By Stefanie Collins, editor bars&clubs
The current thirst for new gin is continuing unabated, with a new Tasmanian distillery entering the fray this year.
Based in Dodges Ferry, near Hobart, Nonesuch Distillery specialises in Sloe Gin and a new Sloe Malt spirit, which according to the distillery is a new make whisky spirit into which sloes are added – something they believe is a worldwide first.
According to Rex Burdon, the distillery came about through a chance encounter with the godfather of Australian craft distilling, Bill Lark.
“I had long wanted to produce a drink (alcoholic or non-) utilising unique Tasmanian native botanicals, and had been experimenting with flavouring spring waters,” says Burdon. “Then a chance meeting with Bill Lark led us to discussing the fact that Tasmania was blessed with rows of blackthorn and hence sloes. Bill, in his inimitable way, enthused me to change direction somewhat and instead of flavouring spring water, start making sloe gin.”
The distillery was also lucky enough to have the input of William McHenry, of William McHenry & Sons Distillery, to offer some assistance. The McHenry distillery actually distilled and stored the first batch of Nonesuch’s sloe gin while its 300 litre copper pot still – her name is Pandora – was on order from Peter Bailly at Knapp Lewer.
“Both these masters of distilling gave us (and still give us) the benefit of their knowledge and experience and have always been available when advice or guidance was needed,” says Burdon. “Bill and Lyn Lark were here when we distilled our very first batch of gin and Bill launched proceedings by turning on Pandora for the very first time. This was appropriate as he had given us advice on its design, the shed layout, helped us through the licencing process and a hundred and one other things.”
As far as the name of the distillery is concerned, according to Burdon, ‘nonesuch’ is an old English word that means ‘something without equal’.
“I originally came across the word many years ago when researching my family history,” he says. “One of my ancestors who came to Tasmania in the mid-1800s settled on a property named Nonesuch and I rediscovered the word when reading a book about the Gallipoli campaign while the distillery was being built.”
The first product out of the distillery, and what will be their signature spirit, is the Sloe Gin. Made with the abundant local sloe berries, according to Burdon the spirit takes patience to make and can be a challenge to balance.
“The sloe berry is astringent even when ripened, so the gin needs to offset that without becoming dominant,” he says. “We believe that the magic ingredient is time. Allowing time for the natural process to colour the gin and for the exchange of juice and gin to happen slowly and not rushing to bottle it is our touchstone. We determined that we would bottle only when we decided it was ready to drink and not work to a budget imposed time frame – much to the angst of the bean counters.”
Adding to the challenge is the fact that no batch of berries will ever be the same. Depending on where they are harvested and the weather conditions, age of the blackthorn and more, the degree of sweetness varies considerably. For this reason, each batch is labelled and then small vats of each are prepared. This allows the team to monitor each small batch and then re-vat fruit from different regions to give consistency as well as the flavour profile they want.
“We may be a bit pedantic but we also sort all the sloes delivered to us and remove any leaves, stalks (and odd insect) before rinsing and drying the fruit,” says Burdon. “The old adage of what goes in also comes out means that dusty sloes will add an unwanted ‘earthiness’ to the product.”
The Sloe Gin has been joined in the portfolio by the aforementioned Sloe Malt – which is, as far as Burdon is aware, not produced anywhere else – as well as a Dry Gin. The latter uses a botanical blend that includes citrus, liquorice, orris root, angelica, coriander, cardamom and wattle seed alongside juniper.