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The Melbourne Gin Company

Name

Andrew Marks

Idea

To create the Melbourne Gin Company

It was the name - Melbourne Gin Company (MGC) - that came to Andrew Marks first, igniting a journey to alchemy in which he sought to create a gin worthy of the title. A winemaker by trade, Andrew applied those skills to his experimentation with flavours, distilling a variety of seasonal botanicals and taking time to perfect their blend and balance. Not one to talk about an idea before it has borne its fruit, he quietly played with the recipe for over a year - the result is a high quality, complex gin that surprises even the most well-versed palate.

Andrew distils the botanicals at his parents’ vineyard in Gembrook in the southern Yarra Valley using a large copper still from Portugal. As we spoke, Andrew was in the process of distilling grapefruit peel from a tree on the property that he had pointed out to us over lunch.

Watching him work, it was fascinating to see his attention to detail and his involvement in all stages of the process, from hand selecting and refining the botanicals to bottling the final product and delivering it to his suppliers Andrew is a man committed to the perfection of his craft.

So the name came first, where did you get the idea for that from?

I was walking down Gertrude Street when the name came to me! I was really just having a bit of fun and playing with the wording and decided that I would see how I could go at making gin! But once I had the idea, I didn’t want to share it with anyone until I was happy with what I had created.

I told a few people what I was up to of course, like Gertrude St Enoteca. They have always been very supportive of my wine label – The Wanderer – and were actually the first people to stock the MGC.

But other than that, nobody really knew?

No. I thought it was more impressive to have a final product when I told people about the MGC – as opposed to telling everyone about my idea and then having nothing to show for it. I guess that’s my approach when I am ‘creating stuff’.

I think it’s a good approach because you gave yourself time to really perfect the product.

It was good fun taking the time to create it properly - there wasn’t a Melbourne Gin Company before this, and I wanted to make sure that I got it right!

The flipside is that I could have had a business plan and then made a product, but I’ve got high production values and I was able to stay true to that by keeping it a secret.

Are we allowed to know the botanicals that you use in your gin? You can keep some secret if you’d like.

No I’m happy to share - ut’s the way that the botanicals are blended that matters. Being a winemaker, and so someone who is used to blending flavours, it kind of made sense to me to distil all of the eleven botanicals individually. I use juniper berries and coriander seed, and also angelica root, orris root and sandalwood. Interestingly enough, in perfume making, those last two are known as fixatives – and they preserve the scent.

Do those two have a similar function in gin?

Well I don’t know to be honest. I guess that is what I was thinking when I was playing around with the recipe initially. In any event, they provide a really interesting earthy flavour to the blend. I thought that I would definitely use lemons and limes but I didn’t like the way they tasted when I was experimenting, so instead I use organic navel oranges from The Queen Victoria Markets, and also grapefruit peel.

I also use honey lemon myrtle from Western Australia – it’s beautiful. Macadamia nuts are really oily so they provide a great texture and cassia bark provides sweetness - it’s like cinnamon in that it provides lift and depth of flavour. Finally, the rosemary is from up at the vegetable patch here at Gembrook and it provides a lovely aromatic flavour. There isn’t a rule book on how to make gin, so experimenting with the different possibilities has been the fun part for me.

What else did you try that, like the lemon and orange just didn’t fit?

I tried lots of things! It really came down to blending the different distillates and seeing what worked. For example, I found that star anise was such a strong flavour that even if you used just a drop it was too overwhelming. I used the same philosophy in blending gin as when I blend wine in that I want flavour, balance, and texture.

How do you blend each distillate?

Each distillate is pared back with Gembrook rainwater, and then I measure each batch by hand and blend it by weight, to a gram. It is quite complex and mathematical to make sure that it comes out at 42% alcohol.

Given the level of detail involved, what challenges would you face in order to keep consistency if the brand was to grow?

The grapefruit and orange peel are problematic, as the quality varies - I have picked grapefruit when it was too early and it had a peppery flavour but you learn along the way. There will always be a little bit of variation between each batch and I am completely comfortable with that as it is a batch made product, but it’s important to me to maintain the high standards of quality of the product.

The high quality is also reflected in the branding too - the bottles are great.

Thanks. It took me over a year to find the right bottle and I couldn’t really do the label until I had that. Each bottle is hand labelled - I do everything myself as far as distilling, bottling and packaging. You get a great sense of achievement when you have a finished product in your hands. It’s all come together.

Interviewed by
Alice Bradshaw

Photography by
Sebastian Avila