Bottling The Spirit Of A City

What started as a living room experiment has turned into an international journey for winemaker-cum-gin baron, Andrew Marks.

There is no set recipe for gin. And unlike wine, gin does not generally speak of the place and the time in which it was made. So how then, do you go about creating a gin that embodies an entire city?

It’s the question Andrew Marks asked himself when he first began experimenting with distilling in his Collingwood apartment in 2009. A winemaker by trade (it’s still his day job), which includes a lengthy six-year stint at Penfold’s, Marks had what he thought was “the right set of skills”.

“I’ve taken a winemaking approach to gin,” he says, adding that when he first started distilling, this approach was unique – at least in Australia. It means that rather than distilling all the botanicals at once, Marks distils each one in alcohol separately. Then, like he does when he blends, say, cabernet and sauvignon, he blends the different infusions together until he finds “that sweet spot.” It took him a year to really nail the recipe.

“By distilling them individually, 100mls at a time, I could understand the properties of each botanical. I learned what worked and what didn’t.”

There are 11 botanicals in Marks’ gin: juniper berries, coriander seed, grapefruit peel, navel orange peel, native honey myrtle, orris root, native sandalwood (foraged under license from Aboriginal land), Angelica root, macadamia nuts, rosemary, and cassia bark. He is, as far as he’s aware, the only gin maker to use nuts.

Marks no longer makes his gin in his Collingwood apartment. Once he realised his initial experiments “had legs,” he bought himself a 130-litre copper pot still (nicknamed the Chamber of Secrets), and set himself up properly at Gembrook Hill, the winery that he co-owns and runs with his parents. There, he has the beginnings of a botanical garden – growing his own rosemary, grapefruit, and has just harvested his first batch of juniper berries – plus access to the most important ingredient: local Gembrook water, which gives the gin a unique sweetness.

Melbourne Gin Company profile by Eastland 

While there are flavours here that speak of Australia – this was important when trying to create a Melbourne gin – it’s as much about the associations the gin holds. In a few short years, Marks has sold his gin into Switzerland, Austria, France, New Zealand and Japan (where it even has a Facebook fan page), but says he’s more concerned with his local partnerships. Melbourne Gin Company is now the official gin partner of Arts Centre Melbourne, and he has ties with the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. 

And the name?

 “I was walking home from a night out and ‘Melbourne Gin Company’ just jumped into my head,” he says. “And it’s that same thing… if you build it, they will come. Put a name to your dream, and you’ll make it happen.”

Melbourne Gin Company will be part of the Cellar Door event at Harveast on Sunday 9 April.

Words: Anna Webster