Global sales of super-premium gin have grown by more than 30 per cent over the past five years, and Australia is enjoying the love affair with the complex clear spirit.
It seems like everywhere you look a new gin bar or a new distillery is popping up, ready to cater to a new generation of high-end gin aficianados.
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Stuart Gregor, the president of the Australian Distillers Association who is also a part-owner of Four Pillars Gin, says business is booming - so much so that he and his partner are about to build a swanky new distillery in Healesville in the Yarra Valley.
The distillery will be opening on World Gin Day (yes, there is such a thing) on Saturday, June 14.
The gin thing
Four Pillars' first batch was released in December 2013 and is already being exported to the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Denmark. Gregor predicts Four Pillars will be in 10 global markets by the end of the year.
"Sales are going crazy; we just commissioned a second still," he says.
Four Pillars' Rare Dry Gin picked up a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition held last weekend. The distillery's Rare Dry won a double gold at the same show last year.
They are hoping to repeat the success with the release this week of their Four Pillars Navy Strength. At 58.8 per cent alcohol-by-volume it isn't a drink to be taken lightly. One of the key botanicals is native finger limes.
"This is typical of what's happening in Australia at the moment, where our distillers are using native ingredients to produce a distinctive gin," Gregor says. "We also use lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepperberry."
According to Gregor, today's Australian gin drinker is a young urban professional with a high disposable income, interested in what they are drinking rather than getting smashed.
He puts the success of the spirit down to the fact that it is a highly versatile drink available in a variety of interesting flavours.
"A bartender can do a million things with gin," he says. "And a proper martini can only be made with gin; forget vodka. I believe the gin and tonic remains the single greatest alcoholic drink ever created. And everyone is going mad for Negroni these days, popular with late-night gin drinkers and made with gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. It's the drink of the moment among the cognoscenti."
Taste of success
Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine's spirits editor Franz Scheurer agrees that part of the success of gin can be attributed to its versatility. He also says the distilleries love it because it is an easy spirit to make and sell quickly without the ageing restrictions of some others such as whisky.
Currently there are around 56 craft distillers in Australia, with at least 30 of them concentrating on the production of gin. They range from West Winds in Margaret River, WA, and McHenry in Tasmania, to the Melbourne Gin Company, and recently opened Archie Rose in Sydney.
Young Henrys, the burgeoning craft beer brewery from Sydney's Newtown, is even getting in on the act, releasing its first official gin in April. The Noble Cut will be infused with pepperberry, bush tomato, a pinch of cascara and locally grown sencha (green tea). A dash of Enigma hops will also be added to the mix.
The increasing popularity of super-premium gin is coinciding with a new wave of super-premium gin bars. Melbourne has its iconic Gin Palace in Russell Place and Bad Frankie in Fitzroy; the latter serving exclusively Australian gins. Among Sydney's recent openings are Stillery at the Intercontinental Hotel Double Bay, The Barber Shop in the CBD, and The Powder Keg at Kings Cross.
Grant Collins opened The Powder Keg in December last year and it has already become one of the city's hot spots.
But why a gin bar?
"When I first started bartending, the bloke who trained me said if you ever make a cocktail with vodka, try it with gin and it will be twice as good. And it's true. Gin is a great complex spirit that is terrific to mix with," Collins says.
Collins currently has more than 120 gins on the shelf behind him, representing both local and overseas distilleries. His most expensive is a 1964 Bosford at $75 a shot. The Powder Keg also has gin and tonic on tap.
Although his favourite gin cocktail is a simple gin martini (made with 80mls of Death's Door gin served in a glass that has been washed with vermouth and garnished with three stuffed olives) as one of Australia's best mixologists, he also enjoys creating more progressive 'experiences'.
One is the Gin Flight, which features four different ways to enjoy a gin and tonic, including a vapourised version that you inhale through a straw, and a house-made gin and tonic sorbet.
Franz Scheurer's top Australian gins:
Copperwave Distilled Gin ($68), 45% ABV, Hunter Distillery, NSW
Four Pillars Barrel Aged Gin ($95), 43% ABV, Four Pillars Distillery, Victoria
McHenry Classic Dry Gin ($55), 40 per cent abv, McHenry Distillery, Tasmania
Old Tom Gin ($90), 41.3 per cent abv, Kangaroo Island Spirits, SA
And Scheurer's favourite gin on the planet? Berry Bros & Rudd No. 3. London Dry Gin.