There’s no denying Tasmania’s leading role in the story of Australian whisky. Now, there’s also something even more genuinely local in the spirit world with the Abel Gin Co’s gins using Tasmanian botanicals and the logical next step with a pre-blended Negroni, which carries on the bottle as its subtitle “Native Tasmanian Gin Cocktail”.
Behind this proudly Tasmanian exercise are former Jansz sparkling winemaker Natalie Fryar and business partner Kim Seagram, of Launceston’s Stillwater Restaurant and Black Cow Bistro. What they’ve come up with is nothing less than astounding.
The gins are designed for two occasions. Essence, with a more refreshing, citrus and floral note to the flavours, is suited to daytime gin-and-tonic-style sipping; while Quintessence is darker, spicier and richer, and suited for nightlife cocktails such as martinis and negronis.
And then there’s the Abel Gin Co Negroni ($66, 375ml; equivalent to eight standard drink pours), which takes the idea of an all-Australian cocktail to a whole new level.
Abel’s Negroni, traditionally one-third each of gin, Campari and vermouth on ice with a slice of orange, uses its Quintessence gin as its backbone, made with Tasmanian Kunzea bush and fresh pepperberry among its blend of botanicals.
Next, instead of the imported Italian Campari bitter aperitif, Fryar works with an Australian interpretation known as “The Italian” Bitter Orange liqueur made by Sacha La Forgia at the Adelaide Hills Distillery, a less bitter yet still delightfully aromatic expression of the classic amaro.
The Negroni’s Tasmanian secret, however, is Fryar’s brave use of the island’s spiky hawthorn tree berries, which fruit in autumn, hedgerow after hedgerow after hedgerow.
“I harvested the hawthorns because I had a real belief they could do something very special,” says Fryar, who blended the berries with infusions of Seville orange, angelica root, sloe berries and vanilla.
“In the spirit of experimentation I made the liqueur – it was so beautiful with an incredible spice and nuttiness, and it became clear it could take the role of an Italian vermouth in a Negroni and make this a truly Tasmanian experience.
“It could marry my twin desires to make a Negroni and to utilise these seasonal wild plants of Tasmania.”
The ready-to-pour cocktail is a tasteful and approachable version of Negroni, not as aggressive as the classic Italian Campari and vermouth mixes yet bursting with flavour.
Abel Gin Co Negroni is available in good liquor stores and on tap at Saint John Craft Beer Bar in Launceston and Empress Craft Beer Bar at Devonport.