The best gins in Australia use native ingredients like lemon myrtle and finger lime to deliver unique flavours. Here’s what to look out for in Australian gin.
If there’s one thing that makes Australian gin stand out, it’s the unique range of botanicals in our backyard that creative distillers are harnessing to create world class spirits. With the Australian made gin boom in full swing – there is now an estimated 700 gin brands from Australia in circulation, up from just 10 in 2013 – native ingredients and bush foods used by Indigenous Australians for millennia are making a mark.
While juniper is the key botanical in gin (it can’t be called gin without it), the spirit leaves plenty of room for innovation with the rest of the botanicals and their flavour profiles. And with the abundance of native botanicals in our backyard, Australian gin distilleries are able to create small batch gins with unique tastes, aromas and styles that tell their own story.
From lemon myrtle to finger limes, cinnamon myrtle to strawberry gum, here’s a handy guide to the native botanicals found in some of the best gin in Australia.
While macadamias are best known for snacking on with a drink, the nation’s favourite nut imparts a delicate buttery flavour to several gin brands in Australia. It’s just one of 25 botanicals used in Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin, 17 of which are plucked direct from the macadamia plantations and lush rainforest that surround Cape Byron Distillery, including native river mint, native raspberries and cinnamon myrtle. “Traditional botanicals meet native counterparts to create a beautiful layer of Australian flavour on top,” explains Cellar Door Manager Mel Olsen.
Wattleseeds are another unique botanical, harvested from Australia’s floral icon, the golden wattle. Imbued with a delicious coffee-like flavour with hints of chocolate and hazelnut, wattleseeds give a distinct creamy texture to West Australian produced West Winds Sabre Gin. They also feature in Botanic Australis Gin a gin that truly celebrates Australian flora, with all gin ingredients substituted for exotic native counterparts, including lemon-scented gum, Daintree vanilla, mango leaf, eucalyptus and peppermint gum.
The sundrenched orchards of the Riverland yield zesty native limes and mandarins for South Australian gins such as 23rd Street Signature Gin.
The highly aromatic leaves of the lemon myrtle shrub, which taste like lemon, minus the acidity, are also a major botanical player on the Australian gin scene. Fragrant lemon-scented gum grows here too, along with dainty finger limes, with their tangy, pearl-like insides that literally burst with citrus flavour, all of which are being used by various Australian gin producers.
Of all the award-winning flavoured gin in Australia though, green ant gin is the most distinct. While not strictly botanical, this popular bush food has a surprisingly strong taste of lime and coriander and are added before and after distillation to Seven Seasons Green Ant Gin.
Other Indigenous ingredients, boobialla (native juniper,) eucalyptus and lemon myrtle further enhance the native flavour profile. Seven Seasons founder and Larrakia man, Daniel Motlop explains, “I wanted to use the native foods that were plentiful on our land to share and to showcase not only the seasons, but our culture and our stories.”
Mirroring the flavour profile of juniper, native pepper adds its own zing to Australian made gin. One of the world’s rarest peppers, Tasmanian pepperberry is found in Pure Origin Tasmanian Gin. More herby than hot, it has a slight fruity flavour and a hint of eucalyptus in its aroma.
Dorrigo pepperleaf from New South Wales is similar but sharper, with woody cinnamon notes and is found in Archie Rose Signature Gin, along with native blood limes and river mint.
Less piquant spices used by gin breweries include the crushed leaves of rainforest giant, aniseed myrtle which adds a delicate liquorice-like sweetness and smoothness, while cinnamon myrtle creates a warm, subtle earthy spiciness.
A variety of vibrant native fruits give Australian made pink gins their natural blush. The sour sweet notes of Kakadu plum meet sweet-scented strawberry gum in Antipodes Pink Gin, the dark purple Davidson plum – a bush food delicacy – stars in Brookie’s Byron Slow Gin, and tangy bush apple imparts the taste of berries and orange blossom to Seven Seasons Bush Apple Gin. Meanwhile, Lilly Pilly Pink Gin takes its name and flavour from tart summer berries, along with edible pink coastal dune daisies.
The much-loved murraya or orange blossom also makes an appearance in Australian gin, granting delicate floral notes to Garden Grown Gin. The intoxicating scent which hints at orange and frangipani, is extracted using the French perfume technique of “enfleurage”.
“Basically, if you imagine that sweet balmy scent of summer – that’s what we have tried to put in our bottle,” explains Grown Spirits co-founder, Will Miles.
Whatever flavour profile you prefer, no doubt that some of the best gin in Australia celebrates native ingredients in new and exciting ways.