how can we manipulate that to develop the kind of flavours we are looking for."

 A sample of the materials used by the sensory panel to help identify different flavours in the whiskey - rose petals, cloves...even cedarwood balls.

A sample of the materials used by the sensory panel to help identify different flavours in the whiskey - rose petals, cloves...even cedarwood balls.

Aside from her tasting role, Elizabeth also wears the hat of Senior Quality Control Specialist, responsible for auditing the entire production process, from checking the grain, monitoring water quality through to testing the whiskey on maturation. At a second session at the Baxter Inn exploring the science of tasting, it was fascinating to hear her explain how important each step was, and how one slip up early on in the chain could have a significant domino effect. Nowhere was this more apparent than when she recounted how one batch could turn out faulty on maturation due to a sensory tester having a cold and not being able to nose the new make sample correctly. Or the time they discovered a matured batch of Woodford Reserve that had traces of paint thinner on the nose. This was despite them having seemingly followed all the right processes from distilling through to testing of the batches before it went into the barrel. As it transpired, the bottle caps for that batch had been contaminated by some paint thinner that had been left near the barrels on which the caps were sat.  

 An example of the testing sheet used by the sensory panel at Woodford Reserve.

An example of the testing sheet used by the sensory panel at Woodford Reserve.

It's easy to assume that everything comes down the master distiller him/herself. Sure, theirs is a key function but if anything, the one lesson I took away from Elizabeth's sessions was that unless you are a one man (or woman) band, the production of good whisk(e)y isn't solely the province of a single person. This is consistent with what so many master distillers/blenders from the great whisky houses have been at pains to impress upon whisky drinkers, from David Stewart of Balvenie to Chris Morris himself. And with studies seemingly pointing to women being more predisposed to have better sense of taste and smell than men, it is probably also natural to see a higher skew of females in certain types of roles in the process that play to their natural strengths. Perhaps if we all took bigger steps to celebrate the functions of other players in the chain rather than singularly directing credit to or focussing on the master distiller all the time, we might find the inclusiveness we so desperately seek, less elusive.

Sincere thanks to Brown Forman for their generosity and hospitality. Opinions entirely our own.


Guide to Gin & Tonic


What is tonic water? Many summer lover’s chosen mixer, tonic water is a hint more than soda water, but not quite soft drink. In a nutshell, it’s a tasty and popular carbonated water in which small doses of quinine and sometimes sweetening agents are dissolved. It’s a party in your mouth and our good friend quinine is what gives it that iconic bitter zing, tonic water has become so well known for.

A little bit of history

Apart from coming from your fridge, much like some of our favourite libations, tonic water is anchored in history. But, of course we can’t really tell the story of tonic water without including gin - the two are undeniably intertwined. As you know quinine is the prominent ingredient in tonic water, which was originally used as a malaria treatment during the days of colonial India. In 1638 in a time when malaria was rampant, the story goes that the wife of the Spanish Viceroy in Peru contracted the disease. The Spanish Viceroy then begged the local Incas for an antidote to which they provided a drink containing the ground bark of the native “Quinquina" or chinchona tree, found to grow on the slopes of the Andes. She was cured and the Spanish then claimed the recipe as their own. Legends and fables aside, the first documented use of quinine is recorded in 1630 in Peru. It’s believed that, as cinchona bark is extremely bitter, in 1825 the British officers in the Indian army found that the addition of sugar, citrus, gin and soda water was the perfect way to balance the bitterness and make the cure palatable. While the ‘tonic’ was still used as a means to cure malaria up until the 1920s, the British troops at the time found a way to transition from drinking the medicine at dawn into enjoying the cure at cocktail hour, thus birthing the G&T. Of course, as gin transformed into a ‘gentleman’s’ drink, the G&T naturally adopted the same sentiment.

Tonic water today

Of course today, quinine as a means to cure malaria has been outdated by better more efficient prescriptions, but tonic water very much still remains a big part of our drinking culture - be it far less bitter now than in the 17th century. Though its commercial popularity can really only be attributed to the success of the gin & tonic. The classic cocktail is one of the most popular go-to drinks there is. Why? Because of its unique flavour profile, the combinations of a variety of herbal notes and botanicals paired with the bitterness of quinine, and of course, its perpetual ability to refresh. The trending fame of the G&T over the last few years has seen a surge in not only boutique gins across the globe but also bespoke tonic water offerings created specifically for pairing with gin - Fever Tree, Strangelove, East Imperial and Capi to name a few.

Tonic range

Classified as one of the world’s most popular drinks, tonic water’s appeal is not only limited to the classic G&T - though we wouldn’t blame you if you started and stopped there. Tonic water is a much loved mixer of bartenders and today, you won’t be hard pressed to find our bitter sweet, bubbly friend, on plenty of solid cocktail lists around town.

Hendricks delves into theatre with the Awakening

It might sound like the title of the latest Stephen King thriller, but with Hendrick's Gin at the helm, we wouldn't have expected anything less. Between 2 to 4 June 2017, masters of quirky and pursuers of the peculiar, Hendrick's put on a fully immersive theatrical journey in Sydney for the gin-drinkers and genuine free-thinkers. Taking up residence at COMMUNE for one weekend only ‘The Awakening’ saw guests self-guide through a series of unexpected scenarios and theatrical interactions brought to life by Siren Theatre Co, an independent professional theatre company. Naturally, the whole experience was accompanied by some Hendricks cocktails. At only $30 a head plus booking fee, this was probably the bargain of the century considering the experience! 

We were kindly extended a media invite to the preview of the event and not one to leave out fellow drinkers, we opened up the invitation for one member to accompany our chief drinker Inoka to the event. Virginia was the lucky drinker who drew the proverbial straw and what an awesome evening it was. From the mime artists who entertained us on arrival through to the life drawing class and recreation of the asylum ward serving hot gin punch to "patients" needing to cure their ailments, the whole experience was wonderfully immersive and certainly one to remember. 

Thanks to Agent 99 PR and Hendricks for the invite, and fellow drinker Virginia who was a wonderful plus one!

Museo of Miracles

Milagro Tequila sign

Tequila has long had a party image, conjuring up images of shooters and hangovers too painful to mention. For something a little different, head across to SoCal in Neutral Bay, where Tequila Milagro has taken over the space for a pop up art exhibition featuring works by Mexico-city based photographer Mark Powell. With a keen eye for capturing the juxtaposition between modern and old Mexico, the works encapsulate to a degree the essence of Milagro, whose modern packaging belies the traditional methods used to produce it.

Milagro Art Exhibition

The result is a very smooth sipping range, which we found to be very clean and inoffensive on the palate and perfect as an introduction to the category, away from some of the grimace inducing numbers out there. Give it a try, and if you're there on a Sunday, there'll be cocktail specials, Milagro tasting flights alongside SoCal's Mex-inspired menu.  

