Review: Settler’s Artisan Rare Dry Gin

IMG_9530Gin and the sea have a long historical bond. So when you get a retired sea captain get his hands on a still in one of Australia’s best wine regions, this is what you get.

I had the pleasure of meeting Rowland Short last year at Bad Frankies in Melbourne where he was sensibly road testing prototypes of his gin. A very affable gent, he was passionate about the new project and with bottles of France en route, artwork all done, a planned launch date, the only thing missing was the final gin recipe. The fact that he likes terriers like me gave us even more common ground.

So I was honoured to be asked to give some honest feedback blind tasting several gins, some made by colleagues and one by himself. So no pressure for me then, could I guess which was which? Thank goodness, yes!

In terms of gin expression, it was clear he was after a very full flavoured spirit, something that speaks to someone who has taken the measure of themselves against the elements. As opposed to us who live in the inner suburbs, wedded to wi-fi.

“He always thought of the sea as ‘la mar’ which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman. Some of the younger fishermen, those who used buoys as floats for their lines and had motorboats, bought when the shark livers had brought much money, spoke of her as ‘el mar’ which is masculine.They spoke of her as a contestant or a place or even an enemy. But the old man always thought of her as feminine and as something that gave or withheld great favours, and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman, he thought.”
― Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea

So taking on board my thoughts (no pun intended), and those of informed others, he went back to McClaren Vale and a few months later a couple of sample bottles arrived with his compliments.

There are two releases, a Dry Gin and a Barrel Aged version, which I’ll come back to separately in another post. Which says something of his confidence, to release two products at once.

IMG_9382_2He has crafted the gin in small batches of about 300 bottles based on a triple distilled grape spirit, giving it roundness and is seriously old school, and each botanical distilled separately to ensure consistency.

The mix includes juniper, native saltbush, Muntries (native apples), caraway, lemongrass, lemon myrtle, cucumber and plenty of orange citrus with a final ABV 43%.

The net result is a robust gin that has your attention from the get-go. Its not scared easily by loud noises or mixing combinations. The packaging is very good IMHO and it looks a quality spirit.

Tasting Notes

IMG_9529Having it neat you get a big juniper hit forward on the palette first up and a big finish of minerally peppermint, expect a note of alcohol at the end just in case you needed reminding what you’re drinking.

In a dry Martini it was less successful, its way too muscular for that I think, though it did lend itself much better to a Dirty and a Gibson version (I checked), and you’ll get more limey/ pine notes coming through that way.

I did try with both an olive and fresh thyme, which was nice, but given its roots in country Australia, its not going to stand for any of this vermouth + stirring nonsense.

I think where you’ll want to go with this gin on ice with citrus garnish, like grapefruit with some favourite bitters, or as a Negroni where it will put the other ingredients in their place.

It’s not what I call subtle, but well made indeed and a useful addition to the spectrum of expressions that make up the Australian craft gin scene.



Review: 5 Melbourne Cocktail Bars Pt. 2

IMG_7442My sojourn though the cocktail capital of the world continues.

Previously I gave you the first 5 of my top 10 cocktail bars in Melbourne.  With hundreds of small bars in the downtown area alone, let along the suburbs, its no small feat keeping track of them, knowing where they are, sampling and then deciding who makes the cut for a great Martini experience.

The things I do for you!  ;)

What is interesting about the Melbourne scene is that you have such a spectrum of spaces to explore + enjoy ranging from alleyway stripped-back joints that go out of their way to be obscure and minimalist, to swanky stylish establishments that bring theatre to your experience, but not cutting corners on quality.

Even the big hotel bars game is lifted by this competition + culture.

There is also a vibrant exchange of ideas, ingredients and personnel driven by passionate people who see it as a ‘all ships floating up together’ scenario.  In my experience, service across the board has been positive, informed and one of wanting you to be comfortable and enjoy the experience.

So in short you don’t need to be thirsty or devoid of inspiration when drinking in Melbourne, and the Martini’s in this city have been pretty much uniformly excellent in my experience, you just need to decide the vibe + scene you’re looking for.

Here are my next top 5 bars you need to round out your cocktail experience of Melbourne.

IMG_7440Lui Bar, Level 55 Rialto Building, 525 Collins Street, City (go to the ground floor reception of the tower and security will show you to your lift)

55 floors up, with a sparkling view all about, including an outdoor terrace for the brave and smoking inclined, this place could get away with less. But its committed to great cocktails and service in a style that’s amenable, informed and polished.

Next to us on the day was a trio of people of means. He had the air of a Texan oil baron, with a wife (2nd obviously) half his age and a companion, plus serious bling to match. I heard him say, ‘Hey, we haven’t had our Martinis yet have we? Three dry Martinis please.‘ Apparently they start the day with one, but they’d gotten a bit distracted that day and needed to catch up!

Once mine arrived, with the superbly delicate Black Robin Gin from NZ,  on its own tray with metal olive skewer. Taking in the view, with the big city vibe that is the Martini’s natural habitate. This will do nicely, thank you.

It’s an experience where you’ll want to step up a gear style-wise. The staff know their business alright, you’re in safe hands here. Sit back and enjoy the ride.  They offer 16 or so gins from around the world (for example, Aviation, Sipsmith, West Winds, Plymouth) with Martini’s priced depending on your option from $22 upwards.  Website here


IMG_9684_2The Everleigh, 150-156 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

Look for the chicken joint,  find the door on the corner, then head upstairs.

