There’s trial and error in distilling. And then there’s Paul White’s approach.
When the West Australian set aside a career in science and medical consulting to learn how to make spirits, he threw himself into training courses and distillery tours. He then spent four years “just playing”, making everything from grappa to brandy via his fledgling set-up.
That playing around paid off. In 2010 White launched The West Winds Gin (initially called The Tradewinds) with three co-founders. Just a year later the team’s aromatic gin The Cutlass won the double gold medal at the influential San Francisco World Spirits Competition – and repeated the feat two years later. The West Winds dry gin The Sabre earned the gold medal that same year.
“We spend a lot of time on product development,” says White. “People have different palates and like different things, so each of our gins is intended to target a different style.”
Since the immediate success of those first gins, West Winds has gone on to debut a Navy-strength gin called The Broadside – its saltiness comes from the addition of Margaret River seawater – and the stronger Captain’s Cut, which clocks in at 63 per cent ABV.
The name West Winds references the natural guiding force aiding sailors around Australia. Anthony Reynolds is head distiller – he came to West Winds with more than 15 years’ experience as a winemaker in the Margaret River region. That’s a cosy fit considering the distillery’s cellar is at North Jindong winery After Hours, 25 minutes north of Margaret River.
White considers Margaret River the distillery’s spiritual home, and West Winds continues to showcase environmentally sustainable produce from the region’s local suppliers. “Where possible, we’ve always made gins using unique Australian botanicals,” says White. Early on it experimented with native bush tomato, lemon myrtle, cinnamon myrtle and wattleseed. “We now have a library of about 100 Australian botanicals we’ve distilled. We work out what sort of flavour profile we want to hit, and then build it from the ground up. We try to not copy anyone else and do something different.”
That local engagement includes sourcing all its citrus from WA Farm Direct (using fresh orange peels rather dried), and bottlebrush honey from Bee Happy in Toodyay. Coriander seed comes from Geraldton, and Christmas bush seeds from Kings Park in Perth’s city.
“It’s spread up and down the coast, depending on what we want,” says White. “We try not to use distributors and go straight to the growers.” That means sourcing finger limes locally, tomatoes from First Nation’s people in Alice Springs, and procuring other crucial botanicals from suppliers such as Spice Girls in Queensland and Indigi Earth in New South Wales.
Australian natives are crucial to the gins. Davidson’s plum from New South Wales and Queensland is used in The West Winds Wild Plum, making it a tarter alternative to the sweetness of sloe gin. Married with sloe berries picked wild in Tasmania and banksia honey from WA, the fruit-forward plum gin is a pleasant sipping spirit.
White says besides savouring it on its own over ice, you can add it to Campari for a simple two-ingredient spin on the Negroni. “For people who don’t like the bitterness of a full Negroni, it’s a good option,” says White. “It’s a tiny bit sweeter.”
Here’s how to make West Winds’ Two Thirds of a Negroni at home.
Two Thirds of a Negroni
Makes 1 serve. Approx. 1.5 standard drinks.
30ml West Winds Wild Plum
Add all ingredients to mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled. Pour into rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with dried citrus or stone fruits.
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This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Dan Murphy’s.