Gin is definitely in. Once shunned as ‘grandma’s tipple’, walk into any bar or bottleshop across the nation these days and you'll find shelves brimming with premium versions of the spirit.
This resurgence has prompted new players into the market, with a new generation of craft distillers emerging across the globe. One of these is Eddie Brook, Co-founder and Distiller at Cape Byron Distillery, producer of new Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin. For Eddie, helping co-found his own distillery was a dream come true – and a chance to come home to macadamia country after years of living away.
Eddie is the son of Australian macadamia producers Martin and Pam Brook, who transformed a run-down dairy farm in the Byron hinterland into a thriving macadamia business. Brookfarm is now one of the stars of the Australian macadamia industry with its range of breakfast cereals, snack bars, snack nuts and oils.
Eddie began helping out in the family business at around eight years of age. After relocating to Brisbane when he finished school, he cut his teeth working in some of Australia’s top cocktail bars, before becoming an ambassador for premium spirit brands.
It was while working in the industry that Eddie met multi-award winning Scottish master distiller Jim McEwan. The pair bonded immediately and Jim was interested to learn about Brookfarm and what the Brooks had achieved with both the macadamia orchard and rainforest restoration. They realised the Brookfarm property, with its rainforest ingredients, would make an ideal location to distil gin - and the seeds of Cape Byron Distillery were sown.
Brookie's Byron Dry Gin marks the first release from Cape Byron Distillery. Launched off the back of a successful crowd-funding campaign, the first batch of Brookie’s was shipped to campaign supporters in January.
The gin is the result of careful thought and experimentation by Eddie and Jim. In total, 26 ingredients are used, with background flavour coming courtesy of juniper, coriander and citrus. 18 Australian rainforest botanicals, such as native raspberries and lilly pilly, many of which are foraged directly from the rainforest on the Brooks’ property, impart a unique, delicate flavour.
Another native ingredient stars in Brookie's Byron Dry Gin, and it's the one that lines the orchards surrounding the distillery: macadamias! Not only are they used by the Cape Byron team to add flavour to the gin – a sweetness, described as a shortbread-like flavour – macadamias are also crucial to the end result.
Using a 2,000-litre copper-pot still that was custom-made by hand in Tasmania, the Cape Byron team invented a unique two-step production process involving boiling and vapour distillation. The ingredients that bring the big flavours are placed in the body of the still, while the more delicate ingredients, including the native botanicals, are placed in muslin bags that hang higher up inside the still.
Macadamias provide the final flourish in the distillation process with macadamia meal coating the top of the still. The oils in the macadamia meal act as the carrier for the other botanical flavours, holding them together and giving the gin its signature sweetness. Local Mt Warning spring water, with its own notable sweetness, brings the blend to bottling strength.
For the Cape Byron team, innovation stretches beyond the distilling process. The business is supporting Big Scrub environmental group, helping it to plant native trees, and every order of Brookie’s first release was accompanied by free native ginger seeds, to raise awareness of rainforest regeneration and encourage people to plant the native rainforest species in their own backyards. As an added bonus, once the plant matures, the native ginger can be used to garnish a home made gin and tonic.
Cape Byron Distillery isn't stopping with its first batch of gin. Distillery tours recently started, with the aim of educating the public about distilling, macadamia farming and rainforest regeneration. There are also plans to release a range of native Australian liqueurs, including a macadamia liqueur, designed for use in cocktails and desserts, as well as a timber aged whiskey, possibly using macadamia timber in the process.
We'll drink to that!
Eddie Brook says his gin is perfect in a classic gin and tonic garnished with a slice of finger lime and aniseed myrtle. Eddie also advises seeking out a premium tonic water. He recommends Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic water, available from good bottleshops.