Animus Distillery was founded in 2012 by a group of Whisky loving, science-minded friends – Luke Jacques, Dr. Joel Wilson, Rob Turner and Dr. Aaron Robinson. The quartet initially began making spirits from a garage in Fitzroy North, but such was the momentum behind them that they quickly moved on, heading to a larger rural property in Kyneton where they’ve been able to establish their own botanical garden, front of house bar and tasting room. Not bad, eh?
Robinson and Wilson first started work on Animus in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2014, when long-time friends Jacques and Turner joined the team, that the distillery ramped it up, building a decent portfolio of premium spirits, as well as a 12-strong team of passionate spirit fiends.
When we interviewed Turner ahead of Junipalooza Melbourne last October, he explained the inspiration behind the distillery. “We (the ‘founding four’) have been friends for over a decade. We’ve always geeked out on all sorts of premium wine, gin and whisky, and the sheer enjoyment from all of the early research (and tastings!) really motivated us to get serious and launch Animus Distillery, building a business around our ideas.”
Gin, as happens with almost every wannabe Whisky maker – quickly became a preoccupation. There is something so tantalising about the alchemy involved in this particular strain of flavour creation that once the creation starts, it becomes impossible to stop.
Initially, there were going to be just one Animus Distillery gin, with the team fairly sure of the flavour direction they wanted to take from the off. They began to experiment with botanicals, hoping to reach that flavour, but quickly realised that they couldn’t stop just there. Instead, they branched out into three. “We’re still surprised, given that it all began with four of us, that we didn’t end up with four different gins,” Turner said.
For their base spirit, Animus use Australian grain spirit (bought in from Manildra) and triple filter it using a gravity-fed carbon filter system. This provides an extremely pure, neutral spirit for their distillation. If you ask us, it’s a little excessive but in such a crowded market every little edge counts, and it’s the cumulative effect of all the process and the attention to detail that amounts to their range having the stand out quality of flavour it has become known for…
Talking about the R&D process Turner comments ‘We spent 18 months refining our recipes for each of the three core gins to a point which all four of us unanimously agreed they were ready for release. Much of this time was spent researching how each botanical behaves during distillation’. For Animus, all botanicals are vapour infused during distillation, but rather unusually – the botanical basket is recharged multiple times at run. Originally, in their 50L still (from which they have upgraded since) it was changed after every few litres. This is all part of their pursuit of freshness; by replacing the charge they capture vibrant, intense aromas.
Now, we’ve said this about another producer in the UK already but let’s just restate it here for our own sanity: doing this is madness. Opening up a still mid distillation is never a bright idea, let alone one where you are looking to change something because the vapour that has already passed through it isn’t what you want it to be any longer. To do this repeatedly is to knock on the door of an incident time and again and sooner or later, it will answer and do so catastrophically.
Moreover the method means that it’s incredibly hard to scale up to bigger stills (as the issues of dealing with heat, weight of items, vapour release into the atmosphere and subsequent safety concerns) or keep militant consistency as it requires an extremely reactive distiller very in-tune with each element.
In our opinion it’s a folly and while we’ll absolutely accept it works for them and their pursuit of peak freshness (and wish them well with it fully understanding why from a taste perspective they do this) – for the record, from an operations perspective opening up a still midway is more than just a little reckless and with some recipe tweaking based on perceived freshness, unnecessary.
Animus Ambrosian Gin to taste:
First impression from a quick sip is that it’s surprisingly smooth for 50% ABV and that overall, it’s bright and vivacious throughout, with the mandarin and kaffir lime leaves holding centre stage, only really relinquishing its power to a fiery zing of ginger on the finish.
With a little more time spent exploring the spirit neat, and once you add a drop of water, there are a lot of small subtleties that lie beneath. There’s no avoiding the sharp notes of fresh mandarin, lime and kaffir lime leaf – they start the journey off with a colourful bang that’s the equivalent of a tall flame suddenly and setting ablaze around a wok.
The bolder piquancy of fresh ginger and galangal brings a really vibrant spice into the equation, with some added heft from the cardamom and cloves that extend it long past the sip. You’ll still be tasting it hours later. White sesame seed could well be playing a pivotal role in this bursting, bustling and bountiful flavour profile flavour, but it’s being overshadowed by the sheer volume of noise that surrounds it to be noticed in its own right. The fresh turmeric is also relatively discrete in its own right too, but. just as with the zing of coriander seed, it can be found influencing almost everything along the way, just reminding you of its role in managing the flavours being presented.
