We're currently in a boomtime for Australian spirits, with more interest than ever in local distiller's offerings. But is it really a limitless future for Aussie drinks in restaurants and bars?
Sommelier and columnist for the Guardian, Gourmet Traveller & Concrete Playground Samantha Payne talks to some people across the on-premise space for insights, digging deep into bar manager and sommelier's spirits shelves.
It has been a time of rapid growth for the Australian spirits industry with significant market saturation in recent times - if the wide range of Australian spirits lining your favourite bars, restaurant lists and bottle shop shelves are anything to go by. This growth and saturation on the scene are a by-product of the innovation and ingenuity that often permeates the Australian drinks scene.
Rapid growth in the spirits world and the need for a diverse offering alongside community engagement are trends that Jack Turner, Void Bar Manager at MONA, has seen significantly down in the Tasmanian gin scene.
'I think during COVID, I saw the importance of community engagement and a diverse portfolio’ he said.
'I see more and more producers focusing on seasonality, localism and community engagement, which is definitely going to lead a lot of spirit producers down some unique pathways.'
We're seeing exponential imagination from smaller and artisan Australian distilleries. Over the last twelve years, more and more distilleries are carefully selecting and working with ingredients suited to the Australian climate and then incorporating these uniquely Aussie flavours into the spirit production.
The versatility of flavours from these native ingredients appeals to Kyle Poole, Group Sommelier for the Liquid & Larder Group (The Gidley, Wild Rover, Bistecca) in Sydney.
'Four Pillars is a staple of mine at both work and home. The Sherry/Chardonnay cask that Four Pillars does a great sipping after work beverage at home, while Adelaide Hills Distillers 'Green Ant' Gin is a great choice for a martini or gin and tonic.'
Ever the martini lover, Poole adds, 'The Never Never guys with their 'Oyster Shell' Gin - that makes a banging martini!'
We can't talk about native Australian ingredients and not touch on the importance of sustainability and acknowledgement of First Nations knowledge keepers.
Kathleen Davies, a spirit educator and founder of Nip of Courage, explains:
'Many companies are now working with First Nations peoples to sustainably and ethically source these native ingredients used in the distillation.'
A beautiful example of this is the Seven Seasons Distillery in Larrakia Country (Darwin and surrounds), founded by indigenous AFL hero Daniel Motlop.
Innovation isn't just limited to what goes into crafting the spirits with uniquely Australian flavours, but also innovation in the hands of the talented bartenders who wield them— those who act as conduits between the distillers and the thirsty consumers.
Turner touches on this:
'The Void Bar at Mona and me personally are huge advocates for Australian spirits. With more and more education provided to prospective distillers, the quality of Australian spirits has never been higher.'
'It ties in so closely with where hospitality is moving, looking to shorten supply chains and engage more with local businesses and community. Australian spirits are delicious and unique; with access to products and bases that the rest of the world does get to, the bar community is in a unique situation to pour some world-class and one of a kind products.'
There is also a case for pausing and not rushing out to buy every new gin or whisky that announces itself on Instagram.
Alex Gondzioulis, Group Bars Manager for Liquid & Larder Group, explains:
'Like with any rapidly expanding spirits scene, there's always going to be some products that aren't worth it or aren't worth it the hype. While I'm not going to name names, I'd avoid anything overly gimmicky (like colour-changing spirits). Similarly, there are many products out there that have been rushed to market or have celebrity endorsement, which is no indication of quality either.'
So what does the limitless future hold for these handcrafted and uniquely Australian spirits?
Poole hopes to see innovation in more untapped spirit areas:
'Hopefully, more people like Gospel invest into Rye/Bourbon as that's an exciting route to go down.'
For Turner, it's a hark to grandma's drink and the drink of fancy English aristocrats:
'If I was going to make one crystal ball statement, it would be that brandy is on the comeback in a big way. Whether its apple brandy or any other myriad of fruits that makes it to bottle, I'm a big fan of what I'm seeing already.'
Gondzioulis is ready to shake things up in the Australian Spirits scene and maybe look to what producers are creating overseas for inspiration (whilst remaining uniquely Australian).
'I really hope the next five years bring out more experimental and genre-pushing products to the fore. These are always a challenge to market and sell to the average consumer, which is why we don't see a lot of them right now.'
'I'd love to see people take influence from both Australian and overseas brands/people like Dave Verheul (Saison Vermouth), Empirical Spirits, Applewood/Unico Zelo and the Saint Felix Distillery and put out spirits that are flavour-first and aren't beholden by spirit categories.'
After the past couple of years, I think it's time to cheers to a delicious future – with an Aussie spirit in your glass!