2 January 2024

With a twist: Sapphire Coast distillery relaunches gin, now with an Aussie-grown ingredient

| Claire Sams
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man and woman in bushland gathering berries

As North of Eden Artisan Distillery relaunches one of its award-winning gins, an Australian-grown product has joined the ingredients list. Photo: David Rogers Photography.

Here’s something you may not know: your favourite Australian distillers rely on imported juniper berries for their gin.

The berry – which is actually a seed cone – is a key ingredient in gin-making, but much of it is imported to Australia.

North of Eden Artisan Distillery owner and head distiller Gavin Hughes said the business was switching to juniper berries grown closer to home – less than 100 km away in Bombala, in the Snowy Monaro region.

“We’ve partnered with Lucy Vincent, who grows juniper, and we’ve contracted her supply for the foreseeable future,” Mr Hughes said.

“There was enough supply to move our first gin across to the locally grown juniper permanently.”

In December, the distillery began the transition with a relaunched Classic Gin made from Australian-grown juniper berries.

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Mr Hughes said the Australian-grown product brought a unique taste to the spirit.

“It lifts the piney flavours that you get from the juniper, and makes them brighter and cleaner,” he said.

“The juniper grown in Australia is also a much fresher product.”

Mr Hughes said juniper thrived in places such as Macedonia, Italy and Bulgaria, in conditions that weren’t common on the hotter and drier Australian continent.

“Growing juniper in Australia is a bit of a problem,” he said.

“To grow the world’s best juniper you need altitude, you need extreme heat, but you also need extreme cold, snow even.

“But of course, the Snowy Monaro region ticks those three boxes and is an ideal area to establish a juniper plantation.”

Mr Hughes said adopting the Australian-grown berries wasn’t an overnight switch, but one that came with its own challenges.

“It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but it’s been fun,” he said.

“If I was trying to do this because I was trying to save money, I made a really bad decision!”

Part of the transition process involved building purpose-built dehydrators to reduce the water content in the berries so they can be stored.

“From a distillation point of view, nothing has changed, but we used to buy the juniper in and put it into our stills,” Mr Hughes said.

“Now we buy the juniper, then dry and sort it ourselves, so it can become self-stable.”

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Mr Hughes said that while North of Eden had currently only relaunched its Classic Gin, there were plans to use the locally grown juniper in the rest of the distillery’s products.

“There have been two other Australian-grown juniper releases in Australia, but they’ve only ever been small batches,” he said.

“This is the first real commercial use of Australian-grown juniper, and we’re hoping it is going to be ongoing.

“Within 12 to 18 months, we should have moved all our products across to the locally grown juniper, which I’m super excited about.”

Mr Hughes said he hoped the Snowy Mountains region could be the site of something new.

“I do see this as the beginning of a new industry where we can grow juniper in Australia,” he said.

“One of the other things that we’re also thinking about is organising tours where people can visit the juniper trees and also come to the distillery to learn about what we do and how we do it.”

North of Eden Artisan Distillery is at 13594 Princes Highway, Stony Creek. Keep up with them via their website and Facebook page.

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