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Boutique gin takes off in Australia

Food & Wine

Many South Australian winemakers moonlighting as distillers.

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The thirst for boutique gin has seen a steady increase in Australian winemakers moonlighting as distillers.

The trend is pronounced in South Australia, a state traditionally associated with fine wines.

Kangaroo Island Spirits pioneered the production of hand-crafted gin in 2005, but it took almost 10 years for the local competition to emerge. Winemaker Rowland Short (Maximus Wines) launched McLaren Vale Distilling Company’s Settlers Gin in 2014 and 10 months later Adelaide Hills winemaker Sacha La Forgia released his first batch of 78 Degrees gin in January this year.

More locals have followed suit, with Adelaide Hills’ wine and perfume makers Brendan and Laura Carter (Unico Zelo) releasing their small-batch Applewood gin a few months ago, Antipodes Gin (made by a Victorian/South Australian collaboration) becoming available in August and the Prohibition Liquor Company (also Adelaide Hills-based) just weeks away from release. Word has it that another two distilleries at Victor Harbor and on Kangaroo Island are currently awaiting approval.

And with a growing number of small bars and restaurants, such as Hains and CoHowling Owl and the Salopian Inn, specialising in boutique gins, there are many opportunities for producers and enthusiasts.

“It’s very exciting,” says La Forgia. “It’s going to be a serious industry in a couple of years. As the market grows, so will the number of distilleries and there are lots of winemakers who can easily cross over.”

La Forgia started distilling as a hobby almost 10 years ago when he was 18 years old.

“I learnt about it in chemistry at school and had a still in the laundry at home,” he says. “When I left school I studied winemaking and then went travelling, chasing vintages in Canada, America, Chile, Germany, France, New Zealand and Australia, working in wineries and checking out distilleries, building my knowledge and palate for spirits.

“Two years ago I went to work for a friend of a friend who owns a grappa distillery in Friuli in Italy. He gave me the confidence to start on my own.

“When I came back to Australia, I built a still – a lot of the equipment you need is similar to winemaking equipment – and all my time outside of my work as a winemaker was spent getting the distillery up and running before the Crush Festival in January this year, when I released my first batch.”

La Forgia distils his gin from fermented grapes and then infuses it with botanicals such as juniper, coriander, fresh citrus peel, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, clove, angelica and orris root.

“It’s my take on the classic London dry gin, which is juniper and coriander dominant, but I’ve tried to bring it into the new era of distilling, with more interesting and complex aromas and flavours.”

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