There you enter another world. Part time machine, part parlour, part archive of the cocktail arts. If there was a bar that summed up what Melbourne bars do so perfectly it is the Everleigh.

Its a total experience, a friendly welcome by staff who could have stepped out of a 40’s flick (except the tats are better), an immaculately kept bar, hand carved ice and Martini’s who are mixed with a smile and stirred over more ice than sunk the Titanic.

People who drink there seem to dress for the occasion and you can opt for a booth or sit at the bar and chat, and enjoy the relaxed vibe.

They’re committed to keeping the arts of the Martini alive and mixed me as perfect an example as I can recall, with a hint of Dolin Vermouth and Tanqueray, and I liked the way the olives (delicious by the way) selected with tweezers and one in the glass, two on the side (about $20 as I recall). They carry both Tanqueray’s, Four Pillars and Melbourne Gin Company, which given the skill set should solve most Martini situations you find yourself in. Going off-piste with the menu shouldn’t be a problem either.  Special cocktail experiences round out the experience, first class.  Website here.


IMG_9695_2The Attic (upstairs) The Black Pearl, 304, Brunswick Street Fitzroy

The place has some roots for a new world bar, established in 2001 and regularly rated as one of the best bars in the world.  So I left this one for last on a recent excursion, landing on a Friday night when the happy hour crowd have moved on.  You go straight through the downstairs bar, and upwards, get buzzed in & shown to your seat by the hostess.

The scenario had it all: the lady friend besotted with the bartender lining up a rendezvous for later on one side, the crowd of 30 somethings well settled in the lounges about the room (not a big space – about 40 covers I’d say), a solo hipster archetypes working the iPhone intently with an Old Fashioned, and next to me the other bartender taking a tourist along for a journey hitting him up with a West Winds Cutlass with a good back story. Low lights, blues cranked up, fine for Friday night 9pm.

You’re looking at Hendrick’s, Few, Plymouth, Hayman’s, Sipsmith, West Winds and McHenry Gin options with Dolin the house vermouth. Cocktails tasted via straw by the maker and they’re pumping out the drinks, but patently care about the result. For me, a medium dry Plymouth with a twist, a full flavoured option to round out the night. Get a posse + let loose. Website here. 




Romeo Lane, 1A Crossley Lane (opposite laneway Pellegrini’s Espresso bar), City.

This is a lovely expression of the contemporary Melbourne bar. Minimalist decor, well spoken + tainted tastefully good looking inked & coiffed team, with thoughtful touches about the space to give it warmth that is a lovely small space for perfectly executed cocktails.

The bar consists of a single room with high benches and stools of wood, some jazz in the background, table service, all the stock being presented in old decanters, with a courtyard to enjoy as well.  Bar snacks are available too.

Without specifying which Gin, I asked for just a Dry Martini I was served up a stirred Sipsmith Gin (plus Dolin Vermouth), noting everything had been kept chilled or frozen appropriately ($20). Perfect.   Website here



IMG_9589_21806, 169 Exhibition Street, City

Once a theatre, this vibe continues on at this long established bar that quietly gets on with its business of making great cocktails.  The large space offers lounges, table service and high ceilings, some blues as a soundtrack and a friendly team looking to guide you on the path of good times.

Some 12 Gins are available and their cocktail menu provides some interesting reading as a cocktail history as well. Tanqueray is their house pour for a Martini, but they made one for meet off piste with Beefeater medium dry with a twist using Cocchi Americano vermouth ($18) which was quite delicious and made deftly and some showmanship.

The bar also offers various classes on cocktails and spirits, and on the night I was there 90% of the clientele were women, so they must be doing something right!  Website here.





Bitters + Vermouths at the Black Pearl.



A perfectly executed Martini at the Everleigh.



A good Martini needs a decent view to set it off don’t you think? Liu Bar.



Besides 1806 being the year of the French victory at the Battle of Jena, it is also one of the earliest references to cocktails.



A very fine Martini at Romeo Lane.


Review: Berliner Brandstifter

IMG_8308What better way to get to know a city than through its Gin?

When I travelled to Berlin in late 2014 I took the opportunity to reach out to some of the local distillers and was able to get acquainted with them, plus purchase some samples of the local good stuff.

To my mind to understand Australian craft Gins you need to see them in a global context, and it was exciting to see how the Germans took their famous attention to detail and perfectionism to the making of gin.

It is also worth factoring in two other layers in their approach: the culinary and distilling traditions of particular regions which can go back hundreds of years, and that Gin generally hasn’t been a glamour spirit as we’ve experienced it, until recently, often associated as a rustic or working class spirit.

That said, the new craft spirit scene in Germany has common inspiration with other countries, looking to use local ingredients to create a quality spirit that evokes the particular place.

Whilst in Berlin I also sampled Adler, (from Berlin too and very good) the Duke (from Munich and rather more robust in style) and some others, but in the bars I only saw mainstream UK brands.

I was told that, in the same way Paris isn’t France, that Berlin wasn’t a representation of the rest of Germany, being a world to itself. Its history and streetscapes speaks for itself. But its also a city of rivers and parks (over 35% of the city is devoted to open space) so sourcing ingredients locally makes sense.

Politics isn’t that far away obviously from the experience of the city and the name of the Gin comes from a cheeky reference to someone of left-wing politics who sets things on fire (usually from East Berlin) in the more ritzy areas of West Berlin around May Day as a form of protest. Loose translation means: fire starter!

