Gin is in; ham is glam

For much of its life, gin has struggled with a poor reputation. It was commonly thought to be an unhappy, depressing drink. In the late 18th century, some believed that gin could cause women to spontaneously combust.

I headed over to my local gin distiller, with fire extinguisher in hand, to try this theory out.

I have never been a big fan of gin, the idea of doing a tasting was about as attractive doing a sampling at the local servo to distinguish the aromatic subtleties between premium and unleaded.

Of late Tasmania’s attention has been wrapped up in the boutique whiskey makers, with the state’s winning tipples topping world awards. For many years the drink of gin sat quietly in the shadow of the ginger-bearded barrel hoarders waiting to have its day. Gin was the drink of a bygone cocktail era accompanied only by a plain Jane tonic dressed up with a twisted lemon corsage. It was placed alongside pre-dinner drinks where cocktail onions were skewered through the heart onto a wooden porcupine tray with some very square cheese and some very round and slightly suspect cabana slices.

In the time before anyone spoke of botanicals, and juniper berries were known only from the Life of Brian, gin was the girl with the horn-rimmed glasses who couldn’t get a dance. There was nothing manly or beardy about gin and the realm of its biggest fans sat amongst corgis and castles mixing it with Dubonnet and splendid jewels.

It was hardly the stuff of a new movement, but the lazy susan table has turned and gin is the new duchess on cool street.

This new movement found me at Nonesuch Distillery. Located on a working farm just off the Arthur Highway, near Sorell and on the road to Port Arthur, you find it via a long farmer’s driveway complete with sheds, tractors, old trucks and assorted farm animals.

In places like this, small batches of high-born gin enter the world.

The first thing you notice, however, when you walk into what looks like a farming shed is whiskey barrels. Confusing, but more on those later.

The sight of the shiny copper gin distiller gives you confidence you’re in the right place. It sits alongside silver cannisters and drums – this is work shed not a cocktail bar, and if you go on the right day you might see it all in full production.

Behind a humble counter sits a range of gins: sloe, dry and hemp. There is also a collection of jars of botanicals for tasting and sniffing, including chamomile, juniper and even hemp seeds which offer up a creamy macadamia taste that would do no harm to any muesli or salad. Behind the counter you may also find the man behind Nonesuch, Rex Burdon, a man who is more than happy to share stories of gin making, including the difficulty of advertising a hemp-labelled product on Facebook.

Burdon assured us that reports of the depressing effects of gin have been proven to be false. Recent studies have shown that, during the gin craze of the late 18th century, the quality of the ingredients was poor, which likely caused the ill effects and consequently gave the drink a poor reputation.

According to raconteur Rex, the way of life was so bloody awful they had nothing to be happy about anyway.

So, without fear of a dark cloud hovering, I started my gin tasting – and was surprised, in the nicest way. Served with a Capo Tonic and a sliver of lemon rind, the clean taste and subtleness of botanicals were a happy mix. The sloe gin line is definitely one for the purists but would cause no dampening of spirits on any night around an open fire.

The newly filled Nonesuch whiskey barrels sit neatly stacked and on show as a line of diversification. Whisky making classes are available for anyone who sees themselves as a future craft distiller. Or just wants to grow a ginger beard.

. . .

With my now merrier demeaner, and without even the tiniest hint of combustion, it was off to Pooley Wines for lunch. The heritage-listed property of Pooley Wines is near Richmond, a 20-minute drive from Nonesuch and about the same from the Hobart CBD. On weekends over summer, there is a fully stocked outside bar and a fired-up pizza oven ready to go. Set amongst the old stables, you can pull up a stool at a wine barrel or sit under the shed roof amongst the green hills of Richmond and Pooley’s Butcher’s Hill vineyard.

There is a cheese and antipasto platter to share while you ponder the range of pizzas. You can settle in a with a beautifully crafted pinot and within minutes have your wooden paddle arrive with a cracking hot pizza. There is a range of five pizzas to choose, including the ever-controversial ham and pineapple. A bit like gin, ham and pineapple pizza wore the uncool award for a very long time. Insulted and laughed at like a Hawaiian shirt at a black tie dinner, this unloved fruit can actually make a party on a pizza, as Pooley shows. Other pizzas included for these less willing to face ridicule are salmon, brie and capers; salami; mushroom and fetta; and a vegie antipasto option. With the latest release chardonnay in hand, it’s happy days and not a dark cloud in sight.

Nonesuch Distillery*
491 Arthur Highway, Forcett

Pooley Wines*
1431 Richmond Road, Richmond

*Due coronavirus restrictions, some venues and events may not be running as usual.
To learn more, contact businesses directly

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