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Local take on a classic Italian aperitif wins top spirits award

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Adelaide Hills Distillery was crowned Australia Aperitif Distillery of the Year at the Melbourne International Spirits Competition this week after its bitter orange beverage The Italian won the Top Gold in the class.

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The distillery, which launched its first product only last year, also won a Gold Medal for its 78° Gin.

The awards cap off a successful few months for the distillery, which also took out a Gold, Silver and Bronze for its gin, aperitif and a white rum known as The Gunnery Australian Spiced at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in March.

Adelaide Hills Distillery was founded in 2014 by winemaker Sacha La Forgia, who spent six years travelling the world refining his skills and growing his passion for distilling.

Using a copper still he crafted himself, La Forgia released The Italian in February.

The aperitif has a 20 per cent alcohol volume and is reminiscent of the orange bitters of Italy, marrying traditional European bittering herbs with Australian produce such as Riverland oranges and riberries.

The company has national distribution through Samuel Smith & Son, and La Forgia hopes to start exporting The Italian in the coming months.

“Every batch just gets bigger – people are loving it,” he said.

“The gin is exported to the United Kingdom and hopefully before the Australian summer we should start sending The Italian and The Gunnery.”

“So far it [the gin] has been really well received. They’re pretty excited about gin over there in general so getting it from new and interesting countries makes them want to drink it.”

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La Forgia said the awards helped the distillery establish credibility.

“I really love my spirits because I make them the way I like to drink them but without the awards and recognition from people with good palates it’s a bit harder – it means more when it comes from someone else.

“It’s pretty gratifying on a personal level.

“We saw a massive jump in online sales in the two weeks after the [San Francisco] awards were announced, so it was really good to get the name out there.”

Adelaide Hills Distillery has also teamed up with Hills Cider Company and Mismatch Brewing. Together, the three businesses will open a shared space in the Adelaide Hills for tastings and food service.

“Together we’re better than we are individually,” La Forgia says.

“We’re not in direct competition with each other but we are sort of in the same boat. If I go somewhere to sell some gin, I try to make people aware of Mismatch and Hills Cider and they do the same thing so it works very well.”

La Forgia says the Adelaide Hills is one of the most undervalued places in Australia in terms of consumer perspectives.

“There’s a lot of young winemakers here and everyone is quite progressive. It’s that kind of mentality that gets us away from the traditional stuff and into new things where we’re looking for quality.

“I’m working on a more locally orientated gin at the moment that will hopefully come out in the spring.”

La Forgia also plans to release a Pastis – an aniseed flavoured French liqueur – in the coming months.

“Hopefully, when we get into the new place we can start working on a more diverse range. It’s a bit difficult right now because I’m pretty much at capacity with just the three but once we get into the new place we’ll branch out substantially,” he says.

This story was first published on The Lead.

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