Heading to the Good Food and Wine Show a couple of weekends ago, the one stall we knew beforehand that we wanted to visit was Nip of Courage.
Nip of Courage are a young – only 1 year old – company that distributes and exports for Australian craft liquor distilleries. They represent a small but growing group of passionate craftsmen dotted all over the country, from Belgrove Distillery in Tasmania to Hoochery Distillery – rum-makers from Kununurra in the Kimberley region.
Nip of Courage represent people who are passionate about their product, often making small-batch, using local resources, and dedicated to finding the best, cleanest flavours to bottle and give to you. The Australian craft liquor industry may be small, but it is growing in both size and reputation and we were very keen to visit Nip of Courage to sample (and enjoy!) their selection of Australian gins.
Luckily we hit the stand during a quiet break so we got to chat with Jules, Lauren and Kathleen behind the bar. All fabulous and fun women (hi girls!). But let’s get to the reason we were there – gin tasting! It was already 10am so a perfect time to taste four very different gins (we’d had an early start ok). First up, McHenry, a classic, straight-forward dry gin that anyone could enjoy and would be perfect on a hot afternoon, sunk into a glass of good tonic. McHenry and Sons is a distillery based at Mount Arthur in Tasmania with the odd distinction of being Australia’s southern-most whisky distillery. Their gin was a nice, smooth start.
Next up, Stone Pine. This one had a more noticeable herbed citrus flavour, the distinct hit of finger lime. Certainly you could drink it straight, but it would be perfect either on a hot summer day chilled with citrus or in a martini with a twist.
Third we tried Botanic Australis Gin, made by Mt Uncle Distillery. This gin is blended with 14 native Australian botanicals, which gives it an enticing, distinct flavour when drunk straight. Not a gin to mix with Schweppes Indian Tonic; if you’re drinking a gin like this, you need to make sure you’re adding only the best. We were recommended that it tastes superb in a negroni.
Finally, we finished on the McHenry Old English Style Sloe Gin. Now, I have almost no experience of sloe gins but I feel I should become more acquainted with the type. A rich rust colour, the flavour has a depth and richness reminiscent of port, with those pungent gin herbs. I probably shouldn’t say that but nevertheless if you like gin, you should give this a try as a real eye-opener to the possibilities Dicken’s favourite child-rearing agent can hold.
After our tasting and a good chat, we were invited to return later to have a chat with the creator of Botanic Australis, Mark Watkins.
Mark has the rock-star pirate look about him, jewelry, boots and all. A real Jack Sparrow stand-in and a delight to talk to. Mark made his first batch of home-brew in his cubby house aged 16. He’s been distilling professionally for close to 2 decades and his liquors have won international awards at shows in San Francisco and Hong Kong.
Mark is founder and head-distiller at Mt Uncle Distillery in the hinterland just south of Cairns. He experiments with every liquor you can name, with gin, marshmallow liquor (it’s called Sexy Cat if you’re interested), white rum; small batch (one barrel) tequila on the way; and plans for absinthe, whisky and a special – again very limited – run of navy-strength gin in 2015.
His Botanic Australis gin, which we were of course most interested in, is unique in that the flavour is a complex layering of 14 botanicals – 13 native to Australia and of course, the all-important Juniper. Lemon myrtle will be familiar, but also hitting your palate are peppermint gum, lilly pilly, pepperberry and wattle seed among others. The result is a complicated flavour hit, very different from any classic imported London gins we’re used to and uniquely Australian.
Not content with being Head Distiller, Mark also designs the branding and packaging, into which he puts a lot of thought and consideration. It’s evident when you get your hands on a bottle of Botanic Australis, which not only has the look and feel of a premium product, the bottle is wholly aesthetically pleasing.
Mark generously presented us with a bottle of gin to taste and review. We have plans for this little bottle, involving negronis, martinis, gin-loving friends and a BBQ in the sunshine. Post to come in a couple of weeks.
If you’d like to get your hands on any of these gins, visit the distillery websites or else a local craft bottle shop or a good Dan Murphys will stock some of them.