With spring just over a week away, it is more than appropriate to be talking about gin. The classic spirit is so packed with heady botanical flavours, it's like taking a stroll through a garden in full bloom.
What’s more, there are so many incredible Australian producers making the stuff now, we feel as though we’re trying it again for the first time.
We took a trip to Fitzroy’s Bad Frankie, a bar obsessed with all things alcoholic and Australian, to speak with head bartender, Jenna Hemsworth. While pouring liberally, she took us through four of her favourite gins and the best ways to enjoy them.
“You don't want the cocktail too perfumed,” she says initially. “The botanicals do all the work. The distillers have already put so much work into making their gins complex and vibrant, you don't want to complicate it.”
Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin
The Warrandyte-based Four Pillars uses 12 botanicals to produce its gin, including cinnamon, star anise, lemon myrtle and whole oranges. And yet, it's the lightest of Hemsworth's picks. “It's fresh, vibrant and really easy drinking,” she says. “The distillery recommends drinking it on its own, and I totally agree.” Otherwise, she happily serves it in a simple Gin Rickey (lime juice, sugar syrup, and soda), where there's no chance of any flavours being overpowered.
Melbourne Gin Company Dry Gin
The gin we profiled back in May is an outstanding example of the new-world style, where more adventurous flavours are allowed to take the lead from the traditional juniper berry. This Gembrook-made beauty also uses 12 add-ins, including macadamia, sandalwood and orris root.
“It's a bit bigger, it can stand up to stronger ingredients in a cocktail,” Hemsworth says. At Bad Frankie, she takes advantage of this by mixing in a spicy syrup of native pepperberries, shaking with lemon and egg whites, and finishing in a glass with soda. It's called a Pepperberry Fizz, and it's easy to recreate at home with crushed peppercorns and summer berries.
McHenry Classic Dry Gin
In contrast to the MGC vibe, Tasmania's McHenry aims for something much closer to the classic London style, with juniper berries backed by citrus and cardamom. It's another step up in complexity, but its sheer crispness and astringency lend it well to the Blue Moon, a classic cocktail comprised of lemon, violet liqueur and a touch of sugar. “The violet liqueur’s so floral, it contrasts really well with that classic London dry style,” Hemsworth says.
The West Winds The Cutlass
The West Winds, based in Margaret River, started making gin in 2011. Bad Frankie stocks two of its drops, but it's the stronger, 50 per cent ABV version Hemsworth has a soft spot for. Unlike the others on the list, which shoot for crisp or floral profiles, The Cutlass is a vegetal, savoury beast, taking in bush tomato and coriander seed.
This, Hemsworth reckons, makes it an ideal companion for the brininess of a dirty martini. Bad Frankie uses native saltbush, but for those playing at home, a 1:10 solution of salt and water will do the trick. Shake with gin and vermouth, strain into a glass, and garnish with an olive, plus rosemary or thyme. No need to sniff the wind outside, for spring is on your tastebuds.