It is no secret that I love gin. I like to think that I loved gin way before it became fashionable to love gin. Gin was always my go-to drink; G&T. #yesplease
I am not sure what it is about gin that I love so much, but I suspect that it has something to do with its divine aroma, rather than the flavour. Faced with a new gin, I spend a large amount of time pondering over its scent and trying to determine what fragrances and flavours have come into play.
Gin is essentially flavoured vodka, its predominant flavour profile being that of the juniper berry (not actually a berry). This is also the determining factor of whether or not a gin is actually a gin.
There are other ingredients that come into play; coriander, angelica root, dill, orange, pepper, cassia and any number of combination and compilation of botanicals; but always juniper berries.
As I have mentioned many times in previous posts, I have often daydreamed about becoming a master distiller… well, actually, in the past I always daydreamed about becoming a moonshiner, but I recently decided to step up a bit and now I daydream about becoming a master distiller… of gin.
Australia has seen a recent surge in popularity of gin, but even more so, it has seen a surge in Australian boutique gin distillers, and the Australian industry most certainly has my attention. If there is a gin distillery on the map close to where I am visiting, I am most definitely going to drop by for a visit.
And so came about my recent visit to Bass & Flinders Distillery, on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula.
I was already acquainted with Bass & Flinders’ spirits, with their beautifully hued limited edition Cerise, a very pretty gin with rosella, raspberries and cherries as its prime botanicals, already amongst my gin collection.
Planning a quick visit on a recent trip to the Peninsula, I discovered that Bass & Flinders also run a 2 hour Gin Masterclass… and well, it just so happened that I had 2 hours to spare…
Bass and Flinders are located in Red Hill, which is not really assessable by public transport… so plan ahead. And if you really want to enjoy the experience, I would suggest a designated driver – it is hard to master a class if you need to keep an eye on your intake.
And so the class begins.
Bass & Flinders was initially a journey of discovery and passion project for friends, Wayne Klintworth and Bob Laing. The plan was to make a French aperitif, Pineau des Charentes, which is a fortified wine made with grape juice to which a Cognac eau de vie is added and then matured… sounds a bit special 🙂
As it happens, waiting 5 years for the Pineau des Charentes to mature is a bit of a boring process, so with more than a little time on their hands, and in the quest for something a little more instantaneous, the magical process of creating gins was born.
Holly Klintworth, Wayne’s daughter, entered the picture after the sudden passing of Bob in 2014 to continue the legacy, and add her own magical touch.
Holly was no stranger to the industry, having spent many years abroad, working in the wine industry. Holly adds a beautiful peaceful presence to the equation, magnified by her own passion and desire to continue expanding the Bass & Flinders dynasty sustainably and ethically.
The Bass & Flinders’ point of difference is that the gin’s base spirit is made out of the grapes that are grown in the region.
And we are talking enough grapes to produce 20,000 litres. All of which is put through the distillery’s 300lt pot still. As you would expect, this takes a bit of time – 6 weeks to be exact, working around the clock. As soon as the still is emptied, it is filled again. Seasons wait for no one, so when the harvest is done and the process begins, the still does not stop until the last drop is distilled and the base spirit created.
But that is not where it stops. Gins are special. It is all about the botanicals. While this is probably true of all spirits, I think with gins, this is even more pronounced. I know from my own personal foray into the world of gin, botanicals can be vast and varied, and that is what makes this spirit such a magical substance to explore.
The Masterclass is quite fun. Faced with a number of shot glasses filled with infusions of the various botanicals, you are led through the flavour profiles and what their role in the concoction you are about to create is. Front of tongue, back of tongue – I didn’t know there was a difference before, but I do now.
Bitter, sweet, spicy, sour, tangy. It was interesting trying to identify the flavours that I was responding to and why. And then came the experimentation.
Equipped with a syringe, we began the process of developing our own set of gin botanicals. There was a lot of tasting, and then tasting again… drop by drop, and then with a splash of tonic.
I discovered I had a bit of a predisposition for the citrus flavours, which included lemon myrtle, that I was particularly fond of, but then spent a bit of time balancing the flavours (or trying to). Don’t ask me what I mean by that or what I ended up doing. I felt I was a bit hit and miss, and was trying desperately to not end up totally alcoholically impaired. However in the end, I felt I had achieved something that tasted pretty good and retired the syringe.
The most difficult part of the day was at the end of this process when I actually had to think for a moment to work out my final formula. This was given to our blenders so that they could whip up a bottle of our own personal formula to take home.
And then we got to have some more fun and taste all of the Bass & Flinders range of gins.
So my favourite is probably the Gin 10 (10 for 10 botanicals – the most dominant flavours being orange, pepperberry and cardamom).
However, I bought a bottle of the one that I was most fascinated with; Angry Ant.
Through a partnership with Wooleen Station, an ex-sheep station in WA, Bass & Flinders has created what is probably one of the most unique gins yet. Using native botanicals from the property such as Mulla Mulla, Purple Vetch and Native Sandalwood, its uniqueness is in the addition of the most unusual of ingredients… ants… angry ones.
I always thought I had drawn the line at eating insects… but technically I am drinking them, so all good 😉
I remember first hearing about this a few months back and ‘whatever’ kind of bounced through my mind. But upon quizzing Holly on how the whole ant thing came about, I can’t help be intrigued and quite interested in the whole science, and pooh-pooh if you like, but I think it is all kinda cool.
Apparently through making the ants ‘angry’, they release a pheromone, the flavour of which is ‘harnessed’ in the distilling process to produce this gin. Working with Professor Mark Elgar, there is a little more science involved in the whole procedure, but if nothing else, it makes for great conversation over a glass of gin!
The Gin Masterclass is not going to teach you all about distilling – you need more than 2 hours for that. But what it will do, is give you a bit of an insight to Bass & Flinders, and the wonderful vision behind what they are doing, the lovely individuals behind the scenes, and an expanded test taste of their own wonderful gins. It is a lot of fun, AND you get to take home your own bottle of personalised gin. I named mine Gertrud #1… I am sure, as a non-drinker, my mum would have thoroughly approved!
I look forward to getting home, breaking it opened, and seeing how it actually measures up to my current favourites. (Note: it wasn’t bad – room for improvement, but still makes a great G&T).
Bass & Flinders Distillery runs a number of Gin Masterclasses through out the year. They book out quickly, so book well in advance if you are making a special visit to the region. Or just drop in and try our some of their gins at the cellar door.
Visit their website for details…
This story was written by Petra Hughes – Pebbles + Pomegranate Seeds
Photographs by Petra Hughes – © Copyright 2018 – All rights reserved.
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