In the seemingly never-ending gin boom, we’ve seen distillers use everything from seawater and leftover apple pulp to green ants and olive leaf. But one of the most natural pairings, cucumbers, has been completely ignored.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a very good reason distillers don’t tend to use cucumber in their gins.
“To get ethanol off a normal still, you have to heat it to 78 degrees,” explains Brighter Later distillery co-founder Marshall King (who, along with business partner Dana Whyte, is the director of Clever Little Tailor and Pink Moon Saloon). “That means you’re essentially cooking things, which works really well for certain ingredients, but when you cook cucumbers they just smell gross.”
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Fortunately, there’s a way around this problem, and it’s sitting in a sawtooth building just off Halifax Street. When Broadsheet visits, King proudly presents the rotary evaporator he used to distil Brighter Later’s most-recent release.
Forget the gleaming steel and copper stills in most production facilities – this one looks like a Year 12 science project, with a 10-litre boiling flask bolted onto a vacuum and condenser. Also known as a vacuum still, this secret weapon has allows King to “cold distil” alcohol at around 30 degrees, unlocking a whole range of new ingredients.
It also presents some unique challenges. Juniper berries need to be heated to release the oils that give gin its signature flavour and palate weight, so King has to sous-vide the berries at 75 degrees before introducing them into the mix.
Between these heating challenges and the small volume of the boiling flask, it took 12 distillations to make just 112 bottles of Brighter Later’s new Outer Peace gin – the first release of the (appropriately named) Finite Range. Outer Peace pairs cucumber with yuzu, Japanese sencha and a hint of ginger.
“We’ve worked very hard to nail the flavour balance in the recipe for Outer Peace and the result is something that’s almost a gastronomic project,” says King, who has put a couple of bottles aside for the team’s recently opened Longplay Bistro.
King is already exploring ways to scale up production for the next release, which will swap grape for grain spirit and feature “chinotto fruit and bay leaf, based on an amari style so it’s aromatically sweet but palate dry.”
The gins in the Finite Range answer a question King and Whyte posed when they first imagined Brighter Later. With Covid lockdowns emptying their venues overnight, they got a production licence, chose the most optimistic name they could think of, and thought about what was missing in the craft spirits scene.
“There’s a lot of gin in Australia, and the number one question was: what can we add? We’re bartenders first and distillers second, so we didn’t come from a place of technical knowledge. We came from a place of flavour and use,” says King. “A lot of Australian gins are wonderfully flavourful and floral, but we’ve found … they can be difficult to integrate into cocktails.”
Brighter Later launched with two gins: Astral Orchard is a citrus-forward contemporary London Dry style that integrates well into Negronis and Southsides, and Marine Ultra has an umami, saline profile that means you can make a Dirty Martini without opening a pickle jar.