The image above is of the sample bottle provided by Steffan. Every year, flowers and herbs are specially handpicked on the Berlin Speisegut farm in Gatow for the production and refinement of this fine unique seven fold filtered distillate. The small harvest volume means that production is limited to 9,999 bottles a year. Bottling by hand and numbering guarantee the origin, production and uniqueness of this product.

Tasting Notes 

IMG_8483 A sure sign of a quality Gin is that you can drink it neat with pleasure.

Bottle 2737, alcohol 43.35

Nose: delicate and subtle, no alcholic or juniper hit.

Tasting: lively and soft on the palette, leaving a slightly spicy and hint of sweetness (echos of honeysuckle, but I reckon its the Elderflower coming through- see below). Forward and rich and very easy to drink with a dry finish. All round, its a very elegant gin, restrained and delicious. If you like Martin Millers, then you’ll really appreciate this expression.

Martini : 45ml of Gin to 5ml of Noilly Prat Vermouth. This made for a very elegant cocktail. It offered a new flavour profile to one used to the Australian or London Dry style.

Overall impression was one of a very well crafted spirit that was both flavoursome but restrained, so one note doesn’t dominate and it gives a very harmonious experience. One of the finest Gins I’ve sipped I must say.


Gin_Brandenburger_FernsehturmQ+A with Steffan Schröder, Sales + Communications Manager

So whilst I was in Berlin, Steffan and I talked all things Gin over lunch at a cool hipster place in Mitte, Kantine which seemed the right spot to explore how the craft scene was evolving in both Australia and Germany.

It was great to compare notes and share with him how the scene has exploded in Australia and its expressions using native botanicals and bold flavours, whilst in Germany they are taking a fresh approach to a spirit that’s been neglected for quite some time for cultural and other reasons.


How would you describe the craft gin scene in Germany right now?

I think the german gin scene attracted quite some attention in the past 2-3 years by bringing up some great gins that extended the (gin) standards in terms of taste, used botanicals and quality.

It is great to see so many high quality products with so many different approaches on taste and the production process. Next to our Berliner Brandstifter Berlin Dry Gin there are loads of outstanding craft gins, such as a gin from the Black forest, using dozens of different botanicals, a riesling grape infused gin from the south-west of Germany or a nice and smooth gin from Hamburg that comes in a grey clay bottle.

These products cemented themselves in the market because of their high quality and their distinctive taste. And we are proud to say, that the same goes for our Berliner Brandstifter Berlin Dry Gin with it’s characterful basis of juniper, flavored with hints of fresh flowers and a unique freshness. 

For the 2015 I would say, that the craft gin scene in Germany will stagnate a bit in terms of new releases. Especially the high-profile gastronomy seems to be saturated with new gins. However there is still potential with customers that “explore” gin and find it as a passion for themselves and go and buy a bottle in retail.

Do you market the Gin beyond the local market to other EU countries?

By now we distribute our Berlin Dry Gin in Austria and Switzerland and we are working hard to bring our gin to other EU markets in 2015.

What was the inspiration behind launching Berlin Brandstifter?

Vincent Honrodt, a Berlin-native, started Berliner Brandstifter in 2009 following a family tradition from his great grandfather, who was running a sugar factory near Berlin in the 1930’s. As he had easy access to the farmers fruits, vegetables and grains, he started producing his own liquor for himself his family and friends. When Vincent’s grandmother presented some of the kept family liquor called Korn at some 70’s birthday, Vincent had the idea to revive this family tradition and the product Korn as a typical german spirit with a more modern/ minimalistic look and a premium approach. 

How do the locals respond to your product?

Obviously attributes like taste and a sympathy for a brand are always subjective and different to every person. Some people prefer a classic London Dry Gin, others love to experiment and are vey open towards new tastes, like you find a lot with western dry gins, like our Berlin Dry Gin.

In general we can say that the response to our products both the Korn and the Gin are very positive. We are happy to say, that 2014 was the most successful year for Berliner Brandstifter since its founding in 2009.

Is there a close relationship between leading cocktail bars + mixologists and your brand in the way you aim to raise awareness of your product and how to enjoy it?

As mentioned above, taste is an individual attribute people base their decisions upon. So do barkeepers, when they buy a new product for their bar. Say that it means, that we already have good relationships with high quality cocktail bars, but there is still a potential in bars we are not working with yet.

 Our aim is to always stay in contact with “our” barkeepers, offer them free trainings for their staff to learn about Berliner Brandstifter and our products. Additionally we motivate them to experiment with our products and then reward them by advertising their bar or a particular drink (they created) on our Facebook or Instagram account. 

Can you share something of the distillation process and your key botanicals?

The German wheat distillate we use as a base for both our Korn and our Gin runs through a 7 fold filtration process, which is key to the exceptionally mild and mellow taste. In terms of the gin, the majority of ingredients are sourced in Berlin and the neighbouring regions and are partly picked by hand. The botanicals grown on Berlin farmland are distilled separately and then combined to create the unique flavor composition. 

Our 4 key botanicals for the gin are elderflower, cucumber, woodruff and malve which create the absolutely unique floral and fresh Berlin Dry Gin taste.

How do you like to drink your Gin?

I either enjoy straight and slightly cooled or as a classic Gin Tonic, but with a sprinkle from an orange zest (then zest in the glas). When having a Gin + Tonic I like to make sure, that the Tonic Water is not too sweet, so it goes perfectly together with the floral taste of our Gin.






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Martini Diplomacy Part 2: Oman

yours truly in Nizwa OmanOne travels to be enriched, inspired and to gain perspective on your normal situation in life.

