Gin is cool again and it's fueling a boom for Australian distillers

Anthony Colangelo
Matt Argus and Dave Irwin, co-owners of Brunswick's Patient Wolf Distilling Co.
Matt Argus and Dave Irwin, co-owners of Brunswick's Patient Wolf Distilling Co. Photo: Joe Armao

To say gin's popularity is booming in Australia might be an understatement. 

Patient Wolf Distilling company in Brunswick has sold so much gin in its two-and-a-half-year history that it is two months away from moving into a new, bigger warehouse-bar space in Southbank. It's also waiting on the arrival of a new gin making-machine, known as a 'still', five times bigger than the one it currently uses. 

In the 1990s and even for a time into the  early 2000s, you could only find one or two types of gin at a bottle-o, a far cry from the generous range of locally made craft varieties available in Australia these days, which also fill liquor cabinets at top restaurants and trendy, inner-city speakeasy bars. 

Patient Wolf  have become one of Australia's most renowned independent gin distillers.
Patient Wolf have become one of Australia's most renowned independent gin distillers. Photo: Joe Armao

The latest data from the 2018 International Wine and Spirit Report shows Australia's gin consumption grew by almost 33 per cent from 2017 to 2018 and more than 15 per cent from 2013 to 2018. A lot of that rise is down to the ubiquity and quality of Australia's craft gin. It dwarfs growth among other types of alcohol. 

The gin craze has now morphed into quirky mutant gins. Archie Rose distillery, for example, makes a "Vegemite and buttered toast" gin, Four Pillars a "Bloody Shiraz" gin and Applewood Distillery a "Desert Lime" gin. 

Patient Wolf co-founders Matt Argus and Dave Irwin quit their corporate jobs to start their gin distillery after they fell in love with craft gin while living in London from 2009 to 2011. They're are the forefront of the boom. 

Patient Wolf's signature gin, the Melbourne Dry.
Patient Wolf's signature gin, the Melbourne Dry. Photo: Supplied

"There's so many different ways you can take a gin," Argus said. "It started off as just a bit of fun. Dave  and I bought a small still and started making gin on our stove top at home and we would take it to dinner parties with mates and use our friends as guinea pigs.

​"It then developed to a business plan, and we built that plan over a couple of years. I also went over to the United States and spent some time with distillers over there and Dave went to Europe and New Zealand.

"We came back ready to roll ... It was a long [six years] preparing to open the distillery. It can be done in a hell of a lot shorter time but we made that decision that if we were going to do this, we are going to do it the right way and eventually launch a world class product." 

Advertisement

Australian Distillers Association president and Four Pillars Gin co-founder Stuart Gregor says gin's popularity in Australia is down to quality and versatility. There are 170 gin distilleries in Australia. 

"Gin can showcase local indigenous botanicals like lemon myrtle, Tassie pepper berry, river mint or wattleseed for example better than any other spirit," Gregor said. "Aussie gins really do taste unique and delicious. Bartenders love gin, it makes great drinks and is versatile and a lot more fun to play with than vodka.

"And Aussie gin is also, I reckon, pound for pound the best in the world.

"The evolution of small bars is moving from capital cities to the regions too and that is great for craft cocktails and thus gin. You can find great cocktail bars in Victorian towns like Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong for example - and many more that simply didn't exist even five years ago." 

Four Pillars expects its gin to soon overtake Scotland's Hendrick's gin as Australia's most popular premium gin. 

Argus agrees: "From your Martini, Negroni to Tom Collins in summer and winter, gin is the main spirit in most of those popular cocktails which is good for us.

"There's an insatiable appetite from consumers to understand what goes on behind the product and gin provides a really unique story because there's so much variety in what's made.

"Sales throughout the whole year are quite consistent. It's so diverse it works across both kinds of cocktails."

Argus, and co-founders of Sydney gin distillery Poor Toms, Griffin Blumer and Jesse Kennedy, agreed that some of the gins available amid the local boom are being made by winemakers or whisky distillers because it is a quicker product to create.  

Poor Toms and Patient Wolf will always focus on gin though, they said, nor would they start experimenting with wacky gin flavours.

"We aren't going to make mutant gins for the sake of novelty or grabbing attention. Or call something a gin that's not a gin," Blumer said. 

"But if an incredible product happens to be flavoured, then that's fine by me."

Argus says: "The good thing is consumers are becoming more aware and are asking more questions. They're in a great position to call out a gimmick".