From Bombay, to Hippocampus, to sheep whey Vodka, to Irish Moonshine; the Australian Drinks Festival 2016 truly had it all.
Being a Gin Enthusiast, The Australian Drinks Festival 2016 was an unmissable event.
I arrived at the event at about 2pm on the Saturday of the festival, and was astounded at how incredibly busy the stalls were already, it was busy, bubbly and packed with drinks enthusiasts all eager for a taste of the action, and every alcoholic drink available.
Upon entering the hall I received a programme for the day and frantically flicked through it to see exactly which of my favourite Australian gin distilleries were there to go have a chat to. And to my surprise some of my biggest interests in the Australian Gin Industry(Melbourne Gin Company, Archie Rose, Ink, West Winds, to name a few) to my disappointment weren't among the list of stalls present this year. But never the less, there were many interesting names and Gins I had never heard of listed that I was keen as a bean to give a go, as that is what these festivals are for, showing off some of Australia's newest and brightest talents in the alcohol industry. My mission for the day was to try every gin available….So I started at the obvious starting place of all Gin lovers, Bombay Sapphire!
Of course not only is it one of the most iconic and easily recognisable gins at the event, it was also at the front of the hall closest to the door. I thought why not start with the classic, so I had a taste of the Star of Bombay, which is the more intense overexcited cousin of Bombay Sapphire. Unfortunately the stall must have been very close to the speakers or something, because it was incredibly difficult to hear anything the great guy manning the stall was trying to tell me, which was upsetting because I would have loved to learn a little bit more about what this iconic gin is all about (apart from what the internet has taught me). They also had oyster and gin pairing going on, which I fortunately or unfortunately didn't try.
Poor Toms Gin
From Bombay my next stop was Poor Toms Distillery an interesting Australian Gin Distillery from Sydney and produces their Sydney Dry Gin. I talked to one of their distillers whose name I shamefully didn’t catch, and he happily explained their gin tastes best with a fresh strawberry or apple garnish in a G&T, because of it's unique botanical profile containing strawberry gum. This is a Gin I would recommend to a few people, it’s a bit different but I think that's what I like about it!
Mt Uncle Distillery
Now I have an awful lot to say about these guys.
Firstly, amongst their extensive range of spirits rum, vodka, whiskey and marshmallow liqueur, they offer there is their 'standard' gin named Botanic Australis. Botanic Australis is very different to what you expect gin to taste like and packs a serious punch living up to it's name Australis containing 14 incredibly potent native Australian Botanicals. This unique concept of a native Australian spirit isn't every bodies cup of tea, but is quite special and if you aren't sure or a bit apprehensive about buying a whole bottle, convince a mate to buy one instead and have a try of theirs first.
Secondly… Their navy strength Botanic Australis, truly is navy strength at 57% and full of the most vibrant citrus flavours I have ever tasted, I must admit their was some almost spicy quality that along with the citrus and the shear strength of the spirit left my mouth a little numb after a wee nip, but as long as you aren't drinking it straight like I was, hopefully you won't have this mouth numbing experience too.
Lastly, What Mt Uncle has done is remarkable, a truly Australian Gin, with incredibly bold and undeniably Australian flavours.
Hobart no 4 Gin
I bought a bottle of this Gin a while back and haven't yet had a chance to drink it. Hobart No 4 is a small batch gin distilled in Tasmania by the makers of Sullivan Cove Whiskey. Again this Gin combines Australian botanicals of wattleseed, lemon myrtle, anise myrtle and lanceolata (which I had to google and is commonly known as Tasmanian mountain pepper, what forty spotted gin is famous for using) along with the traditional botanicals like juniper, and so on. Personally, like Botanic Australis from Mt Uncle this is probably not a Gin I would drink straight, it is quite pungent and would probably be better suited to a mixed drink. This one isn't a favourite of mine, but I can drink it.
Adelaide Hills Distillery
Adelaide Hills Distillery has released their very own gin and called it 78o small batch Gin. Their Gin is derived from grape and you can definitely taste it in the spirit as some of those complex and subtle grape flavours have been carried across. This gin is far more savoury then some people would probably be used to, but works incredibly well with tonic and some lemon, it's not bad.