So when I was planning to head to the stunning and fascinating Sultanate of Oman  I did make a point of finding out about its customs regarding alcohol given its an Islamic country.

The place is newish to tourism so I didn’t expect too much, and generally sale of alcohol is limited to selected places, with the government keeping track of all official sales.

The Omanis practice a tolerant form of Islam and are a modest and dignified people, and you should always adapt your ways to the places you are visiting.

I travelled there for the cultural and extraordinary landscapes, not to get tanked by a resort pool.

We generally spent a different night somewhere, and most places were alcohol free, even if a good standard hotel, this is sometimes a pity as after a challenging day trekking, climbing or navigating a mountain pass in a 4WD you really felt like a restorative glass of wine or G+T.

Or if they did sell booze often it was very limited in stock, such as one place that didn’t have Gin, or most wines though listed on the menu.  It didn’t seem particularly expensive though subject to a government excise, though they add a sales tax and service change.

Full moon over the Desert Nights Camp

Full moon over the Desert Nights Camp

So after a particularly arduous day we found ourselves at the spectacular setting of the Desert Nights Camp among Sahara like sand-dunes.

On the menu was a cocktail list that seemed to come out of the 70’s and near the top was ‘Martini Cocktail- Gin or Vodka, Shaken or Stirred‘.

Happy Days indeed.

After dressing dinner, it was off to the bar then, under a full moon complete with camels nearby and dunes all about, an exotic setting indeed.

They stocked Cinzano vermouth (typical on my travels) and Bombay Sapphire + Gordon’s (the latter was in all mini bars I came across).

Not wanting to get my hopes up I gave the barman some basic instructions and cross my fingers. Now, obviously the Cinzano in an inferior choice of Vermouth being too fruity for a Martini, especially Bombay, but what the heck.

Sometimes the time and place transcend the rest.


Midnight at the Oasis InSuccess!



A lovely chilled Martini in the desert sands, very romantic and just the ticket to wash the dust away.







Why you stir, NOT shake, not the removed ice flakes, oh well.

Why you stir, NOT shake, not the removed ice flakes, oh well.


The next night a different bar person, same instructions, but I could hear from inside whilst waiting the clanking clicks of something being shaken. Oh dear. 

The result, pictured, was a sea of ice flakes.  I didn’t want to offend, I’m sure they don’t get many takers for these there, and discreetly removed the ice… to my wife’s G+T.



A few days later, on our last nights in the country we treated ourselves to the superb Shangri La Resort outside of Muscat, situated between mountains and the sea.

This struck me as a natural Martini habitat.

Naturally I scoped the bars on arrival and their stock and could tell I was going to be in safe hands.  Their Long Bar stocked Tanqueray, Bombay, Beefeater and Tanqueray 10, Cinzano again for the Dry Vermouth.

I’ll blame it on the sound of the ocean waves, the summer night, sublime Oud music in the background and the waying palms, but several excellent Tanqueary and Beefeater versions later, I felt most content.


It all came together perfectly.

The next evening we took in the fabulously decorated (with Frank Sinatra in the background) The Piano Bar.  Sitting on a terrace overlooking the sea and resort, my last night in Oman, perfection.

The barman knew his business, chilling the glass, proper bar presentation, excellent stirring technique, and it was poured at our table.

He also came back in a few minutes to ensure (lovely complimentary tapas too) it was how I liked it.  Indeed it was.

I opted for the classic dry Tanqueray, the evening and setting didn’t need anything else to the perfect Martini experience.

Sublime, thank you Oman.





The Piano Bar


Nice to be the hands of professionals


A perfect way to end our Oman experience.




Martini Diplomacy- Part 1: Berlin

IMG_8432If the Martini is one of the pinnacles of Western Civilisation, then surely finding a good one on your travels is a cultural journey too.

Recently I travelled to Berlin and then onto the Sultanate of Oman for pleasure. Naturally I didn’t want to go thirsty on my trip but was also mindful that the latter was an Islamic country and had rules about alcohol.

But Berlin is renowned for its nightlife and had some highly regarded bars, plus some excellent Gins (more on those in another post).

So in my mind I had a plan.

IMG_8125It started well, with an unexpected upgrade to Business Class (thanks Etihad)… they liked my style apparently and knew I wouldn’t mess the place up.

So to celebrate I found an acceptable Martini at the Ludlow Bar once through customs in the international terminal (a wet Tanqueray with a slightly limp lemon twist), better than nothing, but a good omen.

For the record Melbourne airport, well all of them really, need a decent cocktail bar this side of customs etc.

So once in Berlin I had a list of several bars to visit, including this one,  in particular Buck and Breck that many had recommended. Note, their website has just an address, hence the link to a more informative site.

Time was limited, just a week, and it was also below freezing, plus I was en famille, so bar hopping all night was out. What became apparent was that the scene was cosy, discrete and they seemed to go out of their way to not be obvious.

Bars are small, on bar with little cafes (compared to ours), so you’d be lucky to get 20 people in some of them.

Beer obviously, mulled wine variations, wine, but there isn’t the Gin moment you get here in Australia generally.

Fun fact: you have to ask for a MARTINI COCKTAIL, not a Martini, otherwise you’d get a glass of Vermouth, as Martini is a big brand still there.  If see Gin, it is going to be Bombay, Gordons or Tanqueray.

So, since I was staying in Mitte, not far from Buck and Breck I broke loose from the family after dinner one Friday night and went off to try Berlin’s best Martini.  I had the address, but my phone map refused to work, but it was a straight-line and how hard could it be right? Wrong.

