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Mel & Mick Sheard – Imbue Distillery

Imbue 2
Imbue Stills
Mick Imbue
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. Meet Mel and Mick Sheard, co-founders of Imbue Distillery, former home-brewers who brought more than just a little of that personal touch and personality into their ginsmithing…

Hello both – lets dive straight in; when did you first decide to make Gin? And why gin in particular?

Mick: We started making home brew 10 years ago and over the last five years that interest transferred to spirits and liqueurs. Mel has always been a gin fan and got me hooked on the iconic juniper flavour and its revival into fashion.

Before we talk about those flavours, the design work around your bottles and website is very modern and cool. What inspired this and do you think it gives you an audience slightly apart from the regular crowd?

Mick:  Thank you! It was paramount for us to create a unique experience for our consumers that started before the bottle had even been opened. We worked really hard with a team of fantastic designers (Birdstone Collective) to bring our bottle and website design to life to showcase our modern Australian approach to spirit production.

We like it. What botanicals are used in your Suburban Dry Gins?

Mel: Our Suburban gin is based on botanicals Mick used to forage as a kid growing up in Hurstbridge – one of Melbourne’s fringe suburbs as he has always affectionately called it. The prickly pears and wild fennel fronds we still forage from local bushlands; blackberries and lemons are sourced from local farmers and producers and our backbone botanicals of juniper, coriander and dandelion root come from one of Australia’s most reputable spice merchants. The barrel aged gin uses the same gin base, but is laid to rest in a sherry cask.

How did you pick your recipe and develop that distinct flavour?

Mick: Using our combined hospitality backgrounds in cooking and baking, we have tried to push the boundaries with flavours that access nostalgia and memories from past experiences. Using ingredients not commonly used in the beverage industry has required a lot of trial and error; single distillations to fully understand how they react during the distillation process and then fine tuning between batches as the flavour profiles and potency of some ingredients differ between seasons, source locations and weather conditions.

It must feel like you’re in a constant change of flux –  it’s a fine art to create a consistent product. Did you attend any courses on distilling or learn through trial and error as you’ve gone along?

Mel: Both of us distill, but after years of trial and error and some rough hooch, Mick did  Redlands/Old Kempton’s famed distilling course in Tasmania.

How’s that put to use then – how do you go about making your gin?

Mel: We’re using a hand-made full copper 175lt still from Perth. It takes us around 4 hours per run time to make approximately 80 bottles depending on the product. For the gin, we macerate our juniper to maximise its impact but the rest of our botanicals are divided between pot and gin basket in a secret combination!

Super small batch! What’s your best serve for each of the gins?

Mick: We love serving our Suburban gin with Dry Tonic and a slice of  Cucumber in a G&T. The Barrel Aged (Sherry) on the other hand is delicious neat with a cheese platter!

We spotted that you also have a couple of other liqueurs now. Are Gin Liqueurs a big thing in Australia?

Mick: We think it is an emerging trend. It’s no surprise to us that some people like a sweeter, lower alcohol drink and having an underpinning of classic gin botanicals gives our liqueurs a fantastic mouthfeel.

The market is pretty busy with Gin at the moment. What do you think sets yours apart?

Mel: We make hand-crafted Australian spirits, imbued with a story, but the difference is us. We’re not trying to flood the market with just another gin; instead we’re using our products as a medium to convey our stories, our narratives of time, place and flavour and giving you an opportunity to draw on your own experiences from that.

So, when it comes to those stories, what was the most memorable part of the journey so far?

Mick: Watching people’s eyes light up when they have a sip, look at our labels and travel back through their own memories and ‘get’ the story we’re telling.