To anyone who hasn't heard of chase distillery, they are a craft distillery from the UK (massive Union-Jack and an Englishman manning their stall kind of gave that away). According to both their website, bottle and the Englishman, they have two main Gins, one made from potatoes and the other from apples. I know it is strange for 1 distillery to have two gins from such different origins, but somehow they manage to pull it off, I think? Personally I prefer the potato derived gin over the apple one, but all in all they are both interesting Gins that are worth a taste.
Cardrona Valley Distillery
Cardrona, one of the most beautiful places on earth, is found in New Zealand of course (I might be a little bias, having just left NZ); and has very recently released their single malt Gin, and fortunately enough for everyone at the Drinks Festival 2016 we had the privilege of trying it.It certainly is a uniqueGin. Cardrona is actually a malt whisky distillery hence the single malt Gin, and there are some subtle characteristics of the malt carried over along with an incredibly green taste of juniper, coriander and a hint of something else which I was told is native NZ rosehip (but I have never knowingly tasted rosehip in a Gin before which is probably why I couldn't pick it). Cardrona's incredible smooth vodka (which is this non-vodka drinkers vodka of choice) has somehow of rather been transformed into a very drinkable Gin. If you are ever in South Island you should venture on down to them, great hospitality from a great distillery.
Again I am ashamed to say I have never heard of these guys before today. Poltergeist Gin offer two varieties of gin, a coconut carbon filtered gin and an unfiltered gin, both having the exact same recipe, the only difference being one is filtered through activated carbon from coconuts and the other being unfiltered. This Small Batch distilled spirit comes from Shane Estate and Distillery in Tasmania, and is very hard to get hold of in mainland Australia at the moment, but if you do manage to get your hands on either of their gins I highly recommend you give them a go, I prefer the unfiltered over the filtered hands down.
Hippocampus distillery has one of the best names for a distillery I have every heard, and their logo is more then perfect, especially to anyone who has read an anatomy text book. A seahorse having a drink…GOLDEN! Hippocampus Metropolitan Distillery's Gin comes from West Perth and was only released toward the end of 2015, and is a very junipery Gin, with a few other things going on, not a bad drop, again not one I would drink straight but maybe in a negroni... or even perhaps a martini?
Hendricks being another classic we all know and love, for being a bit unconventional and not a London dry gin. Well these beauties were giving away free cocktails made from: their own bitters, their own tonic syrup and their own gin (of course) with ruby red grapefruit juice, slices of cucumber and a star-anise. These were delicious and a perfect break from the straight gin tastings, so refreshing, so good.
Sheep Whey Vodka, a smooth vodka from something you would never imagine. Full disclosure, I don't drink vodka… ever… the guy literally had to convince me to try this; and I have to say..... I was not converted, but it wasn't bad. Sheep's whey, being an unwanted by-productof making sheep milk cheese, has innovatively been turned into a (from listening to people who appreciate vodka a little more then I do) lovely vodka by Hartshorn Distillery. I take my hat off to Hartshorn for their outside the box thinking that brings us this unique spirit, they also had a sheep's whey vanilla vodka liqueur, which people were going nuts over.
Again, I had never heard of these guys before and am very disappointed in myself that I hadn't. Mister Mixer's stall located toward the back of the festival hall was by far the busiest stall of them all once people had realised what an incredible concept they had going on. Cocktails on Tap! Who would have thought? Nitrogenated Kegs of premixed cocktails that tasted amazing. They had Espresso Martinis, Green Apple Mojitos, Passionfruit Caprioska and hot Gluhwein all pre-mixed and in kegs ready to be tasted. I will definitely be giving them a call for my next party.
