I’ve always thought I hated gin. That sharp reminder of alcohol as it hits the back of the throat, and its reputation as a tear-inducing, mascara-ruining tipple. But could a gin masterclass change my mind? I was keen to find out.
On a dreary Melbourne day, I joined 13 other friends at the cosy Bad Frankie to listen to owner and Australian-spirit enthusiast Sebastian Costello wax lyrical about gin.
Settling in with a 313 Dry gin and tonic spiced with a sprinkling of dry wattle seed, we learn of the spirit’s infamous past, its years in the wilderness as the poor cousin to whiskey and vodka, and its renaissance.
During prohibition in the United States, ethanol was banned but industrious types instead turned to cleaning ethanol which they mixed in the bath with juniper, and other flavours to cut the alcohol. This fusion was coined ‘bathtub gin’ but its future was short lived with the Government cottoning on and adding poison to cleaning ethanol to stop its abuse.
It’s only been in the past few decades that gin has been seen as a top-shelf spirit like whiskey with the introduction of new wave gins like Hendricks playing around with different botanicals and elevating it beyond the Old London gin of juniper and lemon peel.
And a bunch of passionate and proud Australian gin makers are in on the act, keen to see the local versions thrive.
When Seb set up the bar in 2014 there were 23 Australian gins on offer, now there are 82 available featuring both traditional and native ingredients.
We’re given a lesson in the different botanicals used in combinations to flavour the gin. Added to juniper can be anything from aniseed, cardamom, salt bush and angelica root.
We bury our noses into glass jars, pinch the ingredients between our fingers and breathe deeply. Like wine, these are the flavours we will pick up during the tastings.
An Archie Rose gin is first off the rank, its woody aroma sticking on the palette as we swish it around our mouths, swallow and breathe like we have been shown.
The next is sweeter, a Melbourne Gin Company drop that has been made using grapefruit, macadamia and sandalwood, followed by the crowd favourite, Kangaroo Island Spirits O Gin with native coastal daisy (like rosemary) the hero ingredient.
A West Winds has a salty taste, fitting its nautical design, while the Four Pillars blows you away with its high alcohol content, and rich orange, finger lime and aniseed afternotes.
The afternoon has definitely given me a better appreciation of what goes into making a good quality gin and I think it’s a spirit I could definitely get used to – paired with some tonic of course.
See what’s on offer for World Gin Day, Saturday 11 June.