WHAT IT’S RE­ALLY LIKE…

To be a craft spirit dis­tiller

Australian Traveller - - Contents -

Ini­tially I wanted to be in­volved in plants. I had a whole­sale nurs­ery for about 20 years called Re­nais­sance Herbs, and after 20 years I de­cided I wanted a bit of a change, so in­stead of putting herbs in pots I de­cided I’d put them in bot­tles – and they taste much nicer than they do in a pot. I guess I’ve got a rea­son­able un­der­stand­ing of herbs and their flavours and how they com­bine, so that was an ad­van­tage when I started the dis­tillery. I went to the ‘Univer­sity of Erina’, which just hap­pens to be a stain­less steel bench be­hind the still and I be­came the sole stu­dent and also the sole lec­turer there. I bought two books from the in­ter­net: one was from the Michi­gan State Univer­sity, which does a de­gree in dis­till­ing and the sec­ond was pub­lished in 1871 in French, trans­lated into English. With those two books and a tiny lit­tle three-litre still, I just kept on go­ing and go­ing un­til peo­ple started say­ing ‘those taste pretty good’. It took all of 2006 to do that; I just con­tin­u­ously dis­tilled things and blended flavours to­gether to see how they work, and now I have a much bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what flavours go with what. I was run­ning the prop­erty as a nurs­ery and a gift shop, and then in the after­noons I would spend hours dis­till­ing and learn­ing the art of dis­til­la­tion. The next step was to start step­ping up from

three litres to 600 litres. I bought a 600-litre pot still from a com­pany in Tas­ma­nia, and then I bought my col­umn still from Ger­many and a lit­tle 50-litre Chi­nese-made still. It prob­a­bly cost me about $80,000 to put the 600-litre still to­gether but these days it would prob­a­bly cost more like $150,000 to $200,000 to get a Eu­ro­pean-made still. I was very for­tu­nate when I started be­cause there wasn’t the world­wide de­mand for stills; there were about 300 dis­til­leries in the United States and now they have a dis­tillers’ as­so­ci­a­tion with about 1000 mem­bers. And I’ve heard there are 1300 gins be­ing made in the UK. I have peo­ple come in from a ru­ral or re­gional area in the UK and they say it seems like ev­ery town in their area has a still. I’ve got eight gold medals, seven sil­ver medals so I think that prob­a­bly qual­i­fies me as a

dis­tiller! I won my first medal in 2008 for an aniseed le­mon myr­tle liqueur; I got a dou­ble gold medal and they made it the herb liqueur of the year in Ger­many. In the same year in Lon­don I got a sil­ver medal for my Tas­ma­nian Pep­per­berry Liqueur and a bronze medal for my Le­mon Myr­tle Liqueur. Later I turned that bronze medal into a gold medal by us­ing dif­fer­ent dis­til­la­tion tech­niques. A good craft dis­tiller needs pa­tience. You’ve got to be will­ing to do a lot of tri­als, and some­times it can take a long time to get a good re­sult. The orig­i­nal gin that I made, the Moore’s Gin, took 250 blends to get right. I dis­til all the orig­i­nal plants in spirit, then I get all those spir­its to blend them to­gether. Blend­ing them to­gether doesn’t take all that long, but you’ve got

