Like its name, Ink Gin is a remarkable, deep-ocean-blue colour. Until you add tonic. Every drop of the mixer that collides with the gin causes the alcohol to transform into a violet hue. It may sound like a gimmick, but there are no synthetic additives or neat tricks. The colour comes from the petals of the butterfly pea, a South East Asian flower that reacts to different pH levels by changing colour.
“We didn't want to make just another gin. We built the gin around that flower and then started collecting different botanicals,” Paul Messenger says. Messenger is the founder and distiller at Husk Distillers, Byron Bay’s fledgling paddock-to-bottle rum and gin distillery. It has been working on Ink Gin for four years, and it has just launched it in Sydney.
Messenger and his team have spent the past years experimenting with adapting the flavour and texture of gin to the qualities of the butterfly pea. “It has a very subtle obscuration to it. It smooths out the alcohol,” Messenger says. “It also has an astringency. It leaves the palate a little bit dry, crisp and clean to let the flavours of the major botanicals come through for a nice, long finish.”
The predominant flavours are natives grown around the area of Messenger’s farm and distillery. As well as juniper berry, the main aromatics are lemon myrtle, pepper berry and coriander. “There's a whole raft of second-tier botanicals, and there's some minor ones which, like a pinch of salt, change the characteristics of the taste. They add body and balance and aroma to the whole thing,” he says.
Despite the distillery’s production of an impressively unique and well-researched gin, Husk Distillers started small. Unlike major commercial distillers that use molasses, Husk Distillers’ rum is agricole style, which uses freshly crushed sugar-cane juice from Messenger’s farm. The first batch of its 2012 Husk Virgin Cane Rum which will have a limited release in December. “It's going to be very limited supply to begin with, it's always going to be a very craft, small-scale product,” Messenger says.