Nip Of Courage
Nip of Courage was a stall near the front of the hall, and if I am being totally honest here was in, my opinion, a bit disappointing. It looked incredible, with a 'gin-garden' and had such an awesome name, but when I went to ask if I could taste some of the gins they had in stock to taste I was told sure for $12 dollars I could taste them all. Now I don't know how you feel about this, but for me (when all the other tastings, including the mister-mixer cocktails on tap tastings, had been free), and I know why they were charging for tastings, because they are a distributor of Australian spirits not a producer themselves yada yada yada, but still I wasn't exactly willing to pay $12 for a tasting when I could go anywhere else and try other gins for free. So needless to say I quickly ran away from that stall. They did however have every type of fever tree tonic water available for a G&T and all the garnishes you could imagine. I probably made a huge mistake because I was being cheap...next time I will do tastings at nip of courage and let you know how that goes!
The last thing I tried before leaving the Drinks Festival, was Glendalough's Potín (which I was told by the mane in the Glendalough caravan is pronounced Potcheen...that's correct there was a caravan...it was pretty cool) which according to the man in the caravan is basically Irish Moonshine. And of course I couldn't go past the stall that is A. a caravan, and B. had a bottle with a monk on it labelled mountain strength, or as my buddy who attended the festival with me said "the mountains no what's up". So apprehensively after reading it was 60% abv, knowing I had tasted many a straight spirit before this moment I tried the mountain strength Potín, and dear lord, it certainly was mountain strength, I have learnt my lesson when a man in a caravan says it will put hairs on your chest HE IS NOT LYING! After recovering from that sensory shock and the outrageous after burn of a 60% abv straight spirit, I realised 1 of 2 things, 1 - when someone warns you that their product is likely to hurt you when you try it, it most likely will; and 2 - it wasn't actually that bad, the taste was quite pleasant underneath the shear burning horribleness of a 60% abv spirit. I can't exactly tell you what it is made of, or how it was made, but I can tell you how it came about because of Irish Monks (I read a bit of the label from a distance... just enough to explain why the logo was a monk), and is a traditional Irish spirit. The mountain strength probably shouldn't have been my first experience of Potín, and I hope I pluck up the courage for it not to be my last.
There were plenty of other stalls I tried at the festival, but this is just a quick review of some of the more stand out moments of the day!
Other non-gin things of note were: Monkey's Shoulder world's smallest bar, which was always so busy you could barely get a look in; Tennessee Moonshine and their apple pie moonshine which was to die for, if I could I would have bought every flavour of moonshine they stocked, and would have left on the tram with over 5 different jars of moonshine, looking a little bit crazy.
There were some great food trucks there as well, outside there was a curry food truck, a burger truck and a smoky BBQ lamb stand, while inside there were Greek donuts, bagels, classic American hotdogsanda few other things like coffee, cheese, and free popcorn. I had the smoky BBQ lamb and it was so good, BBQs are the best.
After spending a decent 4.5~ish hours at the festival it was starting to get dark outside and as people around me were starting to get a bit wobbly, it was time to begrudgingly head home. It was an amazing alcohol fuelled day, and I cannot wait until the next one. 10/10 would go again, and recommend any alcohol lover, especially Gin drinkers to attend, you will have a blast.
Some pro-tips for future Australian Drinks Festival Attendees:
Read the free program they hand out, you'll find out all the unspoken secrets of the festival and definitely won't miss out on anything special.
Arrive early to beat the crowd.
Try everything, at every stall before committing to buying a cocktail or bottle of something because 1, you don't want to miss out on having something you enjoy more later, and 2, do the tastings while you are still sharp and able to remember which ones you loved and which you didn't love quite as much.
If it is at the exhibition building again and in the middle of winter, take a jacket, they had heaters set up all around the place but just to be safe I would highly recommend a jacket, the hall is huge and not the warmest room in winter.
Try and listen to the talks they have on, it is super interesting to hear from experts in the alcohol industry, plus they have free tasters along with the talks.
Arrive having eaten a solid breakfast, you don't want to be that one messy person having to be escorted out by security at 4pm because you didn't pace yourself.
Enjoy yourself, and don't be afraid to try something that is out of your normal drinking scope, if you don't usually try whisky but haven't ever tried a good one, go for it, this may be your only chance to have so many quality spirits ready at your fingertips for tasting.