In 2013, when you asked for a gin and tonic at a bar, there were around 10 domestic brands you would find lined up on the shelf. Today, as you might have noticed, there are a lot more—around 700 brands. This uptick in gin distillers, also known as the gin boom, is one of Australia’s greatest spirits success stories, earning accolades overseas, and punching above its weight against the leaders of the industry, including the United Kingdom.
While Australia is internationally renowned for its love of booze, this is the first time our spirits have gained recognition beyond the borders. We are in the game as a wine producer, and now it seems we’re leading the gin country.
So, why are Australians soo good at making gin? If you ask around, you will find different answers. The most general response is our Australian botanicals. We have access to some of the oldest, rarest, potent, and most fragrant botanicals than anywhere else in the world. This makes our gins unique, and therefore different to others.
At the World Gin Awards 2019, Australia won the category of Best Classic Gin, including taking home best, by Never Never Distilling Co, gold by Ounce Gin, silver by Forty Spotted Gin, and Spring Bay Distillery secured bronze. It doesn’t stop there. Manly Spirits Co. won best Contemporary Style Gin, Heart and Soul won gold, Embezzler, silver, and both Adelaide Hills Distillery, and Hartshorn Distillery took home bronze in the category.
The International Wine and Spirits Competition 2020 also saw Australia awarded with 64 medals, 10 gold, 35 silver, and 19 bronze medals. That’s not a bad effort for a country that’s new to the gin game. Other Australian gin brands like Four Pillars, Ester, Archie Rose, Kangaroo Island Distillery, and Melbourne Gin Company are also known around the world as top-shelf gins, with international accolades themselves.
According to Australian Distilling Co. Director, Michael Hickinbotham, distilling is part of our heritage, which could also play a major part in why Australian’s are great gin makers.
“Not many realise this, but Australia has a tradition of distilling beautiful products. We were producing fine wines, but also fortified wines, distilling these products in our own stills for generations,” says Hickinbotham.
In 1936, Alan R. Hickinbotham established the country’s and one of the world’s first degrees dedicated to winemaking, which now extends to spirits. Michael’s knack for distilling extends generations, which makes Australian Distilling Co. a leader in Australian gin.
“We make gin in the state and region that carries the name of the gin, by partnering with existing distillers, and making our gin in their stills,” says Hickinbotham.
The philosophy is to capture the essence of a place by creating within it, which is why you will find bottles named Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, and others. They use botanicals found in the region to create their unique gins, which plays into Co-founder and Creative Director of Team Unico, Brendan Carter’s theory behind Australia’s gin boom.
According to Carter, access to produce is a major factor in creating quality product.
“If you look at Adelaide, we grow 90% of what we consume just outside of the city. This close proximity to raw produce is why Australia punches high above its weight in products, including culinary and beverages,” says Carter.
Although, when it comes to stating that Australians are the best at making gin, Carter has his own reservations on the validity of the statement.
“It would be amiss to say Australians are the best at making gin, but I think Australia is the best at making Australian gin, and that’s something to be championed. We make gin using flavours that can only be found in Australia, many of which are unique and don’t exist anywhere else in the world. They also happen to be the oldest plants. Take for instance dessert lime, the oldest and rarest citrus, found right here, in our backyard,” says Carter.
At Applewood Distillery, Carter explains that their gins are built around one native ingredient, whether it be bush apple or a line of edible eucalyptus.
“We release gins that we won’t make ever again, and right now, we have enough ingredients to release one gin a month for the next four years without repeating ourselves,” says Carter.
Funnily enough, Carter didn’t start out to make gin. Instead, he wanted to monetise Australian native ingredients, to put them in the ground and displace the non-natives creating agriculture damage to the soil.
“Every farmer wants to find a way to be more sustainable, but we don’t have a scientific problem to fix agriculture issues, we have a marketing problem,” says Carter.
“If saltbush is more valuable than rosemary, then we would season our land with saltbush, right? We have a plethora of unique and potent botanicals here, which lends itself well to gin, and other spirits. Just look at the most botanically loaded beverages— it’s gin and amaros, or liquors. We have some of the most bitter, herbaceous botanicals in our backyard, so when life gives you lemons, turn them into bitters.”
Although, according to Carter, gin isn’t the only boom Australians are seeing. There is a global artisan movement taking over the spirits industry; chocolate, tea, wine, beer, and much more.
“Ten years ago, there were only a handful of people who knew how to make certain products, including distilling, but today, you can learn to make gin online, if you wanted to. This plus the barriers of entry into the industry have dropped, which is why you’re seeing a lot of new distillers pop up around the country.
“The problem isn’t if we have enough, it’s how do we sustain it?. There’s not a lot of profit in a distillery in comparison to other alcoholic arms. Spirits in particular are least favourable when it comes to profit. We are possibly heading toward a bit of a bubble, as controversial that might be to admit.”
If this conversation has you intrigued or now you’re just thirsty for a gin and tonic, here is a guide on the best Australian gin brands to try.
The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.
From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.
Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.
Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.