Juniper, citrus and … mango? Most of us don’t associate gin with tropical fruit, but this unlikely combo has put Wolf Lane Distillery in Cairns on the map.
Business partners Darren Barber, Sam Kennis and Grant Buckham were already shaking up Cairns’ hospitality scene with a handful of buzzy small bars when an opportunity to take over a unique heritage site sparked a new direction.
The trio knew that the 1905 red-brick stables, one of the city’s oldest buildings, would be the perfect setting for a modern gin distillery.
“We’ve always had a fascination with gin – it’s one of the main spirits we had in our bars and we’ve tasted a lot of gins,” explains Darren. “When the space became available, we thought it’d be a great opportunity to start a gin distillery that showcased the fresh tropical produce in this area.”
With the concept locked down, the next step was to travel to the other end of the country – Tasmania – to learn their craft. “Then it was a whole lot of trial and error!” says Darren. It took them about seven months to fine-tune the recipe for a summery, citrus-forward gin with a hint of mango.
Wolf Lane Distillery Tropical Gin is made by steeping juniper and native botanicals like macadamia, lemon myrtle and pepperberry in a clean spirit before vapour-infusing it with locally grown mango, ruby grapefruit and finger limes. Smooth, balanced and refreshing with soda water, it quickly made a splash in the Queensland gin scene and beyond.
“We sent it off to the Australian Gin Awards in late 2019 to get some feedback on it, and it came back with a gold medal!” says Darren. “It was actually the second-highest ranking gin in the competition.”
It’s since won silver medals at the London Spirits Competition and the Australian International Spirits Competition.
A few years on, the ‘wolf pack’ has expanded: the Cairns distillery also produces a sloe-style Davidson plum gin.
The original Wolf Lane Tropical Gin is also the base for a range of naturally flavoured seltzers, Wolf Lane Distillery Wild Berry Seltzer. “They’re great for pool parties and barbecues,” says Darren, adding that creating spirits suited to life in the tropics is core to the Wolf Lane philosophy.
Step into a slim laneway off Abbott Street in Cairns’ CBD and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Melbourne or Sydney – red-brick walls and murals give it an urban-cool vibe. Inside the old stables, the tropics take over: the distillery’s light and bright cocktail bar is decorated with neon signs, lush plants and chic banquette seating.
Pull up a stool at the bar and order one of the signature Wolf Lane cocktails or bring friends for tapas and a tasting paddle of gins. You can also book in a distillery tour or masterclass, where you can learn how the Wolf Lane gins are made and interesting ways to enjoy them – and, of course, nab a few bottles to take home.