Review: Wildbrumby Stallion Navy Strength Gin

IMG_3163A couple of hours down the road from where I sit in Canberra are the famous and beautiful Snowy Mountains.

For the uninitiated, in the mountainous region live wild horses, brumbies as they’re known.

Like mountain folks the world over, the region attracts people who appreciate and are inspired by living in a challenging climate, and making the most of what’s available locally.

Wild Brumby Distillery was established in 2004 and made a name for it’s authentic Austrian style Schnapps using local ingredients and traditional methods. The range of spirits has expanded over time, and they offer a couple of other gins in addition to this new release.

Before diving in, a quick word about ‘Navy Strength’. As the term might suggest, this is a gin that means business. It refers to a style of Gin that has a higher alcohol by volume, than that usual 40% or 42% of standard gins. Typically, a Navy Strength Gin comes in around 57% ABV, and there is a doozy of a gin from South Australia that lands to 69% ABV!

Apparently, to test the gin, the Royal Navy lit samples and if it didn’t light or didn’t burn well, it indicated that the spirit wasn’t the required ABV.   Spirits were tested by soaking a pellet of gunpowder in them, if the gunpowder could still burn, the spirits were rated above proof and taxed at a higher rate. Gunpowder that would not burn in gin therefore  contained less than 57.15% ABV.

In the design of gin, I see the Navy Strength style has a way for a distiller to leverage the stronger ABV as an element in the flavour profile in its own right, in that it’s not about getting a buzz on quicker, rather it lends another dimension to the spirit. The gin may have similar botanicals to its regular sister gins, or different ratios, it varies from maker to maker.

Q+A with the Distillers

How do you see your products in the spectrum of Australian craft spirit?

Our Snowy Mountains distillery opened its doors in 2004, becoming one of the very first small-batch craft distilleries in Australia. 

In our beautiful, but very harsh mountain environment, we’ve created a wide range of premium distilled spirits, and are perhaps best known locally for introducing European-style schnapps to the Snowy Mountains.

Balancing complex flavour profiles is essential for creating premium schnapps and in 2014 our Premium Pear William schnapps was awarded a champion trophy in the spirits category of the Royal Melbourne Fine Food awards.

We have also ventured into a range other spirits, rolling out a line of high-proof vodka, and a varietal ‘Spirit of Chardonnay,’ made for the master of wine, Michael Hill Smith.

Now we have turned our attention to creating unique and contemporary Australian gins, the latest of which is our ‘Stallion’ navy strength.

What can you share some of the botanicals that go into the gin?

We always aim to source the very best of everything, from our pure pH-balanced alpine spring water, to high-quality neutral spirit and organically home-grown fruit and botanicals.

For our navy strength ‘Stallion’ gin, we combine juniper and local, wild-grown mountain pepper berry with black tea, ginger, and citrus from the family orchard, to deliver a punchy pallet of flavours.

Gentle notes of cassia also coalesce with the juniper and citrus, and a secret ten-year infusion of rare, native botanicals is also added to the mix.

The end result is a smooth, viscous ‘oiliness’ that really rounds out the spicy spirit of the Stallion. 

Why Navy Strength?

The Wildbrumby Distillery has, over the past few years, been undergoing something of a ‘gin revolution’.

Our classic gin first appeared at the distillery door in 2015, and this summer we released a seasonal ‘Rubus Patch’ raspberry-infused gin.

We strive to develop exceptionally satisfying gins, each with its own unique botanical stamp, and in July last year our efforts were rewarded when our classic gin picked up a gold medal at the 2016 Melbourne International Spirits Competition.

Building on this success, the ‘Rubus Patch’ gin also won gold at the 2017 Melbourne International Spirits Competition.

Launched last month, our new ‘Stallion’ offers a bold new twist on our existing range for those gin connoisseurs in search of a strong, flavourful spirit.

What were some of the challenges you had in establishing your distillery?

We originally set out to create a range of home-grown schnapps for Australian alpine enthusiasts.

We used the traditional European methods of fermenting fruit which was then distilled it in our Ulrich Kothe still imported from Germany.

In line with tradition, our schnapps was 40% alcohol, and while this premium range was welcomed by European customers, it required a little trial and error to develop an additional fruit-based liqueur range at 18.5 per cent alcohol, which proved far friendlier to Australian palates. 

With exclusive access to home-grown organic fruit and botanicals, this new range of liqueur schnapps became an almost instant hit among snow sports enthusiasts and other visitors to the Snowy region. 

How do you recommend people enjoy your gin?

Our 57% Stallion is a strong, full-bodied spirit with a viscous, sturdy structure that slides really smoothly across the front and back palates. 

Our classic juniper and citrus duo lend balance and harmony to our aromatic maritime spices, black tea and ginger. 

With a finely tuned balance of botanicals and complex, robust structure, it can be enjoyed neat or paired with a favourite tonic, and is best served with a grapefruit garnish.

What sort of inspiration to you find in your mountain location?

Schnapps distilleries are native to the European Alps, where the winters proved too cold for traditional wine production. 

It was in the Austrian Kitzbühel region that wildbrumby founder and distiller, Brad Spalding, met his future wife, Monika, whose grandfather distilled schnapps on his mountain farm. 

Enchanted by this rich distilling heritage, Brad studied the traditional methods and then set out to introduce authentic schnapps to Australia’s Snowy region.

The distillery has continued to expand the range of spirits it distills, and push boundaries with flavour, essence and ‘mouthfeel’.

Key to this process is matching fruit from the family orchard with hand picked botanicals such as the mountain pepper berry that grows wild in the Snowy Mountains. The use of fresh, alpine water with a strong alkaline profile and unique mineral trace elements, is another essential element.

We attribute many of these pure mountain ingredients to the unique smoothness and viscous qualities that help our gins to stand out.

Tasting Notes

  • Nose: Intensely aromatic, but clean, no big alcoholic kick!
  • Neat: Very spicy and forward on the palette, then a soft and pleasant oiliness, and at the end with a lingering dry and subtle pepper note. The higher ABV is very well integrated. I think the local alpine water also has a role to play here in its overall softness.
  • Martini:  Using a Navy Strength Gin in a Martini is for not the inexperienced! But they can be a marriage made in heaven and yours truely is a professional when it comes to these things.  I kept things simple and opted for a light touch of Dolin Dry Vermouth and an olive and it worked very well indeed which the depth on the palette and crisp finish making for an excellent cocktail..  The extra intensity of the gin means it can handle classic styles like a Dirty or Gibson style of Martini and still have its personality come through. You could also get adventurous an use the Australian Maidenii Vermouth (again, just a touch, 5mls or so) which I think would marry well with this gin.  A lemon twist is equally appropriate.
  • Gin + Tonic: As recommended by the makers, this gin is perfectly at home in a G+T (use a superior tonic water naturally) and you can appreciate its various botanicals well in this way.

The Take Home

Navy Strength Gins are to be respected, but offer a experience with more intensity. Wildbrumby have indeed managed to craft a gin that tames the higher ABV to present a gin that is very well integrated in elements, very approachable and thoughtfully composed.  Four Stars!


Disclaimer: this review is of an unsolicited sample provided by the distributor, opinions expressed regarding the product are my own.