For us southern hemisphere dwellers Spring is here and Summer is threatening just around the corner. As soon as the weather warms my thoughts go to lazy BBQs and outdoor dining, and something cool and refreshing in my hand.
When I saw the promotion for a local ‘Gintelligence’ class, I thought that this was definitely something I needed to learn more about. Who knew that getting educated could be so much fun?
With a fellow gin-lover by my side, we rolled up our sleeves and poured ourselves into the history of gin.
Baker Williams is Mudgee’s only dedicated distillery. While our region is well-known for the quality of our wines, the distillery adds some much needed variety and a completely different and fresh taste sensation. This cellar-door-with-a-difference must come as a welcome relief to the non-wine drinkers who are continually landed with the ‘designated driver’ role as their friends and family sample the many wineries throughout the valley.
To say Baker Williams Distillery is small is an understatement and even the owners describe it as a micro-business. However, what they manage to generate out of their tiny distillery has to be seen (and tasted) to be believed. They do have aspirations to grow outside their compact premises, but at the moment they are so busy distilling, bottling and selling their quality tipples that they just haven’t had the time to get down to some serious planning.
So, back to the class…
We arrived at the distillery on a cool Friday afternoon during Mudgee’s annual wine and food festival, to be greeted by Nathan and a table set for some serious tasting. We were a small group of five – a couple from the Blue Mountains and us interested locals – which was perfect for creating an informal and friendly atmosphere.
With such a small audience Nathan was happy to answer our many questions and we quickly absorbed his passion for the product. What I particularly enjoyed was learning about the history of gin. Apparently it dates back to 17th century Netherlands and is thought to be the origins of the saying ‘Dutch courage’ as gin was given to soldiers before going into battle. Also, ‘Navy’ gin got its name from the navy demanding that any gin supplied to them must be at least 57% alcohol and to prove the alcohol level they would douse their gunpowder with the spirit. If the gunpowder still caught alight, even soaked in alcohol, then it was suitably powerful. Hence the terms we hear today of ‘underproof’ or ‘overproof’ spirits.
Urban myths? Perhaps, but they are still fabulous stories.
Equally enjoyable was understanding Nathan and Helen’s business journey as they researched, with much taste testing, the gin distilling process not only in Australia, but in the USA as well. Gin seems to be the beverage in Australia at the moment with over 200 boutique distilleries plying their trade. That’s pretty stiff competition for a small business.
In front of us on the table was selection of clear glass tumblers and small fluted glasses. These contained the aromatic botanicals in their raw form and then the next step in the process, the distilled liquid. The botanicals included a combination of:
- Juniper and Coriander
- Cumquat and Orange
- And a colourful spice mixture which included angelica, cassia, cinnamon myrtle, cardamom, and pepperberry.
Apparently to be considered ‘gin’ the liquor must contain juniper. Nathan and Helen source as much of their botanicals as possible from the local area to keep their food miles down and to ensure quality local provenance. Nice one.
The education continued as we hopped off our stools and took the four steps (I did mention it was a small venue) into the distillery itself. It was hard to picture such a small copper still generating so much gin goodness. Maybe a case of ‘the little still that could’. Nathan explained their early trials, and a few tribulations, as they learned the process and idiosyncrasies of the still to produce their range of gin, Butterscotch schnapps, whisky and rum. They also produce an orancello which I am really looking forward to when Summer arrives in earnest.
Back to the bench, it was time to taste. We were encouraged to first smell the botanicals and distillations to understand the layers of flavours. These are then blended to come up with the two gins:
- XLCR, and
- XLCR Navy.
After all that thinking, learning and questioning it was time to taste the XLCR and it was simply delicious. Fresh, tasty and armed with all my new gin knowledge, I could actually detect the different botanical notes. The Navy was a little strong for my liking, just a tad overpowering and Nathan suggested it can be an excellent base for cocktails as well as a standalone drink. I can see how the blend of other liquors could tone it down nicely.
As is my want, I had a million questions about the ‘best’ way to drink gin. Of course everyone has their own preferences and I was interested to learn that quality gin can be drunk straight, just off room temperature or over ice. For more flavour, add lime, mint or cucumber. Nathan did recommend upgrading your choice of soda or tonic water to the best quality you can find to round out the whole gin experience.
The Baker Williams team must be doing something right as the product is flying off the shelves AND they are winning awards. At the most recent Australian Distilled Spirits Awards, they walked away with a Bronze for the Navy XLCR gin and a Silver for their barrel-aged gin. Pretty amazing when you consider they are competing against distillers more than 25 times their size.
With a sip and snack, the Gintelligence class was over and we all graduated with straight A’s. We came, we learned, we tasted and drove away (safely) much richer for the experience.
I am set for Summer!
What is your favourite Summer tipple?
What: A 90-minute intensive introduction to the world of gin with a few other liquors thrown in for good measure. Tickets cost $50pp and included gin education, a tasty grazing platter to clear the palate and a $10 discount voucher off any bottles purchased on the night (a special discount just for Wine Festival). It also included quite a few laughs and a few ‘ah ha’ moments.
Where: The distillery is located at 194 Henry Lawson Drive, Mudgee (behind Vinifera Wines).
When: Baker Williams is open seven days from 11am-4pm. Classes are run during Wine Festival or on demand.
Why: For something completely different to Mudgee’s usual wine fare and for another fabulous opportunity to explore my own backyard.
How: The Distillery is located about 4 km to the north-east of Mudgee town. Grab yourself a designated driver or a taxi.
Who: This class would appeal to anyone who loves gin, boutique beverages or has the hankering to bring their own crazy business idea to life. Plenty of inspiration here. You must be over 18 years of age to taste and buy.
Related Posts: Celebrate more Mudgee goodness during Wine Festival at the Flavours of Mudgee event. Head to the main street with 9000 of your nearest and dearest friends and taste the night away. Check it out here.
Related Blogs: If you are interested in another fascinating learning and tasting experience in the Mudgee region, check out Lowe Wine. Their guided wine tasting includes ‘wine flights’ where you learn about their whole suite of wines and how they relate to each other.
#gintelligence #bakerwilliams #mudgeeregion #visitmudgeeregion #sipandswirl