Milagro art
Milagro cocktail

Here's what you should be doing for World Class Cocktail Week

Cocktail Week

For cocktail lovers in Australia, this is the best time of the year! In the lead up to World Cocktail Day on 13 May, giant drinks company Diageo (owners of the likes of Tanqueray gin, Johnnie Walker whisky and Pimms) are putting on World Class Cocktail Week, during which a plethora of masterclasses, tastings and special menus are going to be tantalising drinkers all around town. There's more than 40 events happening across the whole week so if you're finding it all a little overwhelming, here's our pick of what we'd be doing on each day of the week if we were in your shoes. All details of the below, alongside the full program is available here

Day 1 - Sunday 7 May - Black Pearl x Bulletin Place

Being drinkers, we obviously hang out a lot in bars. Especially when we're travelling, because we think bars can show you so much of what makes a city ticks. So when you get a chance to experience a little part of another city without having to fork out for the airfare, we say GO FOR IT. This time round, it's a bar swap between two award winning joints - for two nights only, the team at stalwart Black Pearl in Melbourne are moving into equally lauded Sydney bar Bulletin Place to demonstrate their style of drinks and banter. It's a tale of the two BPs you don't wanna miss. 

Day 2 - Monday 8 May - Mind Tasting

For us drinkers usually sat on one side of the bar, the other side can often seem a tad mystifying - how many times have you looked at your drink and wondered how your bartender arrived at that final mix of ingredients that all seemed to balance together so well (or maybe not so well). Wonder no more. For one night, the guys at This Must be the Place are throwing open the gates to their heads in this novel session. With no menu on the night, the team will experiment with whatever ingredients that comes to mind and for better or for worse, you'll be the judge of their efforts. $65 a head with snacks included.

Day 3 - Tuesday 9 May - Bondi Roaming Dinner

If you're one of those people who cannot make up their mind which few restaurants or bars you should go to for dinner/drinks, you'll love this concept. For one night only, embark on a roaming three course feast with matched cocktails where entree, mains and dessert is served at a different joint (China Diner, Neighbourhood Bondi and Milky Lane). $95 a head

Day 4 - Wednesday 10 May - Cheese and Gin

If you're still digesting the previous night's shenanigans at Bondi, carry on where you left off in Redfern at Moya's Juniper Lounge with a cheese course. Or rather, a cheese and gin pairing. Yes, GIN.PAIRED.WITH.CHEESE. What are ewe waiting for? Tickets are $35 a head.

Day 5 - Thursday 11 May - Whisky and Wine

Forget turning water into this session at CBD underground bar the Cellar by Bouche, find out how wine makes its way into whisky. Exploring the relationship between the worlds of wine and whisky, you'll get to taste pairings of the two and find out how each drink's flavours integrate together in various styles of cocktails. $55 a head.

Day 6 - Friday 12 May - Degustation with Paired Cocktails

Chefs vs Bartenders. That's the basic premise of this concept at innovative bar-taurant the Owl House, where a 4 course degustation menu is split into two courses chosen by the chef with cocktails to match and the other two cocktails are chosen by the bar paired with food. Which party's pairing skill will come up to scratch? You be the judge in this challenge. Running all week, the menu is $99 a head.

Day 7 - Saturday 13 May - Espress Yourself

It's World Cocktail Day! If you've made it this far...congratulations! You'll either need a perk me up or a wind me down, both of which coffee is the answer. If you didn't manage to score tickets to our secret pop up, we suggest you go indulge in Australia's favourite cocktail the Espresso Martini at the Carrington, which has teamed up with Artificer Specialty coffee bar to come up with creative variations on the theme. Cocktails are $16 each and no reservations necessary.



Where do whisky barrels go to die?

There's been some focus of late on the importance of the humble oak barrel in the whisky world. Balvenie just last month released Chapter 2 of its DCS Compendium, aptly titled "The Influence of Oak" of which all 5 expressions in that chapter were picked to highlight the cask influence on the liquid (watch Balvenie's David Stewart and Sam Simmons discuss the influence here) In the same month, Jameson's head cooper Ger Buckley (one of only 5 professional coopers in Ireland) arrived in Australia to promote the Jameson "Whisky Maker" series, of which one expression called the Coopers Croze was created by him to showcase the diversity of barrels at the distillery and the influence of wood on whisky. The Croze in fact references the tool used to carve the grooves at the top of the barrel without which the lid would not fit. At one of his coopering demonstrations, Ger mentioned that the barrels at Midleton Distillery (where Jameson is produced) are used about 3-4 times (circa about 30-40 years in total) before they are shipped off to Havana Club to age its rum.  

Which kinda got us thinking...after all that work, where do old whisky barrels go to die?  

In a tasting that took place many moons ago, we asked the same question of the master distillers of Laphroaig and Makers Mark (the latter supplies its barrels to the former) to which the answer centres (mainly). Ger in his free time, also repurposes old unused barrels into things such as clocks and chairs. And of course, we're sure many a barrel has found its way into bottle shops and event venues for display, whilst Pinterest turned up many stunning furniture uses for it. In a nod to the humble barrel, without which whisky would not come to be, here's our pick of the year's 3 most imaginative reincarnation of Woody aside from the ubiquitous furniture and pens.

1. Cut Throat Knives x Starward

 Image by Jack Hawkins from

Image by Jack Hawkins from

Local maker Cut Throat Knives teamed up with Starward to come up with a limited edition knife made using staves from the whisky barrels that helped the makers of Starward whisky secure Best Craft Distiller in San Fransisco earlier in 2016. With only 5 knives produced, the retail price of $730 a pop did not stop it from selling out in 4 minutes. The wood that's used in the handle has been lightly charred and still smells of Starward's rich, Australian single malt. If you thought knives and whisky shared nothing in common, think again - in the words of CTK itself, "like spirit in a barrel, this blade will age with time, taking on a patina that reflects the hours spent cooking with it. See it as a badge of honour of time well spent."

2. Roys Road Watches x Andrew Brown x Glenfiddich 

 Image from @whisky_specialist_in_aus on Instagram

Image from @whisky_specialist_in_aus on Instagram

In 2016, Glenfiddich held a competition challenging bartenders around the globe to "collaborate with mavericks outside the traditional drinks world to create a more surprising, unusual and inventive Glenfiddich drinking experience." Whilst they didn't win the overall competition, the Kiwi entrants comprising of bartender Andrew Brown and watch maker Roys Road wowed with their take on repurposing used Glenfiddich casks into a limited edition timepiece. Boasting a timber face sourced from the original barrel staves used to age the liquid we hear different limited edition batches will be made, each batch inspired by a different variant of Glenfiddich. Available from March 2017 keep your eyes peeled for news on how you can get your hands wrapped around one. 

