For decades, West Thebarton Road was dominated by industrial suppliers and wholesalers. Then Imperial Measures Distilling moved in and opened a small bar. Soon after, they welcomed the makers of the world’s best gin, Never Never Distilling Co as tenants. Just across the road, another distillery quietly opened late last year in a grey besser-block shed that used to house a taxi company. It’s now home to Happenstance Distillery. Its founders, Mei Lin Ford and Tim Gilchrist, have dubbed this little corner of Thebarton “Gin Alley”. They became friends after a chance meeting at dinner with Gilchrist’s sister-in-law.
At first glance the former garage looks like just another tenant in a mixed-use industrial lot. But when the doors are thrown open they reveal a shock of colour. Inside, a beaten copper alembic still mounted on bricks gleams in the sunlight. The banner behind it is crowded with a zoom burst of purple and pink petals and love hearts. That design (from Melbourne’s Studio Elevenses) also graces the label of Happenstance gin, and helps the bottles to stand out on back bars crowded with boutique gins boasting clean fonts and pared-back design.
The recipe (which is the result of more than 100 distillations) is citrus forward and augments the traditional juniper and coriander with lemon myrtle and the berry-like sweetness of strawberry gum. And so far it’s working – the pair has just put the sixth batch of Happenstance gin through their imported Portuguese still and already has another release in the works.
The leftover spirit from those trial batches was put back through the still and purified. It’s currently being used in an old recipe (courtesy of Ford’s Portuguese partner) for a sour-cherry liqueur that will be ready in winter.
Happenstance Gin is available at Parade Cellars, Goodwood Cellars, Melbourne Street Cellars, Edinburgh Cellars, Sturt St Cellars, St Peters Cellars and more.