WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE…
To be a craft spirit distiller
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.