Thanks to both the quirkiness of the street number system and some bum directions from a local I walked for over an hour in below 0C temps, and FINALLY found the joint, disguised as an art gallery entrance.

OK, collect oneself, they don’t take reservations, seat 12 people only, but I had introductions, and had come a long way.

Push door to the outer entrance. Locked.

The sign said CLOSED.

IMG_8311Friday night, 9pm, Berlin, Germany, CLOSED.

I can’t write what I said for the next 10 minutes.

So not to be obviously, and only one night left.


The next day I explored the Luftwaffe Museum outside Berlin (I have many interests) and walked kilometres in an Arctic wind, and had arranged to meet my wife and brother in law at a cafe near the flat we’d rented later that day.

Again I got lost in the winding streets (normally my internal GPS is outstanding just so you know and I never get lost!), but when I found the place, Alte Europa in Mitte I was cranky, late, cold and tired.

Double Cognac bitte. Down in one gulp. Better, much better,

Then I saw it, Noilly Prat and Tanqueray.

On the same shelf in the same room.

Imagine a cosy wood floor locals joint. Curtains to keep the cold out, candles on each marble table, benched chairs, unkempt laconic Berliner working the bar.

No pretensions and despite the dark at 4pm, just us and a couple of others, not promising but a welcome harbour.

Gin Martini Cocktail Bitte mit Olive. Fingers crossed for luck.

IMG_8466And there it was.

A properly stirred mixed Martini, just when I’d given up hope in the least likely place.

My flight to Oman was 2 hours away, but I didn’t care, I had finally found a perfect cocktail in Berlin.

Review: McHenry Classic Dry Gin

IMG_7797From Tasmania comes a new Gin using Tasmania purity and the skill of distiller William McHenry.

In my ongoing survey of Australian Gins, whilst I applauded the bold use of native botanicals  + flavours in most brands as part of the New World genre of Gin, I always thought there was an opportunity in the market for a spirit that took is cue from Gin’s English lineage.

Big flavour profiles are fun + exciting to work with and have opened up a new audience of Gin who have responded to the generous flavours on offer. Gone are the days of some painful puckering with an alcoholic kick. Mixologists have found new inspirations too.  The downside of those big flavours and personalities is lack of versatility.

I found I wanted a Gin that could be mixed lots of different ways, particularly in a Martini and wouldn’t overwhelm the palette after one or two drinks.  My reference point was the classic Tanqueray, Martin Millers, Hayman’s expressions which offer a more restrained expression in a very English way compared to its Antipodean cousins.

So when I was introduced to this new Gin in its super cute baby 200ml bottle I was impressed from the get-go. It still had personality + spice, but was rounded, clean, not dominated by one or two botanicals – finally!


About the Distillery

The pristine location for the McHenry and Sons distillery. Image from McHenry + Sons website.

The pristine location for the McHenry and Sons distillery. Image from McHenry + Sons website.

McHenry’s Classic Dry Gin is re-distilled in the presence of  botanicals such as citrus peel and is balanced with a touch of star anise, coriander seeds, cardamon and orris root balanced with the juniper.   The water is sourced from pristine spring on their property near Port Arthur in Tasmania.

William and his family moved there after a corporate life and took up Malt Whisky distilling very successfully and like others saw the opportunity to produce premium Gin + Vodka whilst waiting from the dram to mature in its cask.

The distillery is located in a stunning setting looking out over the ocean and is Australia’s most southerly distillery. Established several years ago, they produce a premium Vodka, a 10 year old Single Malt, a dark Rum and of course a few versions of Gin.

They use a Tasmanian made water-jacketed electrically heated 500L pot still.

This allows the William to precisely control to the distilling process and means products from the distillery are of the highest quality.



Some Questions for Bill

image from McHenry + Sons website.

image from McHenry + Sons website.

Mr McHenry was gracious in fielding a few questions from me via email.

What inspired you to make a Gin?

I got into Gin for a few reasons.  First when I floated the idea of setting the whisky distillery in Tasmania to my wife I had to make some compromises – particularly when we were living in a lovely old house in Sydney’s northern suburbs and was wanting to set up the Distillery in one of the remotest parts of Tasmania.

So if I was going to make Whisky my wife insisted I try Gin.  She knew that we could get good early cash flow in the business from Gin while we were waiting for the Whisky to mature and besides she loves a good G&T.

So if you are going to own a Distillery you might as well make products you enjoy!

How do you see your spirit in the context of the craft Gins in Australia?

We try to make a contemporary Gin with a nod to the past.  The Gin reflects the way we run the distillery – uncomplicated and with a focus on good ingredients.

We have released four gins in total – Sloe Gin, Barrel Aged Gin and Navy Strength Gin all of which hark back to earlier times when Gin was hugely popular.

Our Gin is uncomplicated with just a few ingredients as in reality, whether its food, wine or spirits, most people can only pick up a few flavours.  Why add flavours that cant be tasted?

How important do you think having your own spring water is in the final result?

I think the springs are fundamental.  Essentially there are two sides: Firstly distilling requires a lot of cold water in the condensing side of the process so to have our own cold springs means we have very little impact on the environment and costs within our distillery.

All our condensing water comes from the spring cools the heated spirit and is returned to the river without using any pumps or cooling.  Secondly the water is soft and low in minerals meaning that the flavours of the botanicals are not hidden by any taste coming from minerals in the water.

