Today I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Turns out my very, very good friend Helen had decided to take me along as her guest on Bespoke Tasmania’s Gin Workshop tour at McHenry Distillery. In a nutshell, I can’t recommend this workshop more highly, because I love Tasmania and I love gin.
I’m going to run you through the whole adventure, because it was one of the best days of my life and I want to remember it well. The day began with a 9:15am pickup, and I piled into the back seat of Kim Dudson’s car for the drive from Hobart down to Port Arthur. This was really where the whole treat began, because while I love road trips down to the Tasman peninsula, I’m usually the driver. Being able to gaze out the windows while I drank my coffee was wonderful, because the views are spectacular no matter what the season or the weather. We had gloomy clouds and smatterings of rain on the morning trip out and I was spellbound.
Once the beautiful 1.5 hour drive was complete, we pulled up at Bill McHenry’s place and piled out of the car to begin our day in the bond store, next to the row of ten barrels of aging gin. We chatted about gin while drinking coffee, but once coffee was done we assumed tasting gin would be acceptable. It was twelve o’clock somewhere.
We tried the full range of McHenrys gins—everything they currently produce and sell (a classic dry gin, a barrel aged gin, a navy strength, and a sloe gin) and also some other things Bill has been playing around with. No spoilers. We also compared them to some other types and brands of gin. It was a real lesson in botanicals and distillation, as well as the definition and history of gin—wasting no time!
Next, check out this bad boy.
Yeah, cop a load of that still. We’re going steady now. The tour naturally progressed into the distillery, where we met Bill 2 (not confusing at all) and discussed the still itself, the distillation process through the still, and the current batch of sloe gin doing its thing over in the corner. Then I got to stir said batch of sloe gin with an enormous sloe-stained paddle and I won’t lie, that was one of the highlights of my day. What a nerd.
The talking segment was done and dusted here, and we progressed up to the top of the property for a quick viewing of one of the natural springs on site (click here to see it in action) before settling down next to Bill’s bothy for lunch with delicious, local, seasonal picnic fare, flavour matched to gin. Of course, a number of G&Ts were also involved, to pair with things like duck pate, quail, beetroot and juniper relish, beautiful fresh bread, sharp wasabi cheddar, smoked salmon, camembert… you get the idea. Bloomin’ luxury.
Once we were done with stuffing our faces (over even more gin-based conversations), it was back down the mountain to get to business distilling our own bespoke gins. I won’t lie, I was mildly terrified. We had a large selection of botanicals to pick through, but were advised to stick to around three to four choices—the fewer the ingredients, the fewer the chances to ruin everything, right? Except my pal Helen had brought along a curve ball in the form of dried quandong berries. They smelled citrusy and we both wanted to experiment with them, which meant that if they failed, we’d have two dud blends.
We went ahead anyway.
My four botanicals were juniper berries, coriander seeds, dried orange peel and dried quandong. Helen’s were juniper berries, pepperberries and quandong. I used a little more juniper and we used around the same amount of quandong.
Then it was time for SCIENCE.
We sat, glued to our chairs, watching our mixtures reach a boil and then making sure to keep them at a rolling boil for the next half an hour as our gin distilled through and dripped out into our glasses. We did have to stop ourselves more than once from absently picking up the glasses of clear water, because accidentally throwing back some 80-proof distillate thinking it was water could have been disastrous. We both survived.
And both got a lovely bottle of our very own distilled gin.
Our two blends ended up very different, but both very nice. Mine was overly citrusy and Helen’s was delightfully junipery. We’re going to experiment a bit and put our two blends together to see if that creates something even more magical, the sum being better than the parts etc etc…
But by the end of the workshop, we were both absolutely knackered, and very grateful to Kim for understanding the necessity of post-workshop car naps on the way back to Hobart.
What an incredible day. And because you’ve reached this point in reading, I’ll share this link with you, which is the ABC National piece that Helen did on the craft gin movement in Australia. I get to do a bit of talking and this talking also happened at my most lunch-sozzled, so it was probably my best talking ever.
And this is my best photo ever.