3. Glenmorangie x Finlay & Co sunglasses

 Image from

Image from

Celebrated Scottish whisky distiller Glenmorangie teamed up with equally celebrated British maker Finlay & Co to come up with a set of wooden-framed sunglasses to celebrate the whisky brand's pioneering approach to cask management. Each pair is made by hand with the same American oak used to age the Scotch, the wood itself pared down in the process to display the cask's grain and finish. With a RRP of GBP300, these are not sunnies you want to lay about carelessly.

Junipalooza - the Melbourne edit

Gin fans will be well familiar with the Gin Foundry, the UK-based online bible of all things juniper, co-creator of the original Ginvent calendar and organisers of Junipalooza. The latter is effectively a mega meet the maker session, offering ginthusiasts the opportunity to meet ginsmiths from all over the globe under the one roof. First held in London in 2013, the festival made its international debut in Melbourne in 2016; the British gin kings joining forces with Australia's own Gin Queen to put on the largest celebration of gin the country has ever seen. As keen ginthusiasts ourselves, we were both excited and curious about this in equal measures, never having made it to the London incarnation. 

Held at the Meat Market over a weekend in October, the festival encompassed the main tasting floor, a Junipalooza shop selling the gins on taste at the event, a cocktail bar run by well known Melbourne bar Bad Frankie and a masterclass area hosting mini sessions each hour. There was definitely a local slant to the proceedings; out of 30 or so ginsmiths represented, over 20 were Australian, with some using the festival to launch new expressions (Animus Distillery and Distillery Botanica were but a few). While we were busy manning the Junipalooza shop most times on both days, we found the time to duck out and wander the floor. And our verdict? As drinks festivals go, this was overall a very well run affair with little touches that made it stand out for us. We've been to a LOT of booze shows in our time so here's a few reasons why we liked this one:

1. They mean it when they say you get to "meet the maker"

EVERY gin exhibited at the festival had either the founder or the distiller available to talk punters through their gin. It's the only show we know so far that insists on the brand having their maker there if they want to exhibit. While most people working in the industry are passionate about what they do, there's nothing quite like talking to the maker to get under the skin of your gin. From the quiet air of Broken Heart's founder Joerg relaying the tear jerker tale behind his journey to the boisterous exuberance of Pinkster's founder Stephen recounting how he came to distill a pink gin, it's when you talk to such individuals that you truly get a feel for the "why" behind the gin instead of just the "how" or "what".

 Artemis co-creator Sebastian Reaburn all prepped to talk all things Artemis gin, launched mere weeks prior to Junipalooza.

Artemis co-creator Sebastian Reaburn all prepped to talk all things Artemis gin, launched mere weeks prior to Junipalooza.

 Four PIllars distiller and co-founder Cam McKenzie chatting with punters on the floor...with a rare spotting of the Bloody Shiraz gin, now sold out until next year.

Four PIllars distiller and co-founder Cam McKenzie chatting with punters on the floor...with a rare spotting of the Bloody Shiraz gin, now sold out until next year.

2. Gin Palace bartenders manning a dedicated water station. 'Nuff said.

 You know service is taken seriously here when bartenders from one of Melbourne's top gin bars are drafted in to head up hydration stations and hand out cups of water.

You know service is taken seriously here when bartenders from one of Melbourne's top gin bars are drafted in to head up hydration stations and hand out cups of water.

3. It's more immersive than most

Quite apart from it being the most practical use of pallets we've seen in a festival, these aren't your standard bland stands with bottles plonked on the table. Most, if not all of the gin brands we observed made the effort to dress up their stand with elements designed to attract the eye and engage the senses. The stands themselves were well spaced to allow for interaction so it didn't feel overly crowded even as it got busy. Aside from neat samples, each stand also offered their gin in a complimentary mixed serve, such as the classic G&T with different type of garnishes. For a spirit such as gin, which let's face it, is rarely sipped neat, this was a great way to discover different ways of enjoying different gins.


4. The cocktails aren't an afterthought here

Local stalwart Bad Frankie was drafted in specially to design and serve up a menu of cocktails featuring a selection of local Australian gins. At $14 each, they were amazing value too (more so when you consider some of the gins used would cost closer to $20 a nip alone at bars elsewhere, much less in a cocktail)

The juniper theme carried on to the food with Burn City Smokers bringing their gin-piggy goodness to the party (if you've ever been to a Four Pillars shindig at the distillery, you'll recognise these guys). Whilst food options at this year's fest was limited due to what we understand to be a last minute cancellation, Burn City Smokers really stepped up to the plate with their tender juniper rubbed brisket, something we'd eat happily every other day of the week.

Organising an event such as Junipalooza is no small undertaking and the effort that's gone into bringing this to Australia is testament to the drive and dedication of those behind it to spread the love of gin. So hats off to Gin Foundry and the Gin Queen for pulling off an event that will go down as being one of the more memorable ones in the Australian drinks event calendar. 

Planning is already in the works for the 2017 festival, which we hear is going to be bigger and better. Tickets for this year (all 1,400 odd of them) sold out so we say hop on to it as soon as they release the ticket links because this is definitely one gin-fest you don't want to miss!

We travelled to Melbourne of our own accord and whilst we helped out at the event, all opinions are independent and entirely that of our own, not of the organisers.



Following the Tasmanian distillery trail

Ask anyone about Tasmanian booze and the first thing most people would think of is whisky. Whilst whisky distilling is going great guns in the southern state, we found on a recent trip that there’s plenty of other fine spirits being produced there. Here’s our pick of a varied bunch that showcases the breadth and depth of the Tasmanian spirits industry – if you’re visiting the fair isle and looking to pop into a few distilleries, why not try seeking some of these out?

The Godfather of all (whisky) tours - Lark Distillery

Going to Hobart and not visiting Lark distillery is like going to Scotland and not drinking any whisky. Widely credited with kick-starting the Australian craft distilling movement, Bill Lark’s eponymous distillery is located a 15 minutes drive out of the city at Frogmore Creek. The original site in Argyle St (if you don’t count Bill’s backyard that is) is now their bar and cellar door as well as the meeting point for their daily tours. Lasting about 3 hours in total, the tour has been designed to appeal to those new to whisky and aficionados alike, with our guide Ben dishing out technical and anecdotal nuggets of information in equal measure.  It’s a hands on tour alright - you’ll be taken right into the heart of the distillery floor and shown the different processes involved with making whisky, including tasting the wort and liquid at different stages of fermentation and distillation. Back at the cellar door, sink into one of the comfy couches and indulge in the bar’s impressive selection of whiskies, which includes several exclusive Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings courtesy of its status as the Society’s only partner bar in the state. Tours run daily and start from $75 a head but due to their popularity, advance bookings are highly recommended here.

Fun fact: As arguably Tasmania’s most well known distillery (outside of Tasmania Distillery, producer of Sullivans Cove), some might be surprised to learn that Lark is not it’s largest. That honour belongs to Hellyers Road but only in size, not output as Hellyers doesn’t operate 7 days a week. Even with a daily run however, did you know that Lark only produces in a year roughly the same amount as Glenlivet loses to evaporation in about 9 days?

Scenic and historic - Shene Estate

Driving up to Shene Estate about 30 minutes north of Hobart, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were living out a Jane Austen novel – as far as distilleries go in Australia this is one that oozes history, charm and character like chocolate flowing from a lava cake. Damien and Madeleine Mackey were experimenting with making whisky and gin in their own backyard for some years when the opportunity came up to combine forces with the Kernke family, who bought the estate in 2007. Housing a farming acreage, historic homestead as well as a few outhouses, the old hayshed on the property was converted in 2015 to a working distillery now churning out the award winning Poltergeist gin and Mackey whisky.

The distillery floor is an impressive sight; its modern stainless steel drums and copper stills a direct contrast to the ye old world history that surrounds it.  At the time of our visit, plans were afoot to add two more stills to aid the triple distillation process of the whisky but the attention to detail hasn’t been lost in the modernisation of the space, with the Mackeys even going to the trouble of sourcing specially split timber for the outer structure to keep in line with the original look.

The barn and stables next to it have also been lovingly restored and are now a popular events space whilst also being a place for Madeleine to host gin tasters as part of the distillery tour.  Distillery tours and gin tasting tours are available on the weekends by appointment here

A stately affair - Redlands Distillery

Don’t be fooled by the suburban houses as you drive down the quiet street looking for Dysart House, the new home to Redlands Distillery. Located about 40 minutes north of Hobart, the 19th century ex-travellers inn is a majestic looking structure that stands in direct contrast to the other brick and weatherboard homes around it. The ground floor of the main house forms the cellar door and café whilst the old stables now house the distillery and bonded warehouse. At the time of our visit, building works were shortly to commence on a new distillery building that would enable them to have their own mash tun (their mash is currently produced to spec by a local brewery) and a much bigger still. Having planted their first crop of barley since moving into Dysart House last year, Redlands is also due to resume its status as Australia’s only paddock to bottle single malt whisky distillery.

Tours run three times daily and start with a video in a makeshift cinema room that utilises seats salvaged from the old Theatre Royal in Hobart, before finishing with an informal tasting in what used to be the formal dining room of the house, itself worth admiring for its architecture and design.  Whilst their lavender malt and apple spirits are really quite good, the real prize however, for any whisky buff visiting is scoring a bottle of their whisky, which is currently released in intervals at such limited quantities, it’s only available to buy onsite (we’re talking 20-30 odd bottles at a time kind of limited) Don’t want to share? Join a growing club of other enthusiasts and invest in a 20litre barrel of your own. 

EVENT ALERT: For one night only, we joined forces with Redlands Distillery to bring the cellar door experience to some very lucky Sydneysiders. Check out what went down here and if you want to be the first to know about such events in the future, make sure you sign up to our mailing list!


The DIY master - Belgrove Distillery

Fondly referred to as the “mad scientist” by one of the other distillers on our tour, a visit to Peter Bignell’s Belgrove distillery is a lesson in the fine art of recycling. So what looks like junk is in fact repurposed everyday items that have been given a new lease of life, from the old tumble dryer functioning as Peter’s malting machine through to the Kenwood Mix Master acting as a back up power tool to fire the still. As Australia’s only paddock to bottle distillery producing rye whisky, Peter encapsulates the mantra of making the most of what’s around him to produce some very fine rye spirit, with the occasional foray into less mainstream stuff like his Apple Hatchet (effectively an apple brandy) grappa and the Black Rye (a rye whisky coffee liqueur).

Belgrove Distillery Wholly Shit cask

The unassuming air to the man belies a constant experimental nature so you never quite know what special bottlings might be available to taste on your tour – on our visit, we spotted a barrel aptly called Wholly Shit, which held maturing whisky made using rye grains smoked with sheep dung. Will it be released? You’ll have to schedule a visit in 2 years time to find out. There’s no set tour times as such so if you want to visit, be sure you email ahead via the link here.

Pro tip: Shene, Redlands and Belgrove are pretty much located in a straight line along off the same highway.

The cheesy option - Hartshorn Distillery

Located about a 45 minute drive south of Hobart and on the way to Bruny Island, take a detour to Grandvewe Cheeses, which is also the home to Hartshorn Distillery. The word “distillery” is putting it mildly as the entire operation is located in what is effectively the small basement garage of the property housing the cellar door. Head distiller Ryan’s family has been in the cheese making business for years and it was whilst working in marketing for them that he decided he needed a challenge and took up distilling. Entirely self taught, Ryan’s decision to use a by-product of cheese making called whey (80% of whey in Australia goes to waste) resulted in a year of experiments as he struggled to find the right yeast and formula that would turn whey into a compound suitable to distil. The result is a vodka that challenges your perception of the spirit being a neutral flavourless beast (check out how it fared in our vodka evening here). The perfectionist attention to detail doesn’t stop there – preparing the 80 odd bottles for each batch takes about a week in itself because Ryan hand paints and writes the label on every bottle. Whisky drinkers might identify with the American Oaked expression, which sees Hartshorn’s flagship vodka steeped with American wood staves for a few months before being bottled.

The distillery itself is not (yet) open to the public but the cellar door is a picturesque pitstop and a must for cheese lovers (tip: the sapphire blue cheese with pinot paste is phenomenal). All expressions of Hartshorn vodka and liqueurs plus Grandvewe cheeses are available to taste and Ryan himself is often there to guide you through the range. Opening hours and information on visiting are available here

Off the beaten track - Wilmot Hills Distillery

Of all the distilleries we visited on this list, Wilmot Hills Distillery has to be the most “remote”. Two diversions due to closed flooded roads, a landslide blocked lane and many winding tracks later, we found ourselves at the distillery and cellar door, which is really a (very organised) shed located behind John and Ruth Cole’s home out in Wilmot, about 1 hour 45 minutes drive west of Launceston. Having made wine for 25 years, John decided a sea change was in order and turned his hand to distilling instead. Wanting to make use of the cider apples growing nearby, he built a still designed to make apple brandy. Although he does make a gin (the Motorcycle gin incorporates the more unusual lemon blossom whilst the Spectrum gin uses locally grown elderflower), the rest of Wilmot’s spirits range veer towards the less mainstream. Think grappa and absinthe, including what we believe to be Australia’s first red absinthe, which was inspired by a cocktail named Death in the Afternoon. With his shock of fuzzy white hair and gentle manner, there’s a certain Einstein-esque air to John; an impression that was further born out when he showed us round his laboratory, with its specially commissioned glass paraphernalia that wouldn’t look out of place in a science facility.  There’s no fancy tour or scripted marketing blurbs here but John will happily talk the geeky spirits talk with you if you are an enthusiast. Plus if you’re after something more unusual, this is the place for it though you should stock up at the cellar door because you’d be hard pressed to find this stuff elsewhere. Tastings are $5 per 15ml nip and the cellar door is open every day except Wednesday, though it’s best to check the link here for updates before you head out. 

Take it sloe - Nonesuch Distillery

Like most distillers in Australia, distilling was not in Rex Burdon’s heritage. Frustrated over the lack of good sloe gins on the commercial market, Rex set out to make his own (as you do). Instead of seeking advice from more established distillers however, Rex sought guidance from the good women of various country associations, whose sloe gins were the very ones that kick-started his thirst for the spirit.  The result? Some rather unorthodox methods that defy the distilling norm – think tricks like storing the sloe infused gin in plastic drums and rolling them around like you would kick a football in order to mix the sloe (stirring the gin runs the risk of crushing some of the sloe berries, which gives off an astringent note). The finished sloe gin is something that strikes the right balance between sweet and tart, and avoids the syrupy mess of some of its commercial compatriots.

Nonesuch sloe gin and malt

The limited availability of Tasmanian sloe berries combined with the distillery's current capacity means Rex only pumps out about 4000 bottles of his flagship product annually. The sloe malt (sloe berries infused in new make malt spirit) is even more limited, with only hundreds produced each year, so it is a rarity to find them on any retail shelf outside of Tasmania. If you’re heading to Hobart airport from the eastern coast of Tasmania, the distillery is a great little pit stop along the way. Otherwise, coming from Hobart it’s a quick half hour drive. The cellar door is open on weekends and full day gin/whisky distillery experience tours are also available on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. Further information on visiting and tours are available here.

Post script

If driving around isn't your thing, check out Drink Tasmania, which offers public and private tours of various distilleries close to Hobart. Otherwise, if you plan on calling in any of the distilleries, we recommend checking on their website or contacting them in advance to confirm visiting times, as all are working distilleries (with quite a few being effectively one man operations).

Thank you to all the distillers we visited for their hospitality and being so generous with their time! We travelled to Tasmania on our own accord - all opinions entirely that of our own.


Pokemon Go for whisky!

JD Barrel Hunt

You'd have to be living under a rock to miss the recent phenomenon sweeping the world, called Pokemon Go. Here at SCC HQ, we none of us have tried Go, which we gather is an augmented reality app game based on the original Pokemon video game. At its most basic, the premise of the game seems to be to that players physically travel to explore the game's map in order tocapture, battle and train the Pokemon using items such as Poke balls and potions.  We're sure there's loads more nuances we've missed but this isn't a post about Pokemon...because for those of you booze geeks out there, we think there's something better. Enter the Jack Daniel's Barrel Hunt!

We're sure the Jack Daniel Distillery needs no introduction. But did you know that this year marks the the 150th anniversary of the distillery? In celebration of this milestone, the brand launched the Jack Daniel’s Barrel Hunt, a global scavenger hunt that started on 1 July and continuing until 30 September. 

From July through September, 150 handcrafted whiskey barrels will be hidden in various regions across the globe at historic and cultural sites, with clues on Jack Daniel’s Facebook pages to help guide fans to the secret location. Clues tied to the history of each region will be provided on the day of each local Barrel Hunt and barrels will be opened when the first person to arrive speaks the correct barrel password. Updates and results will be shared as barrels are found around the world and prizes are claimed in each region. Word is that Australia has 10 out of the 150 barrels and as far as we know, only 2 has been won as of the date of this post, so your chances are real good!

And what can you win? Each hidden barrel in the scavenger hunt was handcrafted from the distillery and used to mature Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey before being specially fabricated for the Barrel Hunt to house prizes, including an original, one-of-a-kind bar kit made with white oak from the barrels. Barrel Hunt winners will also receive the authentic Jack Daniel’s barrel they found along with prizes tailored to each region that participates in the Barrel Hunt.

See? What did we tell you? JUST LIKE POKEMON GO EXCEPT THE PAYOFFS ARE SO MUCH BETTER! Who needs candies and stardust when you can win actual whiskey and whiskey paraphernalia! (and possibly an actual trip to the Jack Daniel's distillery).

Head to for more information and don't forget to check the Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whisky Facebook page for clues.

How to get your Negroni on for Negroni Week

 Photo by @wandernut

Photo by @wandernut

Not that we need any excuse to drink this classic cocktail containing equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. But hey, when there's a whole week dedicated to the cause AND when said drinking is for charity, we consider it our duty to get our Negroni on.

Here's the deal. First launched in 2013 by bar magazine Imbibe and Campari to celebrate the cocktail and raise money for charitable causes at the same time, the latter happens via a bunch of participating bars donating a portion of the sale of each Negroni sold at their establishment to their charity of choice. Fast forward 3 years later, and there's well over 5000 venues from over 36 countries participating. Australia is one of them and Sydney has seen a good number sign up for the cause. Not only that, Campari Australia has pledged to donate $5,000 to the charity of the top fundraising bar in Australia so get drinking!

For a list of participating venues in Sydney, check out the list here but here's our pick of what you should be doing between 6 and 12 June this year for Negroni Week. 

The popular story goes that the Negroni was invented at Casoni Bar in Florence when one Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender to give his Americano cocktail (equal parts Campari, vermouth and soda) a bit of a kick. The bartender responded by subbing the soda with gin and the rest as they say, is history.

In Sydney, you can make like Count Negroni and head to Casoni Bar (no relation to the original) where alongside their popular Negronis on tap, they're also serving up barrel-aged and cold-drip Negronis all week long. Or hightail it to another Italian favourite, Besser Italian in Surry Hills who are also doing barrel aged Negronis, which you can wash down with Nonna's tagliatelle and their popular risotto of the day.

On June 12, make it a priority to be at Maybe Frank who are putting on a Negroni Auction. Yep, from 4 pm, they've got a line up of visiting startenders who'll make and action their take on this cocktail. As the guys say, save some coin in your pocket and spend 'em on a good twist for a good cause (which in this case, is the Sydney Children's Hospital)!


If drinking at 10 am isn't your thing, then you'll be pleased to know you can now eat your negroni. Yessir, cult coffee joint Brewtown Newtown has come up with a NEGRONI BREWNUT for the week.

 Photo by Brewtown Newtown

Photo by Brewtown Newtown

This croissant-doughnut hybrid comes coated in a blood orange sugar, topped with a lightly bitter Negroni cream, and finished with blood orange meringue, Campari gelée and dehydrated citrus. Kill us now (from the sugar high).