 Have you any plans for future releases you’d like to share?
We have now a Barrel Aged Gin and a Navy Strength Gin.  The Barrel Aged Gin is made solera style using special 200L barrels we have sourced from the Russel’s Reserve Collection.  Its incredible the transformation the oak makes on the Gin and great to just and enjoy on its own – a bit of a whisky lovers gin! The Navy Strength gin is made to 57% alcohol and we substitute lime giving it a nautical/maritime note (a great for prevention of scurvy).
Why do you think Australian Gin is exploding on the market right now?
 I think you cant deny having a bunch of micro distilleries popping up around the country all talking up there product is raising interest in Gin.  But its probably all the new small hip bars with bartenders interested in pouring cocktails with exceptional flavour is giving the category a big boost.

IMG_7814Tasting Notes

Neat: Delicate nose, and not overtly alcoholic, with a hint of peppermint + juniper spice. To taste- clean and forward flavours and a nice rounded feel on the palette. Very bright and clean to look at.

Dry Martini with fresh thyme and 10 mls of Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth to 50ml Gin: The Vermouth opens it up, and its overall a very subtle experience, with nice juniper hit with the other botanicals dialled back giving you an elegantly spiced Martini.

Which is not to say its insipid or without personality, rather it has manners, and would make itself welcome in most any cocktail situation as a mixer (lovely G+T) where you’re looking for some refinement.

Besides the care in crafting the Gin, I would say the particular spring water really influences the final product, it brings a softness to the spirit that really compliments the whole experience.

Rating: 5 stars









  • Website: more info here.
  • Facebook: click here
  • Purchase directly from Distillery via mail order: 200ml bottle (super cute!) : $25.00 plus postage / 700ml – $55.00 plus postage


Gin Degustation Dinner: Pod Food Canberra

IMG_7262This ground breaking evening showcased the versatility and complexity of Australian gin in style.

Initially set-up by craft spirit distributors Nip of Courage (whose photos are featured here- thanks!) , it became a sold out evening as part of Canberra’s Good Food Month.

Leading up to the event I liaised with the restaurant virtually, but we didn’t get to meet in the real world until a few hours before service and were able to make any last minute refinements to the recipes.

For example, I had planned to use regular Noilly Prat dry vermouth in the Martinis on arrival, but the restauranted wanted to use all Australian ingredients, so I had to use the excellent but complex Maidenii which needs careful handling in a Martini as its an acquired taste and can dominate a gin, especially a mild mannered McHenry + Sons.

Plus I was mindful that many of the people coming would be new to all of the above, so I had to whisper up a ratio that would be both elegant and still a crowd pleaser.

Over 50 people from a diverse background came along to have their horizon’s expanded, most had never had an Australian Gin before, let along in the context of cocktails matched to cuisine so carefully. There were more people who wanted to come, so obviously we struck a chord and I hope we can do it again!

IMG_7421Gin was either the accompaniment or an key ingredient in the dish and you can view the menu for the evening here: Ginner_Dinner_Web PDF.

The restaurant team worked hard to think through the possibilities of each gin flavour profile in a dish, or in a cocktail referencing say the earthiness of the Sloe Gin as a starting point and looking to match it with equally intense venison and beetroot flavours.

The following recipes are courtesy of the team at Pod Food developed with some refinements by yours truly.

On arrival guests received a dry Martini mixed by myself and some finger food designed to compliment with savoury flavours the sharpness of the spirits. I then gave quick introduction to Martini’s and demonstrated how they can do it at home, providing a handy Martini Handout.

It was a testament to the experienced professionalism of both floor + kitchen that this evening with lots of moving parts both drinks, speakers and food went off without a hitch.

Medium Dry Martini (Australian version)

  • 1 part Maidenii Dry Vermouth (read review here)
  • 4 parts McHenry Classic Dry Gin (read review here)
  • Stored chilled and stirred over ice gently
  • Pour over either a single plumb green olive, or fresh sprig of Thyme in a chilled glass.
  • Note: you’re aiming for a very pale pink in colour from the Vermouth to show you’re doing the mix right, else it dominate the Gin overly. Less is more here. The McHenry is a mild-mannered Australian Gin, akin to Tanqueray but softer, so don’t let the Vermouth dominate.
  • Alternately if using a regular dry Vermouth like Noilly Prat, then you can afford to be more generous in the dose if that’s your preference.

Gin & Aperol Spritz

  • 1 part Stone Pine Gin (read review here)
  • 1 part Aperol
  • 1 part Prosecco
  • add a dash of soda and garnish with either a orange peel or dried rose petal
  • Note: this is a no-brainer to make and a summery alternative to a Campari soda without the bitterness, and you still get hints of lime from the Stone Pine gin.

Sloe Gin Bramble

  • 1 part McHenry + Sons Sloe Gin
  • 1 part regular English Dry Gin
  • 1/2 part fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 part sugar syrup
  • Put ingredients, plus crushed ice into cocktail mixer and shake well. Strain over crushed ice and garnish with blackberries and raspberries.
  • Note: This was a real hit and surprisingly complex with the Sloe Gin anchoring the cocktail with savoury notes and still being refreshing without overt sweetness.


The dinner ticked over at a steady pace with a new course each half-hour and a new cocktail to match, these were introduced by myself and I gave the audience the background about each Gin in turn and how the cocktails were made. We kept the tone light and fun.

We were also fortunate to have Ian Glen the distiller from Stone Pine present to talk about the craft as well.

Although biased, I have to say that the execution of both the drinks and meals really impressed the guests. We were aiming for both a quality expression of the spirit without being gimmicky, as well as demonstrating how versatile a spirit Gin is.


