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.
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.
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?
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.
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.