For something a little less decadent (but no less delicious), try and get your hands on the Breakfast Negroni marmalade pumped out by the folks at Four Pillars gin (see below).


Take your Negroni with a view from atop Hotel Palisade in Millers Point or the Opera Bar. If it's raining, duck into Aria Restaurant where you can take your views (and cocktail) under cover.

If you want to get the lowdown on how to make the perfect Negroni, head to Hazy Rose who are putting on the ultimate "How-to" Negroni workshop, in partnership with Australian gin brand West Winds. Be taken through the history of the negroni, learn a little about what makes craft gin in Australia different to London dry and how to make the perfect negroni. For $45 a head, you'll get a welcome gin and tonic, equipment to make your own Negroni, samples of Australian Gin to take home and food. Plus 20% of all ticket sales will go to a charity close to The Hazy Rose team's heart, The Black Dog Institute, a not-for-profit organisation and world leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. Get your tickets here


If this rain gets you down, lift your spirits at home with your own house made Negroni. And what better gin to use than one made specifically to be used in the Negroni? They might not be from Sydney but we'll forgive them that transgression because Victorian distillers Four Pillars came up with a stonkingly good Spiced Negroni Gin as part of their Bartenders Series last year.

 Picture by Four Pillars Gin

Picture by Four Pillars Gin

Distilled for and in conjunction with the Keystone Group (who're behind bars like the Rook, Gazebo, Winery and the Loft), you can now get your mitts on the gin and make like a bartender at home. For a break from the drinking, try the Breakfast Negroni marmalade that's made from leftover oranges used in the Four Pillars gin distillation process. Spread it on toast, eat it by the spoonful - it's a great way to kick start your day.

And let's not forget gin and Campari's partner in crime, vermouth. If you've always been bewildered by the different types of vermouth out there, join us at our workshop on Tuesday 7 June where you'll even learn how to make your own. Get your skates on here


Consuming the exhibition - Bar White Oak

Bar White Oak

When we first heard of Melbourne whisky bar Whisky & Alement putting on a "consumable exhibition" of Japanese whiskies, we were intrigued. We've been to art exhibitions where you can actually eat the work on display. But booze? Were we going to be treated to a alcoholic version of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory?

Alas, no. Lest anyone has images of being able to run through alcoholic showers or sup from a fountain of whisky, the format is a lot more refined and understated. Ahead of the public opening on 18 May 2016, we attended a preview exclusive to members of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society on 15 May to suss out the fuss. 

To many a whisky enthusiast in Australia, W&A needs no introduction (read our review for global bar site BarChick here) Their consumable exhibition titled Bar White Oak is perhaps more accurately described as a pop up bar within a bar. To achieve this, the front section of W&A has been transformed into a hatch complete with a serving counter and shelves of Japanese whiskies curated by W&A owners Brooke Hayman, Julian White and W&A bartender Kelvin Low. The trio have been amassing an impressive collection over the years, and originally were intending to open a stand alone Japanese whisky bar but the increasing scarcity and difficulty in sourcing the liquid meant an evolution in their plans to its current format.

Alongside mainstream bottlings such as Hibiki Harmony and Hakushu Distillers Reserve, you'll find on the menu many distillery only bottlings, limited edition runs and whiskies from closed distilleries such as the likes of Karuizawa and Hanyu. The shelves also feature the most extensive range of SMWS Japanese bottlings we've seen in Australia (and arguably the world); if you've always wanted to try that society Hakushu (both 120.7 and 120.8 are on pour), those Karuizawas 132.2 and 132.5, or a rare society Chita grain whisky, now's your chance but do it quick, because once it's gone, it gone. (we've already made a small dent in those stocks ourselves, #sorrynotsorry)

 The welcome drams at the preview; a rare sighting of the Ichiro's Malt Bartenders Choice 2015 (not available on the shelves because we've drunk it all) and the society Miyagikyo 124.4 (available to pour in all of its intense rum n' raisin sherried goodness with a faint hint of sulphur on the back note for those who like that sort of profile). 

The welcome drams at the preview; a rare sighting of the Ichiro's Malt Bartenders Choice 2015 (not available on the shelves because we've drunk it all) and the society Miyagikyo 124.4 (available to pour in all of its intense rum n' raisin sherried goodness with a faint hint of sulphur on the back note for those who like that sort of profile). 

In the wake of the great Japanese whisky craze sweeping the globe, this pop up is quite a savvy and timely initiative because there's no doubt it will be very popular. But it's also a welcome one in our eyes. For those who think Japanese whisky is a recent phenomenon and/or see a very famous Yamazaki as the holy grail of the category, the range available at this consumable exhibition will give you cause to pause, and think again. If anything, it's an opportunity like no other to taste the spectrum of Japanese whisky (some stunning, some good, some not so much). And given the age statements on some of the bottlings we tried, it's also a reminder that the Japanese have been making fantastic whisky for some time now, well before one man in a hat named a particular Japanese bottling as the best whisky in the world. 

 Pop up curator Kelvin Low pouring a dram - you will find him in this spot most nights guiding punters through the whiskies "on exhibit."

Pop up curator Kelvin Low pouring a dram - you will find him in this spot most nights guiding punters through the whiskies "on exhibit."

Like any artistic exhibition, we say go with an open mind, appreciate and be educated. But at what price comes this educational experience? Is it expensive we hear you ask? Yes and no. There's no cover charge to get in and entry is subject to the venue's usual capacity. Everything you see on the shelf is available to purchase by the 15ml or 30ml nip, with entry level whiskies starting from as low as $12 a full nip. We found prices hovered around the $30-$40 mark on average for a full dram of the more unusual ones and they went up from there - just by way of example, we spied a Nikka Taketsuru Sherry Cask for $40 a nip and an Ichiro's Malt 23 year old for $87 a nip whilst the SMWS Chita was a mere $38 a pop if you're a SMWS member. If you really want to go to town, you could really drop a fair bit of coin here. Having said that, W&A has long had a reputation for making whisky accessible and given the provenance and rarity of most of the whiskies on taste, the prices are actually very reasonable compared to what they could have been.

Bar White Oak

Those new to whisky appreciation or see whisky as just another alcoholic spirit may well baulk at some of the prices. For those who are into their whiskies or are open to embarking on a spirit-ual journey however, that evergreen MasterCard campaign sums it up for us. Cost of one dram: $60. Sitting in a convival space with friends and experiencing a taste of history from a bottle you might never otherwise get to try? Priceless. 

Bar White Oak drinking whisky

Bar White Oak runs from 18 May for six months (or maybe sooner if you all drink them dry). More information including opening times are available at the W&A website here. Details about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, their whiskies and events such as the preview we attended are available on the SMWS website here.