You can see photos of the evening on the Martini Whisperer facebook page here plus on the Canberra Times website.


Earl Grey Collins

  • 2 parts Stone Pine gin
  • 1 part chilled Ear Grey tea syrup (make by reducing tea with sugar in equal parts over a low heat then cool.
  • 1 part lemon juice to taste (less is more)
  • Soda to top up and slice of lemon
  • Pour ingredients over ice into a glass and top with soda and garnish.
  • Note: Gin in a tea cup! You don’t want balance of equal flavours here, so don’t let the lemon dominate. 

Elderflower Cooler

  • 3 parts Botanic Australis gin (read review here)
  • 1 part Elderflower cordial
  • Cubed ice
  • Sliced cucumber
  • Fresh mint + Soda to taste
  • Pour gin over ice and add sliced cucumber, add cordial and more ice and top with soda, then garnish with fresh mint.
  • Note: This Gin is really busy with lots of flavours and complexity, so this is a great way to try it as you get all sorts of tastes at the end and still refreshing summer drink to rival a regular G+T.




 Disclaimer: I was commissioned + paid  for my services to help design + host this event.  



Ian Glen from Stone Pine Distillery and myself


The talented team from Pod Food


The perfect note to finish on: gin and grapefruit jubes!



Review: Orange Bitters

IMG_7393In the quest for the perfect Martini, there is one ingredient that can take yours to the next level.

They say the step from excellence to sublime to a mere ineffable something. Perhaps I just made that up, but I agree with myself.

Usually when I’m test-running a bar for the first time I’ll ask for a straight up, very dry Tanqueray Gin Martini. Its the basic comparison I use to test their mettle against other bars I’ve experienced. There are no distractions, no fancy ingredients, no craft Gin mojo to get in the way.

In theory, they should all taste the same, but they don’t for various reasons, and on occasion, one really sings like Sade. Why? Often its the merest hit of Orange Bitters, one of the old school Martini ingredients from way back when.

Happily, its now readily available in the shops and online after being pretty much impossible to get.

So this time round I’m looking at some that are east to get in Australia.


How its Made

Happily, its not out the realm of possibility for you to make some at home if you like the idea of mixing booze and ingredients together and experimenting. Essentially, you infuse dried ingredients like peels of Seville oranges, cardamon, caraway seed, coriander and perhaps caramel or burnt sugar in an clear alcohol base (vodka can be used in a pinch) for a period of time, a few weeks maybe, and then strain. Voila!

Of course something that simple is an art, still it may be worth a try.

It is worth remembering that Bitters was originally a medicine, to assist in the digestion especially and appeared in well before the C17th, so its intentions are good. There is something homeopathic about them.

IMG_7368Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters (150ml)

Tasted by itself, this offers a distinctly Orange hit with a not unpleasant bitter finish- exactly as advertised, not complex like its Barrel Aged companion, just a pleasant experience all round. Recommended. This is 9% ABV Price range, about $15.00


Fee Brothers Gin Barrel Aged (150ml)

There is something seriously old school about this product, and it really floats my boat. It has been aged in Old Tom Gin barrels based on oranges from the West Indies. It offers a much more complex palate, is more bitter than its sister in the range, and reminds me of Xmas Pudding. Its darker + richer, but rather addictive, use sparingly and its in limited release.  It is 9% ABV and price range, about $30.00


Angostura Orange Bitters (100ml)

No, this isn’t the stuff you use to make a lemon, lime and bitters with. Its from the same company in the Caribbean though where they understand what makes for a nice drink in the heat. This is REALLY bitter straight up, with some burnt notes + caramel at the end, and it lacks the complexity of the above labels and is 28% ABV. Price range, about $15.00


The Bitters selection at Lily Blacks in Melbourne.

The Bitters selection at Lily Blacks in Melbourne.

Using Bitters

First up just try some on your finger to get a taste before dashing away. Remember, less is more here, you’ll only need a few drops. When mixing my Martini, as I’m letting the mix stand for a moment after stirring, and I’m doing my garnish, its then I’ll put a few drops into the glass.

I did try it in the mixer with the Gin + Vermouth but it got rather lost. The pouring of the cocktail over the garnish + bitters seems to doe the trick.

You’re not after a orange cocktail or something that will mask the Martini complexity. What it does do is round it out subtly, give you a slight citrus note, and particularly if you’ve a more mainstream London Dry style Gin it gives you a nice refinement.

Bitters would be wasted though in a heavily flavoured Craft Gin though.  In the same way as a choice of garnish can reveal a particular botanical in the Gin, a bitters can reveal new dimensions, that je ne sais quoi, so let them guide you.


Also Look Out For

Locally in Australia, there is Only Bitters that offers an interesting + exotic range (such as Filthy Dirty, Lolita, Cherry Bark Vanilla and Lem-Marrakech) via mail order.

There are also others labels you can explore, such as Regans Orange Bitters No. 6 (one of the originals) and Bittermans from the USA which I’ve noticed is available from from Wig’s Cellar in Melbourne city, along with  Mister Bitters (Australia), Bad Dog (USA), The Bitter Truth (UK) and Peychauds (USA).

Some bars can get creative with other types of Bitters (such as the pictured Lily Blacks) so if you’re getting a tad bored with your usual, then time to try some alchemy.

Review: Blood Moon Tonic

BloodMoon Tonic From Melbourne comes another great example of the spirit of collaboration here in the world’s cocktail capital.

