It’s a special place. A 4,000-tree macadamia plantation surrounded by sub-tropical native rainforest in Byron Bay’s hinterland. Thirty years ago, it was a denuded dairy farm when Pam and Martin Brook started to grow macadamias and regenerate their part of the ‘Big Scrub’. Over the years, the Brooks have planted 35,000 native trees. Inadvertently they’ve grown a pantry for award-winning gin: Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin to be exact.
This pantry of 18 native botanicals that grow here partners with 8 others to make this outstanding gin.
Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin was recently awarded a gold medal at the ‘Best Contemporary Gin’ category at the San Francisco World Spirit Awards. A dazzling achievement for a brand that was launched last November by Martin and Pam’s son Eddie.
As a former brand manager for SouthTrade, second-generation Eddie Brook knows a thing or two about quality spirits. He also knows the rainforest that was and still is his backyard. When you remove the camphor laurels that are “strangling the soil, give it the right environment and nurture it, it comes back”, he says.
Serendipity stepped in when Eddie was tasked with escorting Bruichladdich’s Jim McEwan – a whisky legend on a tasting tour of Australia. They call Jim the Cask Whisperer; with over 50 years in the whisky business and multi Distiller of the Year awards, HE is the man. And for Eddie, this was a moment not dissimilar to Wayne & Garth meeting their idol. (“We’re not worthy”).
Eddie was a long time fan of Jim’s work and he quickly became a friend.
They spoke of the rainforest and Jim wanted in. His encyclopedic knowledge of distillation techniques and empathy for the environment led him to create Botanist Gin in a single malt whisky distillery on the Isle of Islay. 22 hand foraged local Isle of Islay botanicals complement some more conventional aromatics in his small-batch, artisanal gin.
Tasmanian Peter Bailey – the man who built Aussie whisky legend Bill Larks’ first still was called in. He handcrafted ‘George’ – named after Eddie’s paternal grandfather who was “rather fond of gin”. It is currently Australia’s largest gin still.
200 kilograms of the big hearty aromatics including Juniper and Coriander, finger lime, blood lime and macadamia for butteriness and mouthfeel are first placed in ‘George’. Next, hanging ‘Babylon bags’ of muslin hold the more subtle botanicals: White Aspen, Native raspberries, riberries, Native River Mint, Dorrigo Pepper, Cinnamon myrtle and native ginger for spice to name a few. Non-Indigenous Australia has only discovered this treasure trove of fragrant native plants in the last 30 years. Now it’s people like Eddie who are finding myriad ways to serve up their delicate and delicious flavours.
Although de-ionised water is traditionally used, Brookie’s bring in local pure Mt Warning spring water for the mineral character to blend back into the gin. The gin is bottled at 46% with the macadamia, lilly pilly and other botanical oils giving it ‘legs’.
Unlike traditional gin, Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin is seasonal. Different fruiting times and small growing windows mean availability determines production. An all-Australian take on traditional Sloe gin uses two different varieties of Davidson Plum in the just-released Brookie’s ‘Slow Gin’.
“My nan used to make it with sloe berries…we use what grows in our rainforest”. The Slow Gin begins with steeping Davidson Plums in gin for four months. Then at about 40% alcohol and to bring it back to 26%, pure Mt Warning water is introduced along with sustainable local sugar making it technically a liqueur. Look out for next summer’s hottest cocktail at a bar near you – the ‘Take it Slow’.
Indeed, this is a special place. Walking through the surrounding rainforest with Eddie we learned about these particular native ingredients and this remarkable environment. We also learned what makes a great small-batch gin – respect and a lot of hard work.
To learn more about Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin: