Mt Uncle Botanic Australis Gin
Mt. Uncle Botanic Australis Gin is a patriotic endeavour from Australia’s Mt. Uncle Distillery. Using only home-grown botanicals, the gin aims to replicate that London Dry taste but with a strong “down under” accent. Shouting “G’day mate” from the rooftops, this spirit is the ultimate gin-based accolade to the country in which it is made.
Mt. Uncle Distillery, based in Queensland, was founded by Head Distiller Mark Watkins in 2002 and has many other spirits on its roster: vodka, whiskey, cane spirit, rum and the rather curiously named SexyCat Marshmallow Liqueur… With all that under his hat, Watkins decided to put his interest in botany and his environmental science degree to good use by venturing into gin.
The distillery is based on a banana plantation owned and run by the Watkins family. The land has played many roles – it was originally a cattle farm, then home to macadamia nuts, then avocados. The banana plantation still stands strong, with its packing shed doubling up as Mark’s distillery.
Mt. Uncle Distillery is very much a family affair; Mark’s parents run the upkeep of the land and his wife, Claire, manages sales and marketing. Also on hand to assist are their pets, including – as visitors to the distillery will attest (sometimes, with a faint air of victimisation) – a rainbow lorikeet, whose name, Fruitcake, perfectly demonstrates his temperament.
Mt. Uncle Botanic Australis Gin is based on a 300-year-old London Dry recipe, in which all ingredients have been substituted for the Australian equivalent. It took Mark two years to find plants with the right match for the recipe. He told us that “the really difficult task was trying to get the quantities of the botanicals right due to the vey robust nature of Australian plants.”
The botanicals in question are juniper, peppermint gum, anise myrtle, wattle seed, pepperberry, cinnamon myrtle, lilly pilly, lemon myrtle, lemon scented gum, eucalyptus olida, finger lime, native ginger, river mint and bunya nut.
Mark’s interest in alcohol began at a very early age; he began distilling in his cubby house when he was 16, attempting to transform potatoes into something drinkable. This, of course, was the source of many culinary disasters. “The first batch that I tried was fermenting potatoes,” Mark revealed. “We boiled a heap up, mashed them and chucked in the yeast. After a week we had a bin of foul smelling purplish stuff that resembled sewerage. I distilled it and we got a jar of rotten potato smelling spirit. I made my mate have the first sip and after he didn’t go blind or fall over I thought it must be a goer. Needless to say I never took that line any further. My mates nicknamed it “The White Death.”
After years of tinkering (he built himself two stainless steel stills, a 50-litre and a 100-litre), Mark finally invested in serious equipment, namely Helga – a 1500 litre Arnold Holstein copper pot still in which both the base spirit and the gin is made.
The gin production begins with that of the base spirit: the wash is added to a 12,000 litre fermenter and transformed into alcohol over the space of a fortnight. The resulting liquid – at around 10% ABV – is then transferred into Helga. For the gin, the hearts cut is taken from Helga and chill-filtered, to remove any cloudiness.
To transform this liquid into Botanic Australis Gin, all of the botanicals are added to the base spirit and left to macerate for 48 hours. After this period, the liquid is strained and placed into the still. Distillation takes six hours and produces around 1500 bottles worth of liquid.
Botanic Australis Gin to taste
To nose, the gin is fresh and cooling – it doesn’t smell particularly ginny initially, though a deep inhale unearths a eucalyptol forward, green juniper. There is a clear aniseed smell to compliment the finger limes too, and a hint of spice. To taste, the gin is initially cool; peppermint gum and river mint jump to the fore with the anise myrtle lagging not too far behind. Spice from the pepper berry nips gently towards the finish and the ginger brings a real warmth which lingers in the mouth.
It’s certainly a unique spirit, and while juniper is slightly overruled in the initial sip, it’s piny, resinous qualities come through in the aftertaste. There is a full mouthfeel to the gin, and at 40% it’s smooth.
Botanic Australis is a loud gin, for sure, and one that holds up well in G&T. It’s mentholic qualities might be a bit much for some classic cocktails and its new-wave, progressive flavour makes it quite an adventurous gin for those used to more traditional London Gins, but it would do very well in a long, refreshing cocktail, like a gin fizz. For the record, even though the duo wanted to create an interpretation on classic London Dry style, just with an Auzzie twist what they have made is a far cry from the departure point. It’s like saying both countries have spiders and comparing a Daddy Long Legs to a Tarantula. Same species perhaps, but not even close to having the same presence…
With its crisp, mint notes Botanic Australis’ Gin bears a striking resemblance to Skin Gin (although with considerably more juniper), so if you’re a fan of the German gin, perhaps this is also one for you.
Liquid aside, the branding for this product is strong. The bottle itself is an imposing beast – a clear-cut, rectangular glass with a weight and thickness that could easily see it multitasking as a weapon. Botanic Australis is embossed in 3D at the base of both the front and back, and a vintage illustration of the botanicals is printed onto the back and down the sides. The bottle has an overall premium feel to it and definitely calls to a certain type of audience.
The distillery’s second gin offering is a Navy Gin. Using the same gin recipe as their flagship offering, it’s a good example of how ABV can play with flavour perception. The citrus on the nose has shifter from finger lime into being more akin to a lemon sponge cake with deeper herbal tones. To taste, the ginger and cinnamon myrtle pushes through much stronger, while the anise notes are more subdued. A very interesting spirit in it’s own right, let alone in a comparative tasting with their flagship, this is a gin that would make an incredible turbo charged Gimlet!
Mt. Uncle Distillery is well placed to offer tours and is only too happy to introduce visitors to Helga. There’s also a café on site and a bar from which the distillery’s wares can be sampled, Adding another string to the bow is weddings – the distillery has played host to plenty, and Claire informs us that requests for more “are coming in thick and fast”.
With a vast collection of spirits on the roster and a distillery that is fast on its way to becoming a tourist attraction in its own right, Mt. Uncle seems bound for growth. They are in discussions with the UK and Asia about exportation and will hopefully expand beyond Australia in the coming months.
Given that they seem to be taking the gin side of their business quite seriously, we couldn’t resist poking our nose in about possible future expressions, especially considering the whiskey barrels they must have lying around. Claire responded with a wry smile, assuring us that there are “definitely a few things in the pipeline.”
For more information about Mt Uncle Gin, visit their website: www.MtUncle.com
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