What’s also hard to notice, we should add, is the juniper. Is it there? Ehh… not predominantly, but it is milling around sure. As such, we’ll happily call this gin contemporary and disagree with readers who’ve been writing in to question whether this tipped over the edge or not. Namely because – given the shear vivid depiction and excitement they have captured – we’re a little past caring if it is gin or isn’t. It’s super tasty, juniper is in there is you look for it and it delivers what it set out to be – an ode to both Australian and South East Asian influences. We’ll gladly have another while we’re at it, too.
For those who have tasted it before it’s worth noting, be it through flavour degradation or a change in process or procurement, newer batches (2018 onwards) are less citrus forward than the earlier versions. The difference is quite marked when placed side by side. The tasting notes above were made by using 4 batches each made months (if not years) apart from each other. Tasted side by side, there is a clear move towards a more accented spice note and while devoid of consistency, in fairness, means that a better, more complex product is being honed.
Animus Macedon Dry Gin to taste:
There’s a clear juniper here. It’s bold, sappy and resinous, but it’s not overtly dominant. It plays the role of a lead singer, confident of the band that surrounds it and its ability to captivate the drinker. Lemon myrtle delivers a dose of cool lemon (along with some actual citrus peels too), followed swiftly by a sarsaparilla sweetness, which takes hold of the flavour on the finish. The sarsaparilla takes hold of the flavour on the finish, with its unique timbre playing out and finding a harmony with a flourish of star anise and the warming allspice tones of clove and cinnamon. Pepper berry adds a baritone gravitas that allows you to go bold in a G&T garnish and contrast with a generous peel (ours would be an orange thanks).
At 50% ABV, it survives tonic well and really carries a lot of its intensity through, even at the higher ratios of tonic to gin.
It’s a clever combination of botanicals and a gin that we would highlight as a perfect example of what Australian Classicism looks like in comparison to what drinkers refer to in the UK or US.
It has both versions of the holy trinities of ‘classic’ botanicals and all three are palpable – but while drinkers in the UK would be fair in their assumption that this means juniper, coriander seed and angelica, Australians will mean juniper, lemon myrtle and pepperberry. There’s a lot to take in down under… Still, this is a solid contemporary gin that rewards those who care to try it with an outstanding G&T.
Animus Arboretum to taste:
The most Australiana spirit in their range – Animus Arboretum is both complex and herbaceous in equal measure. It’s verdant on the nose, with rosemary, myrtle and strawberry gum providing a green almost menthol-eucalyptus top note. Just behind it is a spice that’s above and beyond the 50% ABV spirit heat. Intriguing and challenging to place, the aroma is one that’s uniquely Australian, for better and for worse.
To taste, the floral strawberry gum elements hit first alongside the citrus. Bay leaf and juniper kick in to add depth (the latter just enough to be noticed), before the bush tomato and then medley of becomes is overwhelming to us, and in a polarising way. Roasted coriander seed notes hit alongside a piquant pepper and again, the Animus signature of sarsaparilla, clove and anise spiced finish.
Is it gin as we know it here in the UK? Probably not. But by Australian standards – and this is a nation that often sees juniper more as a guide than a rule – then yes, definitely. And it’s a good one, too. The diminutive nature of juniper is in some ways part of the appeal here – it’s great because of the other powerful flavours, as well as the Asterix attached to any commentary about it.
This is a team of four fun, kind and interesting people who are always willing to show up, enthuse and educate people. They want to share their stories, they want to share their spirits, and they’ve got a great deal of branding prowess behind them and building momentum rapidly.
The bottles – squat are rectangular – are bold and brilliant, standing out from right across the room. The mini’s are cute and cunningly packaged as a trio to make the perfect gift, while their front of house bar and distillery is helping them create real traction and share that passion in person.
They’re modern, out with the old style drinks and as such packaging and messaging that surrounds them is, to commandeer a phrase from the disco era, funky.
This is a team on the up and we’re big fans – seek these drinks out, they just work.
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