Review: Hillmartin Distillery Gins

Pretty much each week a new distillery or two pops up around Australia, and I’ve been tracking their evolution for well over a decade now, and keep my list up to date each month, so currently there are something like 543 gin distillers now and they keep coming.  I did a poll on my Instagram recently asking would they all survive and 64% of respondents said no.

So it’s a brave crew that decide to dive into what is already a cluttered market space, already dominated by a couple of very well known brands with the vast majority of market share, then there is everyone else, hoping to find a place to in the sun to thrive, and prosper, the majority of these being family run and regionally located, so all power to them, and these are the stories I love to share.

So when the fine people from Hillmartin Distillery in Victoria kindly offered for me to have a look at their range I was more than happy to do so.  I was immediately struck at the polished packaging and strong approach to branding, they clearly understood the need for the gins to make a good first impression. It’s also a smart decision to offer packs of 200ml bottles as well as individually, enabling consumers the option to try them with out making a considerable layout given the high cost of local spirits compared to imports of gin generally speaking due to high local excise taxation ( a story for another time).

Daughter and father combination, Amy and Gavin Shaw recently launched the brand and as they say, “as Melbourne entered yet another lockdown in 2020 we started experimenting in the family shed.”

An excellent use of time I reckon.

Amy and Gavin (and friend). Image courtesy of Hillmartin Gin Distillery.

Let’s have a chat with Gavin, co-creater.

What was the genesis of your distillery?

The genesis of the distillery came from a long lunch with a friend! I’ve always thought about making wine but now entering my 60’s, and with the time it takes to make great wine, it was probably past me. My mate suggested I make spirits instead and with my degree in Applied Chemistry it made sense. Initially starting with a curiosity in the home shed during lockdown Amy and I started to become obsessed with making great tasting gins and it grew from there. If you had of told either of us 2 years ago that we would soon be running a gin distillery neither of us would have believed you.

How would you describe the current Australian distilling scene?

The current Australian distilling scene is vibrant, growing at pace and incredibly innovative.  It’s exciting to see so many Aussie distillers bringing a vast array of new flavours to the market. The camaraderie and collaboration between distillers is accelerating the category in Australia and abroad.

What is the inspiration behind the gins and the brand generally, besides some quality COVID lockdown time!

It’s true we were a lock down project gone right. We are inspired to craft gins that are rich in flavour and smooth to taste. We love distilling and we love how HM Gin connects us to so many like minded people – that’s what drives us day in and day out.

Do you have a particular philosophy in crafting your spirits?

The key philosophy we have is that all our gins must be rich in flavour and smooth to taste. We love converting non gin drinkers to gin lovers as we break their preconceptions of what a good gin can actually taste like.

When did you know you nailed the recipe of a particular spirit?

Some gins styles have come out surprisingly well without too much trial and error. Others have taken a lot of patience and hard work to achieve the flavours we were looking for. I always know I’ve nailed it when Amy gives me the green light – she can be brutal with her feedback 😊 – but it’s what helps us make great gins.

You’ve gone to a lot of trouble with your packaging and branding generally, lovely to see, what are some of the opportunities for Australian gins in a crowded market?

Thanks for the feedback on the brand and packaging. It can feel at times that the market is crowded but gin’s are incredibly versatile so there is still plenty of opportunity for further brands to enter and have a point of difference. The key is to have a clear vision of the experience you want to deliver to your consumer. Love what you do and stay true to your brand values.

How do you recommend people enjoy your gins?

We would firstly always recommend enjoying our gin’s over ice before adding any mixer. Most of our gins taste best with a lighter style tonic or soda however the HM Woodcutter should always be served with dry ginger ale if you’re opting for a mixer. Amy’s favourite way to enjoy our HM Rare Dry is over ice with half a shot of elderflower liqueur and cucumber garnish. We have a raft of serving suggestions for each gin on our web site including cocktails that our fans can try at home:

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

The distillation process uses a lot of water and electricity. We have solar panels that largely supply all our power needs and to combat water waste we recycle all our cooling water which saves around 3,500 litres of water per run. For botanicals we source as much as possible from local suppliers to reduce logistic omissions. With our spent botanicals post distillation they go into our worm farm or are recycled.

All packaging is made from recycled cardboard.

Tasting Notes

No. 6 Rare Dry Gin

  • Nose: Attractive nose, a little heat from the spirit, but not unappealing,
  • Neat: Botanicals very forward on the palette and I get a lemon myrtle, citrus vibe, juniper, with some white pepper notes at the back, and overall quite restrained in a good way.
  • ABV: 43%

No. 5 Orange Squeeze

  • Nose:  Fresh orange and natural expression, no volatility from the spirit, and overall you get a hit of a summers day from the get go.
  • Neat:   The nose follows through on the palette, but not intense, quite dry on the palette and forward with the citrus flavours overall, and this would open up nicely in a mixer of your choice.
  • ABV: 43%

No. 2 Woodcutter

  • Nose:  Very attractive nose, very clean and hints of barrel expression
  • Neat:  Very dry up front, with a strong presence of the barrel ageing and on the label they suggest this neat over ice, or with a quality dry ginger, the latter with some fresh lime would work well here I reckon.
  • ABV: 43%

The Take Home

Out of some challenging times can often come great creativity at times.  Into the dynamic Australian gin distilling scene Amy and Gavin have entered confidently with a very professional approach to the presentation, marketing and production that says they mean to go in in this style.   The gins overall come across as restrained, which for me is a good thing as I’m a bit over big Aussie botanicals dominating everything else (sorry) and the base spirit is clean, they do open up with mixers and in a cocktail, but I’d like to see a little more flavour intensity coming through so all the botanicals get to shine, but that said the range is an attractive contemporary gin expression, and for me the Orange Squeeze is particularly successful, and all lend themselves to mixing with your preferred mixer, or indeed in the case of the Rare Dry an very crisp Martini with a twist.

So this a very confident debut from this family team from regional Victoria, long may they prosper.


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

PS: for technical reasons that I spent hours on today trying to fix in vain, I couldn’t use the original images i took of the samples – sorry –  but you get the idea I hope.

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