We attended the preview event as a SMWS member and paid for our own ticket and drinks. Opinions are entirely that of our own.

Tipsy High Tea


In our line of "work" we go to a lot of tastings. And a lot of them are fairly straight up straight down affairs. So we were rather excited about attending one which was shaping up to be different to the conventional sip, listen and leave formats we're used to attending.

The Barber Shop Bar
 Welcome Gin Cocktail - Young Henry's Noble Cut Gin, apricot brandy, hibiscus and orange tea with lemon

Welcome Gin Cocktail - Young Henry's Noble Cut Gin, apricot brandy, hibiscus and orange tea with lemon

Organised by Australian craft spirits distributor Nip of Courage, the dimly lit surrounds of specialist gin bar the Barber Shop provided a suitably intimate backdrop for what promised to be a Tipsy High Tea indeed. Held on a Saturday May afternoon, we certainly started on the right note, with a welcome cocktail that went down as well as lolly water (i.e. too well) before moving on to a tasting of 7 different Australia gins from the Nip of Courage portfolio and another tea infused gin cocktail served in teapots in between. 

 The Ginstress and the Barber (Shop owner Mike Enright)  

The Ginstress and the Barber (Shop owner Mike Enright)  

Proceedings were hosted by Elly Baxter, who by day is a publicist for Belvoir Theatre but by night, is better known as the Ginstress, drinking and writing about gin on her self titled blog. Despite being a self confessed gin nerd, Elly stayed away from being overly technical with her presentation, punctuating the tasting of each gin with personal anecdotes and entertaining snippets of information. Did you know the phrase Dutch courage came about as a result of Dutch navy officers steeling themselves for the battle ahead with a shot of genever (the predecessor to gin)? Or that Vera Lynn is cockney slang for gin? 

 A veritable spread, plus 7 gins, one for every day of the week! On taste was the McHenry Classic Dry Gin, Stone Pine Gin, Young Henry's Noble Cut Gin, Loch Gin, Loch "Weaver" Gin, Loch Gin Liqueur and McHenry's Sloe Gin

A veritable spread, plus 7 gins, one for every day of the week! On taste was the McHenry Classic Dry Gin, Stone Pine Gin, Young Henry's Noble Cut Gin, Loch Gin, Loch "Weaver" Gin, Loch Gin Liqueur and McHenry's Sloe Gin

Tipsy High Tea tasting gin
 Tipsy teapots all in a row - teapot cocktail with Loch gin, peppermint, green tea and pineapple, which all combined to produce a cocktail tasting like boozed up chamomile tea

Tipsy teapots all in a row - teapot cocktail with Loch gin, peppermint, green tea and pineapple, which all combined to produce a cocktail tasting like boozed up chamomile tea

Incorporating a gin tasting into an activity normally associated with the ladies meant the crowd was skewed towards the fairer sex, although this probably also had something to do with the event falling on the Mother's Day weekend. Regardless of gender, it's certainly a darn convival way to try some gin with friends over an afternoon. The food served was classic afternoon tea fare (think smoked salmon sandwiches, scones and pastries); the items weren't specifically matched to each gin or cocktail (as far as we know anyway) so you simply munch along at your own pace. Tasting purists might tear their hair out over the palate interference but it didn't bother us here. Quite apart from the fact that this is meant to be a fun thing, each of the 7 chosen gins on taste was so different on both their nose and tasting profile, a stink bomb wouldn't have held us back. We found the McHenry's Classic Dry gin to be heavy on the cardamom and star anise, the Stone Pine Dry Gin big on coriander notes, the Young Henry's Noble Cut malty and the Loch a big juniper bomb. For tasting novices, we couldn't have put together a more appropriate range ourselves to highlight the diversity in Australian made gin today.

 Loch distiller and co-found Craig Johnson (right)

Loch distiller and co-found Craig Johnson (right)

It was also a real treat to have distiller and co-founder of Loch, Craig Johnson fly up from Victoria to share the story of how he and wife Mel got into the distilling game, and speak quite candidly about some of the challenges they continue to face. With the relatively high prices of quality local spirits, it's easy enough to think most distillers have an easy life raking it in. The reality is that the vast majority of Australian distilleries are still only one or few man bands; Craig and Mel started out in 2013 but have only recently started employing a young fellow to help with their cellar door on a casual basis. That aside, they continue to run everything else themselves (right down to playing rock paper scissors to determine who grinds the botanicals) simply because they cannot afford not to.  Factor in the relatively high cost of resources (including labour), add in a punishing tax system and you'd be quickly disabused of the notion that this is the kind of industry anyone goes into to make a quick buck.

We hear this Tipsy High Tea is the first in what will hopefully be a series of them. If you happen to be around when the next one is on, we can certainly recommend it - good gins and cocktails washed down with some learning, good food and new friends. What's not to like?

Much thanks to Nip of Courage for the gracious invitation. Opinions are entirely that of our own.


Want to make your own gin? Part 2

Archie Rose Distillery Blend Your Own Gin

In part 1 of this post, we explored what it would be like to distill your own gin using the "one pot" method. At the end of that part, we pondered whether it would be any easier to blend a gin from different distillates of the botanicals used in the gin. So instead of putting all the botanicals in the still with neutral alcohol and then distilling it, the distiller distills each botanical individually and then marries the different distillates together at the end. No different to how blended whisky is created, we guess.

Having tried the single shot method of distillation in London, once back in Sydney, we toddled off to Archie Rose Distillery to try our hand at the blending technique, the same method used by them to create their signature dry gin.

As the first Sydney urban distillery in over 160 years when it opened in 2015, Archie Rose produces a vodka, gin and white rye spirit with a whisky on the way. Located in Rosebery, the distillery compound also houses a bar that is worth visiting in its own right in all of its copper covered glory. It's here that the gin blending workshops are held from time to time, where for 2 hours, ordinary punters get the opportunity to test their blending skills using an array of distillates. Archie Rose's Signature Dry Gin is itself uses 14 different botanicals that include some native Australian botanicals like blood lime, Dorrigo pepperleaf, lemon myrtle and river mint. Each are individually distilled in a pot still and then blended by master distiller Joe Dinsmoor. Though less than a year old, the gin has already garnered a gold medal at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Straight off, we are going to say that gin blending is HARD. We were presented with about 10-12 different distillates in separate glasses and a syringe with which to drop as much or as little of our chosen distillate in a separate master glass. Encouraged to experiment in small quantities in the beginning (and by small, we mean in quantities measured by the drops), once happy with the overall result, you could then scale up to fill the 200ml flasks to take away with you. 

