Journeys into the food-rich wilderness
Destination: Melbourne Gin Company, Gembrook VIC
In a nutshell: A second generation, family-owned vineyard producing an amazing variety of goodies.
Custodian: Andrew Marks (Owner of MGC and Gin Maker)
Field Trip Leader: Jessie Alice for Leftover Lovers
[IMAGE: Andrew Marks (left), chief gin maker at Melbourne Gin Company tours Jessie through his Gembrook farm].
Hi Andrew! Where have you been this morning?
This morning I actually went to the [Queen] Vic[toria] Market and purchased some macadamia nuts for distilling in the production of gin. That’s right: we’re distilling macadamia nuts today! These are raw nuts that’ll be turned into a meal. They blend really quickly so we use a gentle extraction to avoid them being turned into an oil. With macadamias, there’s not a huge amount of waste and one distillation will contribute to quite a few blends of gin.
What flavours do you seek in your wines and gins?
I’m not a massive fan of having ‘big’ flavours in our products. Regardless, we have some favourites. Orris is the root of the Florentine iris flower and it comes to us from Morocco in the form of a dried up powder. They dig it out of the roots, dry it in the sun, then pulverise it to a dust. It’s used in perfume making as a fixative agent, and I kind of like that idea because it means my distilations are essentially designed for perfume making!
My other favourite is sandalwood. It’s so earthy. When you smell gin with sandalwood in it, the scent is quite faint; the sandalwood is there, of course, but you have to “look” for it. I’ve made the gin without this in there and it just doesn’t taste the same. We use a native sandalwood that comes from Western Australia. Some people gasp at that. Many don’t know that sandalwood was a massive export industry for the Western Australian government.
Then there’s the orange and grapefruit. We use the orange peel and the rest of the fruit we turn into juice and drink it on the farm. With the grapefruit, we peel it and I turn the juice into a sugar syrup that we use in cocktails. We’re also the only distillery that I know of that uses honey myrtle. It’s Indigenous to the Western Australian coast line.
To be honest, it’s the combination of all of the ingredients that makes the gin taste great. Everything has its own little role to play. We put a lot of effort into getting the balance right.
I can’t smell what you’re smelling. You have a very fine nose!
I have a very big nose. I’m in the business of smelling stuff!
How do you make gin?
We’re distilling as we speak. There’s a 30-litre copper pot behind us that’s designed for making perfume. Inside, there’s a water jacket around it and that’s providing a constant temperature to what I call “the chamber of secrets” inside. We take what I call a “winemaker approach” to making gin; we take the individually distilled ingredients and build a flavour profile by distilling all year round.
What is your favourite thing to distill?
I love coriander seed because it’s got this mix of ‘dry hay’ smell, and also citrus. It’s quite complex and aromatic. I like the fact that again it’s another crossover with perfume making. I use a body wash from Aesop that has coriander seed in it and I think “how good is this! Can’t complain”.
The worst thing about our waste is that there’s alcohol in there, and that’s creating a bit of carbon. In the grand scheme of things, however, it all evens out. It’s a very low-impact process.
So you’re great at distilling. Do you fancy yourself as a cook?
I do enjoy cooking but I don’t do it as much as I’d like to. Regardless, Tuesday is market day and I really love that. My Dad went to the Queen Victoria Market for fifty years of his life and some of my early memories are of going there with him. He used to go with his Dad too, so we’ve got this long, generational relationship with the market.
My favourite thing to buy is fish. My favourite place to get it from is Prossa’s; the guys in the corner. They’ve got the blue beanies. I love cooking garfish; something simple, easy and delicious.
What’s the best food match for your gin?
I haven’t tried this yet but someone was telling me it’s green olives stuffed with blue cheese. It sounds pretty good. They were American, so they like loud flavours. Like I said: yet to try it.
Tell us about the waste.
Take, for example, two big buckets of coriander seeds collected post-distilling process. It’s like double dunking a tea bag: you can do it, but it doesn’t taste the same. In fact, it completely changes it; you lose freshness and it becomes more tanic. Tannins are the bits in tea that give tea its astringency. That’s not really what we want. I won’t re-distill them, even though they look perfect. There are lots of people, however, who can use them again. We did, for example, give some to a chef. He wanted to use them with salts in his cooking.
There’s always the compost, and boy do we have a great composing system. Animals would be super happy eating most of our waste too. We don’t have any pig farms around here though so we just compost!
How do you propose to ‘close the loop’?
Without overstating the waste, beyond composting there is currently no second life to the processed botanicals, the majority of which have had their flavours further enhanced through the distillation. We’re looking for options!
IMAGE: Coriander seeds gifted to Jessie by MGC’s chief gin maker, Andrew Marks.
As part of these stories being circular, Andrew gifted me a jar of coriander seeds that have been through the distilling process. I borrowed from one of Andrews favourite dishes, fresh fish bought from the Fish Hall at the Queen Vic Market, cooked simply with minimal fuss and served with a glass of gin. Recipes are below. When asked about what it’s like to have a secret recipe that you can’t share, Andrew quips “it’s like having a super power”.
MGC’s recipe for (compost) success:
Organic waste (grape skins, distilled botanicals, other organic matter)
Fresh, young cow turds
Mix everything together, turn it over, and water regularly
When it increased in temperature, you know you’re on the right track!
Given the industry interest in Andrew’s coriander seeds, we’ve included two recipes that pay homage to the humble, distilled coriander seed. They’re intended as a nod to Andrew’s two loves: simplicity and seafood. Enjoy!
Grilled spice-crusted snapper
White chocolate coriander-infused mousse