Ask The Experts: Paul Talks Gin
Our Distiller Paul Messenger was interviewed in last month’s edition of Australian Bartender about the art of gin-making.
Can you describe the kind of still you use to produce your gin?
Gin is hugely popular in Spain so it made sense to contact our friend Armindo in Pontevedra, who has been making copper stills for 45 years. We needed a versatile still that could be set up for either rum or gin production so we chose a 1,000 litre hand-beaten pot still with a column and an expansion chamber above the pot, which we designed with Armindo. Since installing the still we’ve made a number of other modifications including designing and fabricating a dephlegamator for the top of the column, which allows us to control the amount of reflux.
Could you briefly describe the distillation process you employ?
We start by filling the still with neutral wheat grain spirit and add water harvested from the hills of the Gondwana rainforest in the Northern Rivers, which we run through a reverse osmosis membrane. The distillation takes 11 hours and the temperature and steam pressure must be carefully controlled throughout the process.
The most critical time is around the head and tail cuts and this is one of the areas where craft distilling departs significantly from commercial distilleries. Large commercial stills typically use a padlocked glass spirit safe and the distiller is unable to directly smell or taste the spirit flowing from the still. We closely monitor the temperatures and spirit strength but our final cuts are based on our most powerful instrument, the distillers taste and olfactory senses. We’ve got an old school copper tube and spout, known as the “parrot beak” fitted to the base of the condenser. The cuts are made based on the smell and taste the spirit flowing over the parrot beak.
What are the core botanicals used in your gin?
Organic Hungarian Juniper berries are the largest botanicial component and form the basis of Ink Gin but Ink’s defining character comes from the second tier group of botanicals led by locally grown lemon myrtle leaf, coriander seed, Tasmanian pepperberry and freshly peeled sundried sweet orange peel. Together the major ingredients give Ink Gin its fresh piney, citrus and spicy aroma and flavour. The next group of minor botanicals include elderflower, cinnamon, cardamom, angelica, oris, licorice root, lemon peel and bois bande. Like a pinch of salt, these minor ingredients are critical to the end result adding perfume, body and balance.
The final ingredient is infused after the distillation. The trimmed and carefully prepared flower petals of the butterfly pea give Ink Gin its distinctive colour, a modest obscuration that smooths the taste and a slight astringency that leaves the palate crisp and clean allowing the flavours of the major botanicals a long fresh finish.
How do you extract the flavour from these botanicals, and why do you use this method?
Each botanical needs to be prepared separately oven dried or sun dried, peeled, shredded, crushed, ground or broken. We then combine them into three large muslin bags and steep them in the charged still over night.
Although the expansion chamber can be used as a carter head we find our best results come from leaving muslin bags suspended inside the pot during distillation. The pot is fitted with a steam coil and we run an Australian made steam boiler delivering low-pressure steam at 150 kPa to give a very gentle low temperature heat.
What’s your favourite way to mix your gin in a drink?
Ink Gin in a wine glass on a large ice cube, but mixed I would have to say the Martinez is my favourite.