Clyde Morton was never a big gin drinker. He loved, like many of us, a G&T on a balmy afternoon down the coast but that was about it.
The distilling industry piqued his interest after several holidays to Hobart.
"I thought, 'This reminds me of the wine industry 20, 25 years ago'. I saw a little bit of opportunity, did some projections about where it might be in 10 to 15 years and can I be part of it," he said.
With a background in physics and chemistry and 10 years in the wine industry - he was assistant winemaker at Clonakilla for a while - Morton was in a good position to jump into distilling.
"The science helped me with the technical side of it, the actual distillation, and the wine making helped me with flavours and textures, the sensory side of it if you like."
He established Big River Distillery in 2018, quickly realising it was a different process to wine making.
"When I first started out, somewhat naively maybe, I thought I'd have a gin in two weeks. With wine, the flavour is already there in the grapes but with gin you're starting from scratch. You've got an alcohol base and all the flavors are added by deliberate decision. It's a much more creative process. That's why it took 10 months to get the first gin up because it was a lot of back and forth."
Big River Distillery now makes a Canberra Dry Gin, a Cinn Gin, a Three Grains Pepperleaf Vodka and a Fig Gin Liqueur Muscat.
The Dry Gin recently won a gold medal at China's Wine and Spirits Best Value Awards up against 85 international competitors. The Cinn Gin is like Christmas in a bottle, with touches of apple and cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and star anise. The liqueur drinks like a smooth muscat, with none of that palate kick-back, made like an English sloe gin using the Cinn Gin as the base before it's steeped with plump, ripe figs for several months. He sourced the figs from Hundred Acre Produce out near Hall and likes to use local botanicals if he can find them.
It's obvious Morton enjoys the experimentation side of it. The production area of the distillery is like a laboratory. Alongside the stainless steel pots, there are jars full of botanicals and testing bottles with different labels, scales and equipment.
"I always come across interesting things and wonder if they would work in gin. A few years ago I experimented with truffles during the Canberra truffle season. They have a very strong aroma as you know, they divide people. So I made a truffle vodka. And I couldn't believe how much extraction you got in a very short amount of time. It was a very intense drink. I only made a small batch and just put it on the distillery door and it split people 50-50, those in the smelly socks camp and those who thought it was OK. That one went back to the drawing board."
Big River Distillery has a great tasting room, where Morton himself will walk you through the different varieties available and perhaps let you poke your head into production. He has plans to improve the space, adding in a full bar and more seating. Gin wise he wants to up production and get into new markets both in Australia and overseas.
He says the China gold medal might help there.
"Gin exporting is still very much in its infancy, we'd love to get into Asia. For Big River we'd probably look for a very targeted market, like get into a hotel or something. We don't need to take over the world but creating a little outpost would be good.
"If you look at what the Australian wine industry has done, there's this perception of clean, well-made, high-quality products. I think gin can head the same way."
Spin on gin
And speaking of gin ... cricketing legend and now distiller Shane Warne has added a product to his SevenZeroEight range. (708 being the number of Test wickets he took over his illustrious career.) The new 23 Mid-Strength Gin and Slim Tonic pre-mix is made from premium ingredients with citrus, cinchona root and spice botanicals
"My friends and I love the 23 cans," Warne says. "I always keep my fridge stocked so we can grab a few while watching the footy."
It's unknown whether the gin goes well with baked beans.