Regular readers will be familiar with my survey last year of some of readily available Tonic waters in Australia, and a quick history of how it came to be developed for medical reasons in the support of colonialism by the French + British et alia.

There is are some very good reasons why a Martini drinker should care about this key ingredient in a Gin + Tonic.

Come scorching summer season that we get in the antipodes it does get way too hot to enjoy a Martini in comfort… so that where a decent G+T comes into play. Also, as a drinker of quality gin, you’ll want to treat it with respect and ensure that the tonic is the same quality as the spirit.

So a little while back I was sent a sample bottle of Blood Moon tonic syrup that was being crowd funded via Pozible by Melbourne local Karolina Partyka.  At the time of writing she had exceeded her target by well over 100% and will be releasing three versions: Traditional, Unsweetened and Native Botanicals.  She developed the mixes with some input from local bars + friends at West Winds Gin.

When tonic water was first developed (see my post about this) it was first seen in this form, a cordial that was then diluted as it usually quite bitter as a result of its main ingredient Chincona bark (for the quinine). It was a medicine after all.

Mr Schweppes came along in the late Nineteenth Century and carbonated water was born and the rest is history….but back in the day if you were Bombay and lining up for anti-malarial dose each day, you got a big spoon of the brown stuff, with some limes for flavour.



Tasting Notes

So for those used to the clear tonic water you’ll need to shift gears when using this and get used to a coloured drink. Using it is pretty simple: you add soda or mineral water and voila, tonic water!

I was given the traditional version, and to quote Karolina “based on a centuries old recipe, the Traditional Cinchona Tonic Syrup uses real cinchona bark, citrus, herbs, spices, and a little floral touch to create an intriguing syrup.”  I detected cinnamon and perhaps cloves in the mix and it has a lovely nose and isn’t bitter, quite neutral in sweetness too.

The advantage of a drink like this is that you can either have an intriguing and spicy (think  of a light + chilled mulled wine) non-alcoholic drink, or add your dash of gin.  I might experiment with it in a Martini perhaps too.

I opted for Tanqueray to see how a less flavoursome gin would work and you could still taste the spirit, it wasn’t lost in the mix.  A straw poll among the guests whom I was testing it on at sundowners all gave it the thumbs up. So there.

Note, I would suggest an unsweetened soda like Fever Tree, not a generic commercial soda, or quality mineral water in order to let the subtle flavours come through.




I under the tonic syrups will be commercially available very soon in late 2014, so tune into them via the links below for more information.


Floriade 2014

IMG_7246For the uninitiated Floriade has been a major floral festival in Canberra for 27 years and attracts over 400,000 people during its 30 day program.

So when I was invited to present a couple of sessions on the art of Martini making, I felt honoured. My brief was to provide a general introduction on how to make the cocktail for a general audience over 30 minutes.

It is one thing to do a masterclass for aficionados or professionals, and another for a random audience.

The organisers called the session, Shaken Not Stirred, which of course is a Martini no-no, but I was able to put everyone on the straight + narrow.

Thinking this was a great opportunity to introduce people to Australian craft Gins, I reached out to my pals at Nip of Courage and they didn’t hesitate to provide some bottles of the McHenry & Sons from Tasmania, Stone Pine from Bathurst and Botanic Australis for North Queensland for the occasion.

It is easy to forget that for most people the Martini is both exotic and often a bad experience. Too often they have drunk one that’s badly made and it puts them off for life. For a cocktail that’s simplicity itself, it is notoriously hard to get a good one, but as we know, once you’ve had a great one, you get it.

So I planned my session around the basics of Gin + Vermouth, garnish options, a few tales of great Martini experiences (inspired by some of the stories in Mr Moorehouse’s work, Martini: A Memoir) and aimed to keep the tone light + fun – I wanted them to be able to walk away keen to try it at home, or be confident in ordering one in a bar.

Choosing readily available products, I made a version of the three Gins on offer. Lucky door prize guests could choose which one they wanted and I then improvised a version them that best showed off that Gin.

IMG_7224The McHenry & Sons is a new clean style that is reminiscent of Tanqueray with a hit of lime citrus notes, so its quite versatile. I used a few drops of orange bitters in one version and a light dose of Noilly Prat.

For the Botanic Australis, being so rich in flavour, just a hint of vermouth sufficed, whilst the Stone Pine, sitting in the middle of the flavour spectrum, could be used for a wetter style (1:4 ratio), and I also showed how to use a Lillet Blanc glass rinse to add a roundness to the cocktail for those who don’t want it too astringent.

I varied the garnishes between simple olives or lemon twists, but outlined how they could use things like rosemary, fresh thyme and the like. Naturally I also emphasised how critical it was for everything to be super chilled in preparation for cocktail hour.

Sample bottles of each were passed around so they could smell the basic ingredients before the magic happened in the mixing.

With about 30 people in the morning (10am is a bit early for gin even for me) and about 70 in the evening session the atmosphere was great and I think I channelled a little Liberace and put on a bit of a show, which was a lot of fun.

It was quite a mixed audience and the questions were often about where to get the stock, and happily those who sampled the Martinis loved them!  Phew. 

About half hadn’t had a Martini before, and most had never had any Australian Gin, so it was wonderful to see many go away inspired to make a Martini part of their lives. Mission Accomplished.


Download the Handout

I also prepared this Martini Handout (PDF) for everyone that came along that gives the basic steps in crafting a Martini, and a few tips!

Feel free to try it out and report back.




You can watch a cheap + cheerful production excerpt of the evening session captured on an iPhone here via YouTube.