The spirit of Australia

Artisan distiller relies on native flavouring for his award-winning liqueurs.

After a couple of decades in the garden nursery business, Philip Moore opened St Fiacre Distillery at Erina on the NSW central coast about five years ago. His range of liqueurs showcased Australian native ingredients including mountain pepperberry, wild lime, aniseed myrtle and lemon myrtle. He named the venture after

St Fiacre, patron saint of gardening, but, the trouble is, no one could pronounce it.

''St Fiacre was Irish but was sanctified in France, so the correct pronunciation is 'Fee-ark','' Moore says, ''which sounds like you've just stubbed your toe.''

So Moore re-named his cellar-door distillery operation Distillery Botanica earlier this year.

''A lot more people have started coming in since we changed the signs,'' he says. ''We've really only got our cellar-door and internet sales, at this stage.''

Moore has also branched out into more standard spirits with a gin and Short Black - an elegant coffee liqueur that won a gold medal at the 2012 London International Wine & Spirit Competition. He has also released individual raspberry, blackcurrant and blackberry liqueurs.

''Our Australian native spirits didn't seem to inspire bartenders,'' Moore says, ''but they still have their loyal following.''

He also uses native flavourings including wild lime, cinnamon myrtle, macadamia and Illawarra plum in his Moore's Vintage Dry Gin.

''I distil each botanical separately, so there can be some differences in flavour from year to year. So I called it 'vintage' to cover myself with slight differences between batches.''

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Moore uses juniper berries from Germany but is looking for a local supplier and is careful to downplay their influence in the overall flavour.

''Australians don't [like] the hard, bitter finish you find in many gins,'' he says. ''London dry gins feature juniper overload whereas something like Tanquery 10 has more citrus than juniper and a really nice finish.

''I use a method of 'vapour infusion' of botanicals which extracts flavours without any bitterness. [Scientists] talk about the 'democracy of botanicals' and I want my gin to be complex in a way that you can't really detect the individual ingredients.''

Moore employs cinnamon myrtle in place of the more usual cardamom, as well as Illawarra plum. ''It's a member of the conifer family and adds a nice texture.''

He uses only the skins of wild limes and discards the fruit, which he reckons is too acidic.

''I want the actual fruit or berry to showcase the drink,'' Moore says, and that's certainly true of his Short Black, which balances genuine coffee flavour with just enough sweetness.

''Trying to extract coffee flavour with alcohol was a complete disaster so I went with cold-brewed coffee,'' he says. ''That way, you get coffee aroma and flavour, without so much caffeine or bitterness.''

Moore uses a combination of beans including Mount Tamborine Plantation (''it has a nice malty, honeycomb character''); Ethiopian (''blueberry-like''); and Brazilian (''burnt caramel flavours'').

Moore says coffee liqueur Kahlua contains ''49 per cent sugar'' but his contains significantly less. ''I add the sugar in very small increments until I reach the right point and I do it by taste,'' he says. ''I'm aiming for the 'bliss point' where sweet, acid and bitter flavours are in balance.''

Tasting notes

LUSCIOUS RASPBERRY LIQUEUR (23.1 per cent)
Dark crimson. Nose: intense raspberry pulp/sherbet notes. Palate: restrained sweetness slowly gives way to dense, brooding raspberry flavours with an acidic edge dancing neatly above the sweet and fruity layers. Overall: wow! Price: $39.95/500ml.

MOORE'S VINTAGE DRY GIN (40 per cent)
Nose: heady mix of lime zest, perfumed floral/honeysuckle, gum leaf and spruce notes. Palate: flavours are tightly integrated, underpinned with lime and myrtle notes; juniper presence is restrained and the finish is lightly elegant. Overall: more new-age than traditional English gin. Price: $49.95/700ml.

SHORT BLACK LIQUEUR (23.2 per cent)
Dark reddish-brown. Nose: intense mocha, creme caramel and malted milk notes. Palate: sweet initially but freshly roasted coffee character emerges with a hint of vanilla slice; the seamless flavours end smoothly, a well-judged, sweet but not cloying finish. Overall: nicely integrated coffee characters sustain this stunning liqueur. Price: $39.95/500ml.

See distillerybotanica.com.

This article The spirit of Australia was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.