Even before the pandemic descended, encroaching bushfires meant businesses in north-eastern Victoria endured a rough start to the year. Towns that weren’t forced to evacuate had to close down under blanketing smoke. Between that and Covid-19, the producer-driven region has been thrown for a game-changing loop before 2020 has even reached its halfway point.

Reed & Co, a family-owned distillery in the scenic alpine town of Bright, fared better than some during that first threat, only to be blindsided by the second. “Through the bushfires we were quite fortunate; the greater community really got behind us and supported the distillery,” says co-owner Hamish Nugent. “So we got through the fires much better than a standard restaurant, but we didn’t see the pandemic coming at all. We weren’t equipped for it, but no one was.”

The mandated shutdowns all but froze Reed & Co’s wholesale accounts, as well as direct-to-customer sales through the cellar door, which Nugent admits “is probably our strongest backbone”. As a result, the craft distiller has had to rely on online sales, a facet of the business that wasn’t given priority before the pandemic. “It’s been a real eye opener: it’s made us look at the business from a different angle,” he says.

Without its usual year-round influx of tourists – whether for the vibrant autumn colours, proximity to snow-capped Mount Buffalo, or swimming in the generous Ovens River – Bright has a population of less than 3,000. Yet the locals have continued to rally around local businesses, just as they did during the bushfires. Reed & Co offers free local delivery for online orders over $30, which helps. The turn towards handcrafted local products has been an unexpected silver lining.

“I think going forward, people will spend a bit more money on quality and local,” says Nugent. “It’s bringing the consumer back to Australian products. If there’s something good to pull from all this, I think that’s it. Especially with spirits, anything made in Australia is always going to be dearer. We have excise taxes, and the imported stuff can get into the country cheaper than what we can produce it for.”

While Reed & Co had to put the release of two new gins on hold due to lockdowns, its flagship dry gin, Remedy, is going strong. Driven by distinctly Australian botanicals like juniper, eucalyptus, mountain pepper, and actual pine needles in the distilling process, Remedy is a floral triumph that has put Reed & Co on the map alongside fellow north-east Victorian distilleries like Corowa Whiskey, Hurdle Creek, Billson’s Brewery and Yackandandah’s soon-to-open Backwoods.

Beyond Remedy, Reed & Co has a more experimental, limited-edition range called Spirit Lab, which currently features a mistelle (a sweet and citrusy grape-infused spirit) using fruit from the recent bushfire season, as well as a barrel-aged coffee liqueur. After completing a renovation originally planned for June, while in lockdown the distillery is now devoting more time to product development.

Founded in 2016 as an outgrowth of their then restaurant Tani Eat & Drink, Nugent and his wife, Rachel Reed, have turned Reed & Co into a successful dining destination as well. And gins like Remedy have helped show locals and tourists alike just how unique and regionally specific a gin can be. They’re part of a wave of distillers working over recent years to revive interest in the spirit.

“We started distilling gin four and a half years ago, and even in that time it’s changed dramatically,” says Nugent. “That’s thanks to a lot of the bigger players like Four Pillars, who’ve done a lot of educational work. It’s no longer perceived as the grandma’s drink. And it’s not just drowned in cheap tonic anymore. The craft tonic movement is really helping with that. And the resurgence of cocktails has really brought it back to life.”

With that in mind, Nugent has shared three cocktails using Reed & Co’s Remedy gin that are easy enough to make at home – and a couple of them can be ordered from the distillery pre-made.

Remedy Gin & Tonic
The traditional bar pour for a gin and tonic is 1 part gin to 3 parts tonic, but Reed & Co’s is 2 parts to 3 parts. “That just makes it a bit more gin-centric, and the gin really stands above the tonic,” says Nugent, who recommends Fever-Tree Mediterranean or Capi Dry for the tonic. “Remedy works really well in a gin and tonic. It’s a really bold gin, using lots of Australian native botanicals. It’s a reflection of the landscape here, so it’s kind of bushy and alpine in the flavour profile.”

For a garnish, Nugent suggests a creative twist. “We don’t use any traditional citrus in Remedy: the only actual citrus we use is a desert lime, which is native Australian,” he says. “We also use eucalyptus citriodora, or lemon-scented gum, and lemon myrtle. We compound those up to give us one citrus note. So I like to use alternative citrus as a garnish, or anything herbaceous: even basil is really nice in there.”

Remedy Gin & Tonic
Makes 1 serving. Approx. 1.6 standard drinks.

45ml Remedy Australian Dry Gin
90ml tonic water
Lemon thyme, basil leaf or lemon wedge to garnish

In a rocks glass, measure and pour Remedy gin and tonic water. Add ice and garnish.

Remedy Negroni
One of the prebatch cocktails in Reed & Co’s online shop, the Negroni marries Remedy with Campari, sweet vermouth, and a dash of orange curacao.

Remedy Negroni
Makes 1 serve. Approx. 1.9 standard drinks.

40ml Remedy Australian Dry Gin
30ml Campari
30ml Antica Formula sweet vermouth
5ml Marionette Orange Curaçao
1 orange (for zest and garnish)

In your stirring glass pour Remedy gin, sweet vermouth, orange curaçao and Campari. Put ice in your stirring glass and stir until chilled. Strain the cocktail into your rocks glass over ice. Holding the orange zest with skin facing the contents of the glass, spray the oils over the cocktail, then add garnish.

(If the cocktail is already prepared and bottled, pour ingredients over ice into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with orange zest.)

Remedy Aviation Sherbet
Another highlight of Reed & Co’s prebatch cocktails, this clarified cocktail avoids the problem of excess acidity from juice breaking down the compounds in a prebatched drink.

Remedy Aviation Sherbet
Makes 1 serving. Approx. 2 standard drinks.

55ml Remedy Australian Dry Gin
10ml Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
10ml créme de violet
10ml lemon myrtle syrup
5ml Yuzu distillate (vacuum distilled)
1 maraschino cherry

Chill coupe glass with ice. Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Discard ice from coupe glass. Double strain into coupe glass and garnish with maraschino cherry.

(If the cocktail is already prepared and bottled, pour ingredients into a chilled coupe glass over ice. Garnish with maraschino cherry.)

WIN: Broadsheet are offering you and three friends the chance to win an event pack to help recreate the feeling of the High Country at home. You'll win the ingredients to make three of Reed & Co's most-requested cocktails - the Quarantini, Negroni and Nightwalker – and dried garnish and a recipe card. Winners will use them under the expert guidance of bartender Adam Eaton in a 30- to 40- minute Zoom session, where he'll relay the history of the cocktails, how they're best prepared and how to finish the perfect garnish. You’ll need your own glasses and cocktail shaker. See details on how to enter.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism North East.