Review: Unexpected Guest Distillery Gins

I thought I’d finish the reviewing year with something guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

What’s not to love about a bright orange Kombi that makes gin at your place?

Sydney based couple Jane Owen and Jamie Maslen took a big punt this year and launched what I think is the one of the world’s few mobile distillery, certainly the first in Australia, on a lovely vintage VW Kombi called Gertrude.

In addition to their range of gins, each with their own personality (more on that in a minute), they had the totally genius idea of providing the opportunity for folks to book Gertrude to come to their place and make their own gin.   

I get to see a lot of gin in my line of work, and I can be skeptical of branding if it’s not backed up by the contents. But in a very crowded market here for craft gins  (I’ve nearly 350 Aussie gin makers now listed as of this week and counting…) you need to stand out, plus Sydney loves a good party, and this packaging is fresh and positive.

They’ve created four personas for their gin, each with a described personality.

So there’s Young Tom (a Bathtub style gin)  “called be called a hipster, but only ironically. He’s a bit slick, a bit Fear and Loathing, and a bit cooler than you.” Or take Clementine (an American style gin), ‘ She’s sassy and takes no sh*t from no man.”  There’s also Bobby’s London Dry Gin and Disco Flamingo’s Pink Gin, and they sent me some of the Young Tom and Clementine to get to know along with some handy hand sanitiser they made.

Let’s have a chat with Jane and Jamie.

Jane and Jamie, distillers and owners. Image: Unexpected Guest

What is the inspiration behind the gins and the brand generally ?

The inspiration and brand evolved after consulting with an amazing marketing team. We wanted a gin that was about fun, people and characters. Once we latched onto the idea that the gin was this unexpected guest that shows up at the start of the night, changes the vibe and gets people chatting and drinking, we knew we had something special. But we always came back to the same thing, it’s not about the gin but about the experience you have with gin.

How did you manage to get a distillery into a Kombi?!

12 months of negotiation with the licencing authorities!

It was a long road, we started with a wrecked unusable, nearly undrivable kombi and worked our way up from there. The van required 10 months of restoration; it was a complete strip and refurbish job. It gave us just enough time to write countless e-mails going back and forwards with the right authorities.

And that’s why we’re Australia’s first mobile gin distillery (Cause we’re patient).

When did you know you nailed the recipes?

When we realised we were drinking too much of it!  That’s when you know it’s good gin. We started creating 12 months ago and you just go through inch by inch working flavours going “oh a little more of this… a little less of that”, then one day you just have it, when you know you know. And while we jokingly say we couldn’t stop drinking it when it was nice, we had to go through 12 months of drinking sh*t gin.

How did you go about sourcing the ingredients?

We focus on australian ingredients first and foremost. It just wouldn’t be right being a small australian business and not focusing on organic Australian botanicals for our product. This is really important to us.

How do you recommend people enjoy your gins?

Our gins have been designed to go with two things, mixers and friends. Don’t get us wrong our gin is nice over ice but when we were creating our flavours, we always checked how tonic, soda or lemonade would change them. We want it to be easy to drink when it’s combined with a mixer but never want the flavours to be drowned out, and we think we’ve definitely found the fine line that treads that area.

How do you go about creating spirits that are environmentally sustainable?

A lot of water is used in creating spirits and we created a set up that made sure the water is never wasted after distilling and can recycle back through into different areas of making the gin. Used botanicals we dry out and use as decorations at our events for the drinks. The berries we use to flavour our Pink Gin and Chin-Chin Christmas Gin we turn into booze berries. These can be eaten as is for an alcoholic hit, the cranberries from our Christmas Gin we’ve turned into jam and have been selling at markets. Our box’s we move products in are recyclable and our business avoids plastics as much as possible, not just in the distilling side of things but in the administrative part of the business too.

Gertrude, the mobile distillery! Image: Unexpected Guest

The Take Home

Made with two 50 litre copper stills, these gins recently won bronze at a recent Australian gin awards program, which makes for a confident debut for a brand new micro distillery.  The spirits world can take itself very seriously at times, so it’s genuinely refreshing to come across a brand that is positive, doesn’t take itself too seriously and inviting to the consumer.  It is also a smart strategy to offer a range of styles from the get go so customers can find a gin style the floats their boat.

Both of the gins I experienced offered an attractive nose, with little spirit volatility, and subtle use of botanicals overall.  On the palette, they were perhaps a little quiet in flavour profile given their big brand personalities, but so very easy drinking and very agreeable company.  I blind tested them on some family and friends and they thought them really delicious and refined gins, and for a corporate client I created a cocktail that included Lillet Blanc, their Clementine gin, some simple syrup and a dash of cherry bitters, topped with soda for a spritzer vibe, with an orange peel garnish which they loved.

Overall I found the Clementine and Young Tom’s gins very approach, versatile to use and very well made,

By the way, they have a helpful range of cocktail recipe suggestions on their website.

Say hi to Clemetine


Gin Prices ( $AUD for 500ml bottle, 40% ABV)

  • Bobby’s London Dry: $49.95
  • Clementines American Gin: $49.95
  • Young Tom’s Bathtub Gin: $49.95
  • Disco Flamingo Pink Gin: $59.95
  • Chin-Chin Christmas Gin: $64.95 (A limited run just for this christmas)
  • Gin’s can be bought online at our website.


Use ‘WHISPER10′ AND can get 10% off any gin bottles (excluding gift packs) from their website. Discount ends 11:59pm Boxing Day AED, for Australian customers only, one use per customer for a cart total up to $150.

Disclaimer: this review is of unsolicited samples provided by the Distiller, opinions expressed regarding the products are my own.

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