ABC Classic’s Joel Carnegie recently quoted the following by legendary English wit, Noël Coward: "A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy.” The radio presenter went on to discuss a riotous obsession with the spirit in 17th century England. The craze was so widespread, authorities attempted to woo society back toward the more moderate beer with an advertising campaign by artist William Hogarth. Something tells me, however, that the punters in Hogarth’s Gin Lane weren’t as concerned with back palate and botanicals, as many contemporary gin lovers are. And, yes, there are many, if only going by the ubiquity of distilleries and an unwillingness to settle for Gordon’s. I blame people like Ben Taylor and Natalie Smith for a refreshed appreciation of the splendid spirit. The pair tried their creative hands at gin three years ago and now have a cutely packaged, citrusy product jam-packed with good stuff that we happily tipped back with soda water and a pinch of Hobart Beverage Co’s Tonic Water Syrup over the long weekend. Taylor and Smith Distilling Co is dishing up cocktails at Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast. But don’t take my word for it, here’s Natalie to tell you the whole story…
Why the (very cool) label, Taylor & Smith?
Haha thank you! Well we both come from creative backgrounds - Ben is a painter and I am a writer. Ben has a Masters in Fine Art (research in painting) and my PhD in cultural geography looked at creativity as a process - exploring what I called 'the betweenness of place', drawing creative journeys. With those backgrounds, It was a natural progression for us to pull together something that gave presence to things we value - things like place, story, colour, aesthetics. We can't take too much of the the credit though, our design is the direct result of an extraordinary connection and collaboration with Megan Perkins. Meg came on early and over nearly a year we got to the final design. We wanted something that we were really proud to put forward as representing us; I guess if we weren't going to paint and write, we wanted to do something equally as beautiful and satisfying. We are so happy it's worked out so well, really proud of Meg's great skill: in that blue bottle she has brought together the three of us, the light industrial Moonah landscape (where the distillery is located and where we live) and also a sense of the possibilities for Hobart in being able to imagine itself as a leading edge place that embraces the future as much as the past. There is a lot wrapped up that design!
When did you start making gin, why did you begin and where are you sourcing your ingredients?
We started making gin about three years ago when we borrowed a small still from a friend and did some experimenting. Once we got the knack of it, started sharing with our friends and neighbours - leaving jam jars of gin at their front door on Friday nights. Before we knew it our neighbours were feeding back to us ideas and suggestions - but also raw materials to make more gin! Things like lemons, cumquats and quinces all came our way. Before gin, we had bee hives, made our own cheese, sourdough bread, Kombucha, Kefir, jams and preserves. It's all been a natural progression, to experiment with botanical combinations and distillation methods. I had trained as a chef long before academia took hold, and my first degree was in Environmental Science - so chemistry is pretty fun! Ben is naturally creative but equally as importantly has an ability to build and make things, all kinds of things - he built our house on the Hawkesbury in Sydney - that is boat access only - and made of Australian hardwood. Towing hundreds of tonnes of materials up river and making the house pretty much single handedly. He built our 400 litre pot still himself as well as the shed that homes the distillery. Ben's painting skills have been important too, there is something about capturing the ideas or the qualities of a place and composing them, or synthesising them into something else. I think that's what our gin does, it distills the essence of the place. We grow as much as we can in our distillery garden for the gin, but we also source our botanicals from local growers and foragers - Wild Pepper Isle, Ocean's Treasure, Eumarrah Wholefoods and Goulds Natural Medicine are some of our suppliers. Local is always best and we always consider ourselves to be part of a community of small businesses making these great resources come to light. We're not certified organic, but we're close!
We're spoilt for choice when it comes to Tassie gin atm, what differentiates T&S?
We use a half apple spirit for our base. We buy pressed local apples and ferment and double distill them for the gin. The process is quite long - but it definitely makes for a unique flavour profile. Our recipe uses 17 botanicals; a mixture of traditional (coriander, cardamon, cassia) and contemporary, including Kunzea, Kombu, Pepper berry, Pink peppercorns, Leatherwood honey, Strawberry gum, Lemon, Valencia and Blood Orange. It is quite floral on the palette, with a touch of spice from the peppers and finishes with blood orange on the back palette. Our distillation process makes for a highly aromatic, but very smooth spirit. It is just the two of us making it, so we have lots of control over the process. All of our systems are performed by hand - nothing is automated - and we take our time to make the best spirit we can.
What will you be pouring at the Dark Mofo Winter Feast?
We are super excited to be collaborating with Dier Makr/Lucinda Wine for the Winter Feast. We have lovely connection with Kobi Ruzicka - shared passions - slightly different manifestations. We've got a Dill Collins made with a fresh dill syrup and Taylor and Smith Gin - so delicious! We are releasing a few bottled travellers too - our Negroni Variation, Hanky Panky and Army and Navy. They are all sensational, but the Hanky Panky is my new all time favourite and a definite go-to - there is something about the Pedro Ximenez and Fernet Branca with our Taylor and Smith Gin that sings wild landscapes and open fires. it may well have you singing as well. We will also be selling Moonshine and Gin by the 500ml bottle in case you need a larger scale traveller :)
What drew you to be vendors at the festival?
Living in Hobart, I think Dark Mofo is in your blood! On top of that, however, Ben and I both work at MONA for our day jobs! Ben is in Art Management looking after David's collection and I look after day-to-day visitor experience at the Museum. I think the festival is so much a part of our lives! We've got three children as well, and this year will be the first time that all five of us have worked the festival and for MONA. That feels pretty significant in terms of the broader MONA effect. The Feast is the heart and soul - and central orbit around which the festival flows, so I wouldn't miss that. So much of what the festival is - is in the Feast. The look and feel, the whole idea of brining people out in to the cold - together - to feast on the extraordinary offerings that this place, Tasmania, provides! I'm really proud to have something that we've spent three or so years preparing, ready to share - its a privilege to be a part.
Tips for Dark Mofo punters?
Our first tip for festival go-ers is to get a program and try to see as much as you can: The Aftermath Dislocation Principle by Jimmy Cauty sounds intriguing and it's being run entirely by kids; Dark Path will be superb - no question and A Forest - intense. This festival may be the best yet! The second tip is to make sure you drop by and say hello to us. We'll be there, pouring cocktails each night, so do come and say hello - I'd be chuffed to think that people read these thoughts and said hi!
What do you get up to when not making gin?
When we're not making gin, we're keen bushwalkers and we go camping a fair bit and diving for abalones and crays. We've got a tinny left over from building the house on the Hawkesbury and we get out as often as we can. Of course, making gin, working our day jobs and three kids makes everything pretty busy - but I guess we find the joy in the small things. It's a fire in the backyard and a film projected onto the fence; a walk of the dog around Moonah and we live at the distillery, so there's always another barrel of single malt whisky to put down, that's a pretty fun past-time.
- - -
Taylor and Smith Distilling Co can be found in very good bottle shops and should be enjoyed overlooking a body of water with two friends, Cheezels and a puppy dog. All photos courtesy of T&S.