I’m a distiller! Or more accurately, I have a personalised bottle of gin that tastes like I’m a juniper boss. Master Distiller William McHenry combined science and botanicals to teach participants how to distill their own gin. This special event was part of a weekend-long celebration of spirits at the Australian Drinks Festival.
McHenry started off with a quick gin education – London dry is a style, not a place. He also discussed the importance of flavours and aromas. He then laid out a long line of botanicals, including Australian ingredients such as pepperberry and wattle seed. McHenry could sense my desire to pour in every one of these items, and cautioned ‘less is more.’ Fighting the urge to treat my gin like a platter on a buffet line, I narrowed it down to juniper, orange, liquorice root, kaffir lime, and pepperberry (for an Australian twist on the London Dry style).
Interestingly, McHenry started as a whisky distiller with no intention of producing other spirits. Fortunately for us all, the tax office forced him to purchase small scale distilling equipment used by gin makers. So while he waited for the whisky batches to mature, he put that $800 equipment to use and started experimenting. His products now include Classic London Dry, Barrel Aged, Navy Strength, and Sloe Gin (made from sloe berries foraged in Tasmania). We used this same equipment to make our bespoke gin.
We cranked up the heat (alcohol has a lower boiling point than water). As the temperature rose, vapour wisps began to appear, then condense into droplets, and finally slide down a chilled tube into a beaker. It was so rewarding to taste these droplets and detect the personalised citrus and liquorice flavours now married with the base spirit. In the end, I walked away with a bottle of navy strength gin and sense of accomplishment.
Jenny S. is an event adventurer. When she’s not attending live shows, you can find her sampling the latest craft beer or sipping a creative cocktail.
The McHenry Distillery runs gin making workshops with Bespoke Tasmania Tours. You can also follow their other activities around Australia.