Botanic Australis Gin from Queensland's Mt Uncle Distillery »
An extract from The Australian Spirits Guide by Luke McCarthy
Contributed articles and stories
The Australian Spirits Guide by Luke McCarthy takes you on a journey around 51 of Australia's stand out distilleries to unearth 60 of the best spirits. Each one has its own history and passion as well as tasting notes, serving and cocktail suggestions.
In this extract we're off to Far North Queensland to meet Mark Watkins and sample what Luke McCarthy says is probably Australia's most wild gin, from Mt Uncle Distillery near Mareeba, in the Cairns Hinterlands.
To get to the Mt Uncle Distillery in Walkamin, Far North Queensland, you head inland from Cairns, weave your way through the dense rainforest of the Macalister Range, emerge on the Atherton Tableland and then keep driving until you start seeing lychee, mango and macadamia orchards, and coffee, sugarcane and banana plantations. It’s about as far away from London as you could get.
And the journey will be bloody hot. The kind of sweaty, sticky heat a crisp gin and tonic calls for.
For that, Mark Watkins has got you covered. Befitting the uniqueness of the location, Watkins, the distiller and founder of the Mt Uncle Distillery, has created what is probably Australia’s most wild gin. He’s taken the use of Australian native botanicals to its logical end, using thirteen of them, with a modicum of juniper thrown in to retain its title as gin.
Watkins starts with a base of neutral cane spirit, steeps the assortment of botanicals in the pot of his 1500-litre German Arnold Holstein still, and then runs it through. That his gin doesn’t come out smelling like floor cleaner is down to Watkins’ skill. There’s a lot of information out there about distilling common gin botanicals like juniper and coriander, but distilling bunya nut or Eucalyptus olida? You’re on your own.
Watkins, through trial and error, figured it out himself. He’s had to think long and hard about where Australian natives could fill in for traditional botanicals and it’s incredible that he’s managed to unify such a cacophony of flavours.
It’s these flavours that make Botanic Australis such a memorable, if enigmatic, spirit. You can have a different experience with this gin every time you try it.
Depending on the tonic you use, it can jump out and announce itself, or stay hidden and subdued. In a martini, sometimes it just gangs up on your palate; sometimes you find a startling balance. It’s as baffling as it is tasty, and Watkins can only be commended for brilliantly executing something so implausible and ambitious.
To taste: The bouquet is potent initially, then softens. Herbal, grassy, eucalyptus, lime, liquorice. Anise on the palate, lime, pepper; juniper barely there.
Best served: Neat or over ice. Cocktails that feature citrus do lovely things to this gin as well. Try a Southside, the lime version.
Botanicals: Juniper; Australian natives: peppermint gum, Tasmanian pepperberry, eucalyptus olida, anise myrtle, lemon myrtle, lemon-scented gum, finger lime, wattleseed, cinnamon myrtle, lillypilly, native ginger, river mint, bunya nut.
Distillery location: 1819 Chewko Road, Walkamin, QLD
Cellar door: Open 7 days, 10 am–4.30 pm.
Price range: $$
The Australian Spirits Guide by Luke McCarthy is published by Hardie Grant (Melb, Vic, Oct 2016; HB, 240pp). This extract is reproduced with the kind permission of the publishers.
- Far North Queensland (QLD)
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