Melbourne Gin Company
Think you like a challenge? How about this for one – “Create the finest gin possible. Ensure it is a truly artisanal product that can stand alongside the world’s finest gins on its own merits and embodies the culture, style and elegance of a globally renowned city. Then, ensure it has strong appeal locally but also gains recognition as being of great character throughout the world”. Tough ask, but in many ways The Melbourne Gin Company’s gin is well on its way to achieving this.
The story of The Melbourne Gin Company is as much a story about nurturing a great idea as it is about its creator Andrew Marks. Andrew comes from a winemaking family; his parents founded the award-winning Gembrook Hill Vineyard in the Yarra Valley in 1983. It was at the family vineyard in Gembrook where he spent the majority of his time tending to the vines. With an inherent interest in wine, Andrew learnt about winemaking at Roseworthy Agricultural College which subsequently led him to work for Penfolds, Gembrook Hill and create his own brand The Wanderer.
Nose and experience aside, having worked in the Australian wine trade Andrew had seen entrants to the wine game come and go in a flash. In what was going to be a long learning curve ahead in a different category, Andrew was acutely aware of entering the market at the right moment and taking the time to get it right in order to establish steady growth. As well as being cautious this was something that was already ingrained in his way of working.
Perhaps ironically, given he was working in the trade, it wasn’t insight into upcoming trends that inspired him to make gin, it was a name – The Melbourne Gin Company (MGC) that came to Andrew Marks first. From this an entire journey into the realms of alchemy and craft distilling was ignited, in which he sought to create a gin worthy of the name.
Having always appreciated gin and with a love of Frank Moorhouse’s book Martini: A Memoir, this inspired Andrew and his roommate to often go out for “Martini Tuesday” – it made sense that his journey into spirits should begin by creating a juniper based spirit.
As a self-taught distiller, he simply began by tinkering around with a micro-sized 5 litre pot still on a stove. He carefully went about experiments individually testing, changing, steeping, cooking and infusing flavours to best understand how to extract the type of flavour he wanted. His botanical selection started to become a tighter shortlist, his skills improved and the recipe started to form. To create his flagship gin, he played with 15-20 different botanical distillates to decipher how they would go together. As with all new processes and any recipe creation, not all combinations were successful and not all worked together.
Critically in the making of The Melbourne Gin Company, there wasn’t the current competition there is today. In 2012 the distillery was still one of the first Australian producers to be developing a gin, which meant that Andrew could take his time to get it right and develop the gin at his own pace. This breathing room allowed the gin to be fine-tuned, perfected and in the end it’s fair to say, become much better that it would’ve been if it had required a fast turn around.
After the botanical blend was decided, Andrew upscaled his operation to a copper pot alembic still from Portugal. Although similar to the traditional perfume stills, The Melbourne Gin Company’s still sits in a baine-marie instead of being heated by a naked flame. Maintaining the fractional distilling system, he didn’t try and combine the botanicals all together to create a one-shot London Dry. The still holds 130ltr but is rarely filled with more than half in order to run small batches, typically taking 8 hours.
Fractional distillation is not an uncommon method, typically used for distillers using glass vacuum stills or those looking to combine delicate florals with big booming rooty ingredients. The major advantage is the ability to nullify seasonal changes in botanicals by being able to blend the distillates in different proportions depending on what they actually taste like, as opposed to what they weigh. This is especially true for MGC gin, where the grapefruit and orange peel were (and remain) problematic, as the quality varies from fruit to fruit. Pick grapefruit too early and it can have a mild peppery flavour, too late and it looses its bright acidity. The separate distillates mean that it’s possible to alter the proportions of each botanical to guarantee a continuous flavour consistency in the end product.
So, what’s in the bloody gin and what does it taste like mate? (A question best read with an Oz accent we might add!)
It’s as much of a local product as they can currently make. With this in mind, the recipe includes some indigenous and local botanicals such as honey lemon myrtle, fresh grapefruit peel, fresh navel oranges, rosemary and macadamia. In total there are 11 botanicals and in addition to the above there is also the inclusion of juniper, angelica, coriander seed, orris root and cassia bark coming from far and wide. Each distillate is pared down with Gembrook rainwater, which Andrew measures by hand and blends by weight, to within a gram.
It is quite a complex and mathematical process to make sure that the gin comes out at 42% ABV, a feat made all the harder knowing each is an incredibly tasty spirit ready to be savoured and teasing you into wanting to take a sip while you tot those numbers up…
The Melbourne Gin Company’s botanical line up is not typical; the rosemary and honey lemon myrtle offset the bright citrus, especially on the nose. To taste, the rosemary is assertive and compliments the green juniper note. The unusual botanical that isn’t evident to taste but is used in a similar way to orris root is sandalwood. In perfume both rooty botanicals are used as fixative agents. In fragrance, they hold the higher citrusy notes to the skin for longer and in the case of MGC Gin – they seem to anchor the aroma firmly in the glass. The macadamia is also unusual in that it imparts a distinct flavour, but also adds a buttery texture to the gin giving it a rich mouthfeel, perfect for the cassia to add its warmth on a long, slightly sweet finish. It’s a good G&T gin, but great in a Martini where the texture and vivid rosemary come through.
MGC Gin is impressive. It’s a story of quiet, steady and unassuming growth perfectly set in the crest of the craft distilling wave that will no doubt appeal to the new gin audience. It has the major advantage of being at the forefront of the revolution and has had the time to establish its presence in the market. With distribution deals being hatched for international growth, the US, Spanish and UK markets look like a possibility for 2016 and we certainly hope to see more of the brand as it offers a fresh take on the category with an unfamiliar yet alluring flavour profile.
The Melbourne Gin Company have a gin with genuine quality, made by a producer with a deep rooted passion for what he creates. It’s only a matter of time before it gains international notoriety, and more importantly – as an early gin in the burgeoning Australian market, it has positively maintained the country’s impressive track record of high quality, evocative gins worthy of some serious attention.
For more information about Melbourne Gin Company, visit their website: www.melbournegincompany.com
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