From Tasmanian pepperberry to finger lime and lemon myrtle, the best Australian gin is handcrafted with ancient ingredients used by Indigenous Australians for millennia. While the pungent flavours of these botanicals could overpower some drinks, the punchy juniper that forms the backbone of gin holds it all together. The result? Bold and innovative native Australian gin that reflects the landscape and has a taste and aroma all its own.
When Brendan Carter and his wife Laura founded Applewood distillery in SA’s Adelaide Hills in 2015, he estimates there were only about 10 Australian gins on the market. In less than a decade that number has exploded to almost 1000. “Consumers are more familiar with local brands now and will ask for Australian gins by name, which has been the big change in the last five years,” says award-winning cocktail creator Callan Fleming. “The first iteration of Australian gins were juniper berry- and coriander-heavy and tended to be on the sweeter side,” he adds. Recent times have seen a steady shift toward drier gin that reflects the more mature palates of seasoned gin drinkers.
With so many Australian gin distilleries creating their own craft gin, the heat is on to make something different. Because gin can be made quickly (usually in less than a day), it evolves at a much faster pace than most spirits, and distillers are able to respond rapidly to trends as they emerge.
“What people are putting with the juniper has become more important and everyone’s trying to find their own distinct flavour differences,” says Callan. Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin – made with Yarra Valley Shiraz grapes, and Seven Seasons Green Ant Gin — distilled with zesty, citrus-flavoured green ants, are two prime examples of gin brands that have pioneered entirely new styles of gin.
“We’ve got the oldest, most exciting flavours in the world at our doorstep,” says Shane Reid, co-founder of Australia’s first certified organic spirits company Antipodes Gin. “We were sick of receiving all this gin from the UK. We’ve got all these wonderful Australian botanicals – so we thought, let’s send them back something exciting!” The result was Antipodes Pink Gin, which uses Kakadu plum and strawberry gum to create a distinct musky flavour with intense floral notes.
The abundance of unique flavours in our own backyard – such as lemon myrtle, pepperberry, blood orange and river mint – has provided a secret weapon for many other local distillers who have created bold new combinations that have helped propel Australian gin to international prominence. “We have an unfair advantage over other countries because a lot of our native botanicals lend themselves incredibly well to the herbaceous profile that people are seeking out with gin, and play very well with the piney, resinous nature of juniper,” adds Brendan.
Increasingly, Australian gin distilleries are seeing this spirit as a vehicle to explore both the flora and the connection that traditional custodians continue to have with this country. Applewood’s Brendan is working to increase transparency in how native ingredients are sourced industry-wide, and encouraging customers to learn more about where they come from.
For Daniel Motlop, Larrakia man and founder of Adelaide-based Seven Seasons, it’s all about following the lores of the land. “We only take what is bountiful to ensure a plentiful annual return,” says Daniel. “Much of the produce for our spirits is sourced only from Aboriginal communities who employ Aboriginal harvesters.”
And with literally hundreds of ingredients still waiting to find their way into a gin, there are sure to be many more innovations to come. “We’re still broadening the palate of flavours in Australian gin, and that’s exciting,” says Callan.