to eval­u­ate it, write it up, and you end up do­ing very tiny in­cre­ments of change. For in­stance, in our Roots and Leaves Gin, the gin­ger is one part in 11 mil­lion, and the turmeric is one part in 78 mil­lion. It’s a minis­cule amount, but the palate is quite ca­pa­ble of de­tect­ing parts per bil­lion; an English per­fumer who has writ­ten a book on gin [Gin Aroma Kit by Dr Ge­orge Dodd] states that there’s a com­pound in grape­fruit the hu­man palate can de­tect in parts per bil­lion. I know I can do the same with pink pep­per­corn. It’s in parts per bil­lion in one of my gins, and it’s quite easy for peo­ple who come here to de­tect that con­cen­tra­tion. Mr Black Cold Brew Cof­fee Liqueur re­ally brought the big time to the dis­tillery. I have had a joint ven­ture with Tom Baker in Syd­ney since 2013, whose ex­per­tise is in mar­ket­ing al­co­holic drinks; we did a crowd­fund­ing ex­er­cise with Poz­i­ble and raised quite a bit of money which got us go­ing, and we were lucky enough to get a good dis­trib­u­tor, and they were able to get us into Dan Mur­phy’s fairly quickly. I’ve won a gold in Lon­don and San Fran­cisco for Mr Black, and Tom’s won gold in Amer­ica for the pack­ag­ing. [We have] a cof­fee roast­ing ma­chine that gives us to­tal con­trol over the flavour of it. We’re sold all over Aus­tralia, the UK, in New York and we now have a dis­trib­u­tor for the west coast of Amer­ica. Mr Black is our best­seller, but at the cel­lar door it’s gin. At the cel­lar door, where all the prod­ucts are [on] the same [foot­ing], the best­selling prod­uct is the Moore’s Dry Gin. In 2017 it be­came the first Aus­tralian-made gin to ever get a gold medal [at the pres­ti­gious Lon­don In­ter­na­tional Wine and Spirit Com­pe­ti­tion]. I’ve also just got a gold medal for Roots and Leaves. The roots from the gar­den – gin­ger, turmeric, galan­gal – are used along with liquorice and an­gel­ica root; the gar­den leaves – man­darin, curry leaf, kaf­fir lime leaf and le­mon ver­bena leaf – give it a lovely citrus and spice. On a dis­till­ing day, we start at about 7.30am. We’ve al­ready loaded up the pot still with the al­co­hol and the wa­ter, and if we’re do­ing the ju­niper berries, we’ll pre­pare them and put them in a steamer bas­ket and put it in a steam­ing ves­sel for what we call vapour in­fu­sion. With the ju­niper, we ac­tu­ally pass al­co­hol vapour through it rather than boil­ing it. It gives us a lot of aro­matic top notes. That would usu­ally take till about 3pm, then we clean the still with nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring cit­ric acid to re­move any [re­main­ing] flavour. On non-dis­til­la­tion days I spend a lot of time de­vel­op­ing new drinks. It can take hours and hours. It usu­ally in­volves me mak­ing very small dis­til­la­tions, maybe a half-litre, of a new plant, and I might have 10 lit­tle dis­til­la­tions and then I’ll put them all to­gether and see how they go. Some of those will be done in parts per mil­lion, parts per bil­lion; it’s a very del­i­cate ex­er­cise do­ing a gin or a liqueur. One car­damom pod in a whole dis­til­la­tion would be enough in some cases to give you the flavour. My pas­sion is to de­velop things to a point where other hu­man be­ings can ap­pre­ci­ate them. In a per­fect world if the busi­ness could run it­self and I wasn’t needed, I would just con­tinue to do de­vel­op­ment, which is re­ally what I en­joy. It’s also what I en­joyed with grow­ing plants. Luck­ily the dis­tillery isn’t at the level where I have to aban­don this com­pletely. There’s no­body here who has the ex­pe­ri­ence with de­vel­op­ing drinks, and it’s im­por­tant to keep de­vel­op­ing. When peo­ple come to the cel­lar door, there’s some­thing new and dif­fer­ent and hope­fully ex­cit­ing to try, and it keeps peo­ple com­ing back, say­ing ‘I won­der what he’s do­ing this time.’ dis­tillery­b­otan­ica.com

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: Take a stroll in Botan­ica Dis­tillery’s gar­den; The dis­tillery’s main still; Philip Moore at work ; The plants in this cor­ner of the Cen­tral Coast are turned into spir­its and liqueurs. OP­PO­SITE (clock­wise from top left): The fruits of the fra­grant gar­den; Bot­tling at Dis­tillery Botan­ica; Moore en­joys a sip of his own cre­ation.

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