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Local gins to put wind in your sails


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Whitey visits two quirky new gins from Rowland Short’s fledgling McLaren Vale Distilling Company.

Settlers Artisan Rare Dry Gin
$69 (700ml.); 43% alcohol; screw cap; 80 points

Rowland Short, owner of Maximus Wines on Foggo Road, McLaren Flat, made this gin.

He separately steam-distilled each of the many botanicals he’s chosen, making possible more accurate blending so the finished product should be more consistent from one batch to the next.

He used grape spirit as his base, distilling it three times to achieve greater neutral purity and remove any brandy-like taints. Along with many of the standard gin flavourings, like juniper (of course), he’s used some Australian botanicals, like saltbush and native cranberry.

And he’s loaded it with citrus peels, both native and commercial, so while its obvious juniper makes it gin-like, all that citrus gives it a sharp curaçao aromatic edge and flavour, while the distilled oils of those peels give it a fluffy texture which is quite the opposite of a standard commercial gin, like, say Gordon’s.

Adding one small block of ice to the room-temperature spirit seems to close the most overt citrus edges down a little, and increase that unctuous viscosity. Adding soda, and therefore reducing the alcohol, removes the capacity of some of those oils to stay in solution, so the drink clouds up and takes on a slightly milky hue, a reaction which also happens with pastis, anise and absinthe. Sort of puts the fog into Foggo, come to think of it.

If there was such a thing as a dry tonic water, I’d recommend it, but they’re all far too sweet for me. Rowland assures me he’s working on his own tonic using the alkaline bark of the cinchona tree, just as the original anti-malarial tonics were made.

So, what have we got? We’ve got a quirky, boisterous spirit that I prefer to have neat, on ice, no garnish. If you’re a curaçao nut, you’ll probably think my points are 10 short.

Settlers Artisan Rare Dry Gin Oak Aged
$75 (700 ml.); 43% alcohol; screw cap; 91 points

Once again we have a very clean triple-distilled fairly neutral grape spirit base with plenty of juniper, but where the other Settlers is all citrus, this one’s oak and caramel. Which is not to say it’s too woody or sweet; it’s just unusual.

A retired sea captain, Rowland, its maker, bears an uncanny resemblance to the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg, who emerges from the walls of the cottage widow Caroline Muir moves into with her two kids in the ’60s TV show, The Ghost and Mrs Muir.

He likes everything shipshape and orderly, but after his own unique regime. Rowland’s standard gin makes me think of him sailing a clipper into Curaçao’s Willemstad Harbour for a big drink; this one insinuates he used an old rum barrel to spirit some of that precious juice away before they got the bitter orange oils into it.

Not that it’s rum-like; it’s just a little oaky. Then, it’s more gin-like than the unoaked model. I prefer it. It’s French oak, not coconutty American, like you see in bourbon and rye. It has a more slender, ginny texture without the citrus oils.

Add ice, and it fattens up a little, but not to the same extent. Add a little Cascade Beverages Dry Ginger Ale, and you’re talking; cut back on the sugar that ‘Dry’ imparts with a splash of soda, and you’re off.

To my palate, it needs no lime or lemon garnish – the oak makes such extras awkward, as if you’ve added a slice of lemon to a good malt whisky. Silly.

I could drink quite a lot of this, even if I do feel Capn Short-Gregg watching me intently through the wall as I do. I wonder how he’ll react when I add a thin slice of fresh ginger root?


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