In principle, it's no different to the process of wholly distilling all the botanicals in one hit - identify the character of the end spirit you want, then work out the botanicals that'll give you that profile and the proportion of each in the formula. But trying to make it all work with separate distillates requires you to have the nose of a master perfumier with the palate of a master chef. Perhaps the most difficult was balancing the profile we wanted to achieve on the nose with the profile we wanted to achieve on the palate, each botanical having different strengths on the palate. So for example, add to much of the lemon myrtle distillate and risk overpowering all the other botanicals, even though on the nose, it might still smell ok. Our resulting concoctions were nothing like what we had set out to achieve, and had a rather bland, dull nose to it with a palate that was not much better, despite us wanting this vibrant, zesty gin - we are definitely not going to be giving up our day jobs soon. 

Our lesson learnt? Making a world class gin is difficult, whether you are distilling everything in the one hit or blending. However, if like us, you still want to make your own gin, but have the nose and palate of a water buffalo, then Archie Rose has come up with a pretty nifty initiative called Tailored Spirits where you can create your own customised gin (or vodka or rye) based on a selection of botanicals they've set out. Choose your botanicals, select your preferences and they'll adjust the strength and even customise the label for you. More details can be found here.

Want to make your own gin? Part 1

SCC x 58 Gin

Seems every second Joe Blow is making a gin nowadays. And with the interest in the category showing no signs of abating, we bet we aren't the first to think about jumping on the bandwagon with our own. Forgetting the whole regulatory and tax thing (that's another story), how hard can it be to make what is essentially flavoured vodka? 

Thanks to 58 Gin in London and Archie Rose in Sydney, we were able to put this to the test and explore two methods of gin distillation - firstly, the chuck everything in one pot (as we call it) and secondly, the blending method. If you're a whisky drinker, think of it as a single cask vs blended dichotomy. We should say first off, that both gins we made were consistent with the London Dry definition of gin, i.e. all botanicals used in the gin are added during the distillation and no colourings or flavourings are added after (with the exception of a small amount of sugar)

On paper, the one pot method sounds easy enough. Take juniper and a couple of botanicals, get some neutral spirit, throw it all into a still, turn on the switch and that's it right? That's certainly what we thought before we turned our hand to making our own with Mark Marmont of 58 Gin in London.

58 Gin

58 Gin is a relative newcomer to the scene but has already been named as one of 101 gins to try before you die by Ian Buxton. Whilst it's not officially imported into Australia (yet), those keen to try it can find it at gin bar Gin & It in Sydney's Barangaroo. It's made out of a space in Hackney Downs Studios by Mark, an Aussie in London who's had a quite a varied career before becoming a gin distiller. From growing up on a farm in Australia to working at Sizzlers and becoming a dive master and cat sitter, it seemed a happy turn of events that the self confessed cocktail lover found himself living at 58 Colebrooke Row (which is where the gin gets it name from). Even happier was the fact that number 58 is a stones throw from that renowned no name bar at number 69, run by drinks maestro Tony Conigliaro, who himself is arguably the Heston Blumenthal of the drinks world. Many a cocktail later at number 69, the idea for his own gin was hatched and the rest, as they say, is history. 2 years of experimentation, a studio largely built by Mark himself and a cool logo designed by tattoo artist to the stars, Mo Coppoletta later, 58 Gin was officially born with its first batch on January 2015. 

58 Gin Distillery

Distilled in micro batches of 80 bottles at a time from a copper pot still christened Eliza, 58 Gin is a crisp gin that's quite citrus driven but not overly so; largely thanks to the lemon peel, pink grapefruit peel, bergamot peel joining the likes of coriander seed, orris, cubeb pepper, angelica and vanilla in the botanical equation. We liked it when we tasted it, so when Mark asked if we wanted to make our own during an impromptu visit, we won't lie; we had visions of this being the springboard to a global Sydney Cocktail Club gin empire.

So how easy is it to MYO gin, and should we start making plans for our own distillery?

Turns out it's easy enough if you've got a distiller guiding you through the process. It's also easy to see how it took Mark close to 2 years of experiments to work out the perfect recipe for his gin. It isn't simply a matter of choosing the botanicals and throwing them into the still, it's also working out which botanicals in what proportion will give you the style of gin you want, be it spicy, peppery, citrus-sy etc. Apart from juniper (which has to be the predominant botanical), the sky's the limit in terms of what and how many other botanicals you can throw in; some, like Monkey 47 have 47 botanicals in their mix, whilst others, such as Deaths Door only uses 3. Add to that the challenge of figuring out how much of each to use, and you have a veritable toe curling task on your hands. 

 Laying out the botanicals

Laying out the botanicals

 Starting with the juniper on the right.

Starting with the juniper on the right.

 Our recipe for SCC GIn, one that would have taken us years to come up with but perfected in 15 minutes under Mark's guidance.

Our recipe for SCC GIn, one that would have taken us years to come up with but perfected in 15 minutes under Mark's guidance.

For our first foray into gin making, we decided to keep things simple and went with angelica, cubeb, black pepper and pink grapefruit peel. All of our botanicals were then added to Dizzy (a smaller version of Eliza), which Mark had already filled up with a locally made neutral spirit.

Looking into the pot still
Looking into the pot still
Distilling gin
Distilling SCC x 58 Gin

The next challenge is working out which part of the distillate coming out of the still is good enough to be used for bottling - which is where you'll need your olfactory and tastebuds to work overtime. The initial run of liquid coming out will both smell and taste like paint stripper; it's easy enough to work out this is not good stuff but it takes a trained nose to identify the point at which those harsh notes become the alcoholic perfume that distillers (and drinkers) look for, and when that perfume stops. Our whole experience took just under 2 hours; from picking the botanicals through to bottling and sealing the wax tops on, yielding about 1 litre of alcohol all up. But golly, there's nothing quite like making your own gin to make you appreciate the skills required with so many steps of the process, not least trying to work out how the chosen botanical will turn out once it's been through the distillation process. So to all these gin distillers out there, we tip our hat to you! And we certainly have to extend a huge thanks to Mark for his hospitality and time in showing us the ropes of what it's like to be a small batch gin producer. If you're ever in London, go hunt down 58 Gin - it's sold at Master of Malt, Fortnum & Mason and good independent retailers but Mark does pop up at various locations, just check the website here

SCC x 58 Gin
SCC x 58 Gin

After our experience at 58 Gin, we got to thinking, what about if someone else did the distillation of each botanical separately and all we had to do was blend them together? This method is preferred by some producers such as Distillery Botanica on the NSW Central Coast (which produces Distillery Botanica gin and Moores Vintage Dry Gin) and Archie Rose Distillery in Sydney for the reason that they get better extraction of flavour from each botanical. If the distillation process is the hard part, surely blending the separate finished distillates would be like making a vanilla and cinnamon mocha frappucino? So we thought, which is how we found ourselves with our next post and Part 2 of make your own gin. Read on to see if we fared any better....