Ester Spirits began as a bit of fun for Sydney-based couple Felix Clark and Corinna Kovner. The pair were making small batches of bootleg gin for their own consumption, but the sixth batch was so good they felt it needed to be shared. Now, Ester Spirits is coming up to its first anniversary and its Strong Gin – a smooth, spicy spirit of 57 per cent ABV – has claimed the title of World’s Best Navy Gin at the 2021 World Gin Awards in February.
The couple have years of hospo experience, both back and front of house. They own and run Sydney’s Bellagio Tuck Shop and Bellagio Cafe. And, they tell Broadsheet, creating a gin they wanted to drink was always their goal.
Above all Ester’s approach to gin-making is about highlighting the juniper. “We felt that with the divergence of gins and the explosion of the contemporary gin category, there was a need for someone to delve back into the more traditional, juniper-forward characteristics,” says Clark.
The co-founder describes Ester’s dry gin as juniper-dominant, with “a beautiful combination of fiery and floral” flavours. Its ingredients include coriander, liquorice and cardamom, plus natives like Australian pepperberry, finger lime and lemon myrtle. Interestingly, macadamia is also listed.
“We found that the high oil content of the nuts carries across to the distillate, giving it an unctuous mouthfeel that helps the flavours linger on the palate,” says Clark.
The World Gin Award is not the first industry prize for Ester. Its Dry Gin and Strong Gin picked up three gongs between them at the Australian Gin Awards 2020, on top of a silver medal for the Dry Gin at the 2020 International Wine and Spirits Competition and a gold medal for Contemporary Style Gin at the 2021 World Gin Awards.
It’s also caught the eye of a handful of leading Sydney venues, including Quay Restaurant, the Maybe Sammy group, Dead Ringer, Porch and Parlour, Sean’s Panaroma, Continental Deli, as well as Canberra’s Bar Rochford and Salopian Inn in South Australia.
The couple worked with design company Form-A Studio to create its labels, and they believe the combination of strong, classic branding and traditional, award-winning flavours is what’s led so many restaurants – including Quay and Continental Deli Bar and Bistro – to stock their gin.
“While tattoo, ‘hospo-billy’-style branding is all the rage right now in Australia, we wanted a more timeless design for the brand,” says Clark. “We wanted a bottle and label that would stand out in a crowded market, jumping off the shelf into the consumer’s mind.”
So what’s next for Ester Spirits? The plan for the next 12 months is to search for a permanent production home, potentially in Sydney’s inner west, where the couple lives. There are also plans to open a bar and restaurant at the same location.