It’s been another big year for Australian craft gin. At the time of writing I’ve some 260 gin makers listed on my website, with many more to come in 2020.
So to wrap the 2019 reviewing year, it’s a look at this small batch release from Tasmania from a new small distillery.
Sandy Gray Gin was released just a couple of months ago, and my review sample is bottle 35 of Batch #5. Located not far from Davenport at the top of the island in Spreyton on the Cradle Coast, this distillery also produces a single malt whisky founded by Neil Grey and Bob Connor.
Named for a highly regarded local in the region and Neil’s father, since passed, Neil and Bob created this gin using water from pristine Lake Barrington and a base spirit ultra-premium grape spirit, and the gin botanicals include Tasmanian pepperberry (naturally), lime, cardamom and cassia bark.
It’s worth noting two things about this gin, the ABV is 46%, slightly warmer than a usual gin which land at about 40-42% ABV, and that it’s ‘non-chilled filtered’.
The reason for the former is so the higher alcohol content can carry richer flavours from the botanicals as part of the design of the flavour profile of the gin.
For the latter, for most gins, as the spirit is distilled, it is passed through a chilling device (you can look this up, I don’t propose to get too technical here) which removes things like esters, or proteins or some of the oils from the botanicals. This ensures the gin stays nice and clear when it contacts water.
But for some distillers, they want to retain some more of the depth of flavours from the botanicals and skip this step. So the net result is a gin that goes cloudy on contact with ice, tonic etc. It’s a cosmetic thing usually for some makers, and it’s called louching. There are many gins out there like this, such as Melbourne Gin Company, or Garden Tiger from the Cotsworld in the UK that take this approach.
So let’s have a chat with Bob about his gin.
What is the inspiration behind the spirit?
We wanted to create a bold spirit that made a statement. Our Gin is bottled at 46% because we’ve packed a lot of botanicals into it. There is a lot of Juniper and without the higher ABV percentage it would louche in the bottle.
We feel that a big, flavoursome gin should exhibit some louching when a mixer is added and the ABV drops. There are a lot of what we call “Delicate Gin’s” on the market and we decided from the start that we wanted a bolder Gin.
When did you know you nailed the recipe?
After the 17th prototype. We changed the entire method halfway through the process as the botanicals weren’t presenting as we wanted. The process is now in the typical London Dry style where the botanicals are macerated and placed in the neutral spirit.
We use 11 botanicals – juniper, coriander, lime peel, angelica root, liquorice root, orris root, cassia bark, pepperberry, cardamom, lemongrass and star anise.
What’s your favourite botanical to work with?
Cassia Bark – the nose of cassia is incredible, and we really like the way that it helps to bind other botanicals together. In our gin it is quite predominant around the middle palate and it kicks in about the same time as the cardamom.
Are their local ingredients in the gin?
Tasmanian Pepperberry – harvested wild from the Central Plateau in Tasmania.
Have we reached ‘peak gin’ yet in Australia?
No we haven’t however the market is becoming very crowded. There are still opportunities for distillers to experiment with different botanicals and come up with unique flavours.
What are some of the challenges and/ or opportunities you see for the craft spirits industry in Australia?
Some of the challenges for very small Distillers, such as ourselves, is how we get our product in front of customers. There seems to be plenty of people who are willing to try new Gin’s but it’s difficult getting your name out there in a cost-effective manner.
It’s imperative that we continue to make exceptional spirits as word of mouth is a powerful marketing strategy. It’s sometimes slow but it builds a loyal following.
What are some of our future plans for the distillery you can share?
We are in the process of installing a 500-litre whisky still so we will be increasing our whisky output in 2020. We’ll see the fruits of our labours in a couple of years. In 2020 we will have a limited release winter and summer gin. We will remain small and focus on quality spirits.
How do you recommend people enjoy your gin?
Don’t drown it with either mixer or ice. The magic ratio we believe is 3:1 tonic to gin so the flavour of the gin is still there. We use Lime Peel as a botanical, so a wedge of lime is nice. It also drinks well neat or on the rocks. That’s how we like it, however everyone’s taste is different, so it’s up to the person drinking it to determine how they like it
- Nose: Intensely aromatic with the cited botanicals clearly defined and harmonises well, the lime citrus and the spice notes of cassia bark playing off each other, and no spirit heat or volatility to betray the 46% ABV.
- Neat: Warm and rich on the palette, with a generous layer of flavours and a mild finish, not austere or astringent at all. The spirit is very clean and makes for a very refined base for the botanicals, leaving you with lingering taste of lime at the end.
- Mixer: I opted for the Irish Poachers Classic Tonic Water which is very neutral and let the gin open up and express itself. The more earthier botanicals revealed themselves here, like the cardamon, so you get a complex drink that gives you layers of flavours as you sip away. Notwithstanding earlier comments about potential louching, there was little evidence of this effect in this particular bottle – as noted above- one of the reasons for the higher ABV. This gin reminds me a little, in a good way, of the excellent Bombay Sapphire East gin – the pick of their range in my humble opinion.
The Take Home
This beautifully packaged gin is a very polished contemporary gin expression that is a credit to it’s distiller. It is beautifully balanced, with clearly defined flavours ranging from citrus to aromatic spice, all very well woven together with is excellent quality spirit.
I happily enjoyed this just on ice, with a splash of tonic, but I think you can try it tall on soda and ice, with a lime peel. It takes a really good gin to be able to stand alone like that and I’m delighted to finish the year with such a fine release.
Rating: 5/5 stars
- Website: www.sandygraywhisky.com.au
- Facebook page here
- Instagram: @sandygraywhiskycompany
- RRP: $65.00 – 500 ml bottle
- Purchase via website and numerous outlets in Tasmania – see their website for details.
Disclaimer: this review is of an unsolicited samples provided by the distributor, opinions expressed regarding the product are my own.