I was in a top drinking den recently having a grand old time exploring some new Aussie gins that had just hit the market. But the bloke sat next to me was perplexed. All this talk of tonics and martinis and roots and seeds. By the time I moved on to G&Ts, he'd had enough. "Geez mate, you growing bloody plants out of those things?"
He was on point. While I'm personally enthralled by all the mad creativity we're seeing in gin land, for many it's getting out of control. The gin category has exploded. Insane garnishes, bizarre botanicals, and more gins than you can you poke a cucumber slice at.
"The space is definitely getting crowded," says South Australian farmer Quentin Anderson from Encounter Coast Spirits, the latest brave soul to enter the Australian gin market. South Australia has turned into a veritable gin state, with seven different gin producers on the scene, and more to come. "A lot of people have jumped on board the distilling movement, and everyone's making a gin. Even wineries are making gins now."
Why gin is suddenly so popular again
Australia's cocktail renaissance has spirits up for gin. Produced by Tim Martin
Is it a craze? A boom? A fad? How many gins can the world handle? How many Australian gins can we handle?
"We've seen over 30 per cent growth in the category in Australia over the last four years," says Jason Markwart, the general manager of Perth's Hippocampus Distillery. Our thirst for new gins seems impossible to quench, and in recent weeks, Hippocampus have added their own contender, the Hippocampus Gin.
The Hippocampus guys have an intimate understanding of the market. They've been distributing Sipsmith into Australia for a number of years – one of the world's top craft spirit producers, based in London.
"Three and half years ago we brought Sipsmith to Australia, and since that time we've been talking to our customers about gin. They're now armed with more information and seeking better flavours all the time. The gin category in general is going through this fantastic growth phase, and all these little Aussie distillers are producing fantastic gins and creating more and more interest. It's gaining this great momentum," Markwart says.
Standing out from the crowd
With so many new Australian and international gins on the market, the question is, how do you cut through the clutter? Either as a consumer or a producer?
"From my perspective, making gin wasn't about meeting a market demand, it was about designing something I liked to drink," says Tim Reardon, the distiller and founder of The Canberra Distillery, which came online late last year. That's right, even our pollies can sip on a local gin while arguing about the timing of this year's election.
Reardon's an economist by trade (so surely gin's got some years to run) but his approach is valuable for both consumers and producers. One of the best ways to navigate this brave new gin world is to find out what style of gin you like to drink.
Choose your gin
Whether you like your gins to be juniper or citrus forward, spicy or floral, you can now find gins to suit to every palate.
If you're more attuned to a traditional London Dry style (think Tanqueray), you could try the Hippocampus Gin suggested above, which eschews Australian native botanicals in favour of a more traditional arrangement (juniper, coriander, orris root, etc).
Or maybe you're happy to push your boundaries with experimental releases. For that, you could try the Bass & Flinders Distillery's new Angry Ant Gin, where a remarkable collaboration between the distillery, the University of Melbourne and Woolen Station in Western Australia, has created a gin that derives some of its flavour from Australian ants (I'm not even joking).
Sometimes these gins are lovely sipped on their own or with some ice, sometimes they'll work in a range of cocktails, from Martinis to Negronis, or sometimes they'll pair perfectly with a quality tonic like Capi or Fever Tree.
For a look at the newest wave of Australian gins to hit the market, check out the gallery.