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Matt Houghton – Boatrocker Distillers

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Boatroacker Distilling Jungle Gin
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Written by Gin Foundry

Ahead of Junipalooza Melbourne we’re playing catch-up with some of the down under distillers making their way to the Aussie version of the show. Here, we meet Mark Houghton, the co-founder of Boatrocker Brewers and distillers to talk shop and about some of the gins in the distillery’s fantastic range.

Let’s  talk logistics to kick this off in a three part opener… Hippocampus was based in West Australia, then moved to the Melbourne area merging with Boatrocker Brewers. Why the move, what was that like and how long did the transition take?

Great question! There were a number of logistical issues with running the distillery in a small space in Perth (approximately 1/10th the size of the current area), and with the founders of Hippocampus looking for a skilled operator to take over the production and management of the business, the opportunity to relocate to an award winning brewery with a dedicated barrel room and production space there was a lot of synergy that could be utilised to benefit both businesses.

The move itself was quite simple and the transition from production in Perth to Melbourne was only a month or so.

Nice and easy then! As you mentioned, you are a distillery but also brewers, does everyone in the team get to do both now, or is it a little more separate than that?

We’re all trained in how to run the still and to work in the brewery. Every team member has a good knowledge of both skill sets, however some are definitely more passionate or proficient in the separate streams. The key is for everyone to understand the flavours and contribute ideas to ensure the end product is delicious.

In terms of your spirits, how big is a batch for you guys and are you distilling gin every day?

Our batch size depends on the type of gin, but on average we’re looking at about 630 litres of dry gin. We’re not quite at a point of distilling every day, we need to make sure there’s time to package and produce other products as well.

What’s your favourite part of the cycle, the set up process, the distilling itself, the end result – is there a moment in particular you enjoy more than the rest?

The favourite part of distilling is coming up with a concept, working out what botanicals will work with what, and seeing the the final cut… It’s like watching a blockbuster movie, the excitement builds and builds, and then the finale! Always an amazing experience.

Always is, let’s talk about those “finale’s”. Are the Navy Strength Gin and the barrel aged gin the same recipe as the flagship Hippocampus Gin or did you create different liquids for both those variants?

The Navy Strength is a different recipe to the Dry Gin. The concept of the gin was to have a play with the idea of what would be consumed by the British Navy back in the day, an extra citrus kick to counteract scurvy plus other spices that would have been encountered along the spice route. To fulfil these ideas, the botanical load incorporated Earl Grey Tea, fresh pink grapefruit, fresh lemons and fresh oranges, plus hops (Citra and Amarillo) as well as green cardamom.

On the flip side, the Barrel Aged Gin is the exact same recipe as the Dry Gin, however it was cut to 45% instead of 41.5%, and it spent time in a chardonnay barrel from Margaret River. The biggest change we see with BA version is the pronounced barrel character and a more pronounced lemon note.

Your Jungle Gin always pops out at us as from a concept point of view, and we loved it when we first tasted it. What was the inspiration for it and what are the key driving flavours?

Jungle Gin is one of those ideas that just makes sense to us. Australia has much of its roots from Great Britain, there has been an incredible amount of cultural influence from migrant communities as well as our nearest neighbours, particularly South East Asia. So our inspiration came from South East Asian cuisine, and the incredibly punchy flavours and aromatics that they provide. Makrut (nee: Kaffir) Lime Leaves, Ginger and lemongrass are the standout botanicals.

How long did it take to create this Gin and did launch?

Jungle Gin is a constantly evolving product, as we have moved some of the delicate botanicals to the vapour path rather than the pot, and with the possibility of some rare asian ingredients coming online shortly, we envisage some minor enhancements in the future. The gin was released last year, however was officially launched earlier this year, as we worked in partnership with Plantella Fest to convert the barrel room into a jungle for a weekend.

Sounds like fun! You make a Raspberry gin – are you seeing a huge rise of fruit gins in Australia and what’s the response to yours been like?

Fruit infused gins are certainly seeing a rise in popularity, which is another avenue for distillers to explore. Our Raspberry Gin has been very well received, with the positive response to not only the colour but the integration of raspberry flavour to the juniper and other botanicals.

It’s obviously a big trend – where do you see the Gin category going in the next 2 years?

Gin has seen such enormous growth both here and overseas, and will continue to grow as a category. Much like the craft beer market, more products will enter the market, and the consumer will always seek out something new and exciting.

The key will be to make great gin, with flavour and character and drinkability, and not just gimmicks.

Lastly, time for some 20 / 20 hindsight. As one of the now more rounded distilleries producing a gin, rum and other spirits and having that connection with a brewery and the edge that brings – what’s the best advice you could give a new distiller looking to learn?

As the old saying goes, General Hindsight never lost a battle! We encourage all our brewers and distillers to always look to the future, seek out new ideas and flavours, but always have the utmost respect for tradition – don’t be beholden to it, but embrace what and who has gone before us, develop your own techniques and flavour profiles, but also remember that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Good advice, innovation never has to be at the expense of heritage. Thank for talking to us!

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