Danny Perera, founder of Melbourne gin label Dutch Rules, wasn’t destined to distil.

He was born and raised in the ancient Sri Lankan city of Anuradhapura and, after some time spent living in the capital, Colombo, Perera made the move to Australia in the mid-2000s to pursue his dream of studying microbiology at Victoria University.

But a part-time hospo job changed his career trajectory. “Working at a bar in the city, I realised that was in my genes,” Perera tells Broadsheet. “I loved to talk to people, I loved servicing the bar. That was my industry. And I wasn’t cut out for the whole microbiology thing.”

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While pivoting his studies to hospitality management, Perera went from bartender to chef at Geelong brewery Little Creatures’ now-closed Fitzroy location. That’s where his love for beer blossomed.

It was the early 2010s, and Australia was on the verge of its craft beer boom. So when Perera’s childhood friend Amila Mendis joined him in Melbourne from Sri Lanka, they got home-brewing. “We started experimenting with all these recipes in our garage,” Perera says. In 2017, the duo’s beer label Two Rupees was born, named for their homeland’s currency. And in 2019, a taproom in an industrial pocket of Clayton in Melbourne’s south east followed.

Their beers – like a white ale loaded with Sri Lankan spices – were gaining traction with crafty drinkers. And Perera’s scientific studies were coming in handy. “You’re using it a bit to test out pH levels, enzymes, and figure out how the hops are going to work,” he says.

When Covid hit, a side hustle began brewing. Or, rather, distilling. “I was so interested in how grain works in spirits, so one thing led to another in the pandemic times,” he says. “I wanted to do whisky, but whisky takes a long time [to age] and I wanted to get the ball rolling, so I started with gin.”

Striking out on his own, Perera launched Dutch Rules Distilling Co in 2022, taking over a warehouse in Mitcham and getting to work on R&D for his debut small-batch gin.

Unlike craft beer, where people “are always looking for something new to try”, gin is more of a stalwart liquor, Perera says, so nailing the first – and core – release was important.

His New World dry gin is big-flavoured – both juniper-heavy and citrus-driven – with a delicate balance of 15 botanicals, starring a number of key imports, like gunpowder tea from Sri Lanka and coriander seed from India. And, only a few months after it hit the market in 2023, the bottle earnt a silver medal in the New World/Contemporary Gin category at the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards.

Two other gins make up the core range. The Officer’s Cut is a navy-strength gin that, at 58 per cent ABV, certainly packs a boozy punch, but is also a drinkable ode to the sea, loaded with coastal-inspired botanicals like karkalla and toasted seaweed. And it, too, goes big on the juniper. “For a [140-bottle batch] we’re using, like, 19 kilos,” Perera says. “That’s on the really high end compared to other distilleries.”

The aromatic Thai gin, he describes, is as if “a Thai green curry slapped you in the face” (in the best possible way). Lemongrass and makrut lime dominate, and there’s a slight hint of chilli and Thai basil jammed into a 700-millilitre bottle.

The New World dry gin is smooth enough to take neat or on the rocks, but if you’re mixing a G&T at home, Perera recommends a light tonic (so you can still taste the gin) and a slice of orange to garnish. For the Officer’s Cut it’s lemon; for the Thai gin it’s lime.

But for the ultimate Dutch Rules drinking experience, go straight to the source at the newly minted distillery door at its Mitcham HQ – a lofty, laid-back warehouse conversion with a half-white, half-peachy paint job. Order a gin tasting flight, or try them in a cocktail context – such as a Bellini spiked with passionfruit sorbet – while vinyl spins in the background.

If you’re lucky, you might even find head distiller Brad Dickman, formerly of Richmond brewery Mountain Goat, behind the bar to have a yarn about how the sausage is made.

Dickman oversees the production of around 1200 litres (and counting) of gin every month, which is stocked at some big-name Melbourne venues, including the juniper-obsessed Gin Palace, Flinders Lane favourite Chin Chin and new Filipino restaurant Askal.

And there are more gins to come, Perera says. Next year he plans to release a dedicated Sri Lankan tipple made solely with botanicals from his birthplace. Also in the works is a take on genever – an early precursor to modern gin from the Netherlands – which is part of what inspired the brand’s name Dutch Rules.

“It’s sort of a whisky-gin hybrid,” Perera says. “We make [a] gin with juniper, orange, allspice, ginger, liquorice root and rose but then blend [it] back in a new-make spirit to give the gin more of a grain character.”

This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.