Gin 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 Hemingway, The 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.
He 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.
Having 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.