Once consigned to the dusty top shelf as a ‘grandma’s tipple’, gin is being discovered by a new generation of discerning
drinkers, with Australian grown macadamias now in the mix too.
Talk to Eddie Brook about gin, and the passion and enthusiasm is palpable. “I think people are opening up to the world of gin right now. It’s an exciting time,” he says. As the Co-founder and Distiller at Cape Byron Distillery, producer of the new Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin, he has good reason to feel optimistic, with gin enjoying a renaissance both locally and abroad.
“Gin is really gaining popularity as people discover the amazing diversity of flavour it can offer. It tells a story – the ingredients used, where it comes from. People are becoming more educated about gin and I think we’re going to see a continued shift,” Eddie predicts.
Eddie Brook is the first to acknowledge that many people have had unpleasant introductions to gin. “Traditionally people drank inferior gin with inferior tonic water. It’s not a good combination, and it can put a lot of people off,” he says.
But times have changed and craft distilleries are on the rise in Australia and the US with their products gaining ground in the spirits category. Many have a strong focus on their brand’s backstory, feeding growing consumer interest in provenance. Globally there has been a rising trend of bars that offer craft gin, and this is translating into demand for premium gins that consumers can enjoy at home.* London even has its own dedicated gin hotel called The Distillery, where guests can take advantage of an onsite tasting room and gin-making studio called The Ginstitute.
Raised with a passion for flavour
The son of Australian macadamia producers Martin and Pam Brook, Eddie has watched his parents transform a run-down dairy farm into a thriving macadamia orchard surrounded by regenerated rainforest. Their business, Brookfarm, is one of the stars of the Australian macadamia industry, enjoying success and acclaim both in Australia and internationally for its range of premium food products that includes breakfast cereals, snack bars, snack nuts and oils.
For Eddie, the family business is what set him on the path to making gin. “I grew up working in the Brookfarm business from the age of eight, and I’ve always had a passion for food and flavour,” Eddie explains. Moving to Brisbane after finishing school, Eddie fell in love with the creativity and pace of bartending. He cut his teeth working in some of Australia’s top cocktail bars, before becoming an ambassador for premium spirit brands and working in brand management for a premium spirit distributor.
Eddie amassed considerable experience in an industry he loved, but there was one thing missing: he longed to return to the area he grew up in – ‘macadamia country’ in the Byron Bay hinterland.
Fate intervened when Eddie was given the opportunity to host a whiskey tour with multi-award winning Scottish master distiller Jim McEwan. “I learned about whiskey by watching YouTube videos of Jim talking about it,” Eddie says. “To then do a three week tour with him was an enormous privilege – he is a superstar of the whiskey and distilling world.”
The tour proved to be a pivotal moment, with Eddie and Jim bonding immediately. “As I started to tell Jim about Brookfarm and what my parents had done with their farm, there was this electrifying moment,” Eddie recalls. “With our rainforest, we had built a pantry ideal for making gin. We both knew what an exciting combination that could be,” Eddie says.
You get the feeling Eddie still can’t quite believe his luck. “Working with Jim, it’s the equivalent of starting a rock band and scoring Mick Jagger as your front man,” he laughs.
An odyssey of rainforest flavours
A traditional dry style gin, Brookie’s is described as a “true exploration of Australian native botanicals unique to the Byron Bay hinterland.” Most of the ingredients are foraged directly from the heart of the rainforest on the Brooks’ property.
“A good way to look at gin is like a painting,” explains Eddie. “The spirit is your blank canvas. We use a really silky and smooth Australian wheat based spirit. Then you’ve got the background flavour of juniper, coriander and citrus. Over the top are the brush strokes of more delicate flavour and that’s what creates a premium gin. We use 26 different ingredients. Some of these are traditional to a dry style of gin, and then we’ve added 18 Australian rainforest botanicals to come up with our really unique, delicate blend.”
This is where Jim’s expertise really shines. “Making gin is truly an art. Only the absolute masters of their craft can use 26 ingredients in harmony,” says Eddie.
Orchestrating unique flavours with macadamias
As a nut native to the rainforest of Australia’s north east coast, it’s easy to see how macadamias fit with a product like Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin. According to Eddie, when combined with the native raspberries and lilly pilly that form part of the Brookie’s blend, macadamias produce a beautiful shortbread-like flavour.
However, macadamias add more than just their own flavour to this gin, and their role is critical to the end result. “The oils in the macadamia meal act as the carrier for the other botanical flavours,” says Eddie. “That’s what holds all the flavours together. Without it, the blend lacks its signature sweetness and the other flavours don’t combine well.”
This is one of the reasons Eddie and his team shied away from chill filtering, a common gin production method. “A lot of gin producers around the world will chill filter, but we don’t do that because we want to allow the macadamia oils to act as flavour carriers.”
Instead, the Cape Byron team developed its own unique production process in its tailor-made distillery on the Brooks’ property, using a 2,000-litre copper pot still that was custom-made by hand in Tasmania. The process comprises two methods – boiling and vapour distillation. The ingredients that bring the big flavours are placed in the body of the still. The more delicate ingredients, including the native botanicals, are placed in muslin bags that hang higher up inside the still. Named ‘Babylon bags’ after the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Eddie and Jim are the first gin producers to use this technique.
The final flourish is the macadamia meal that coats the top of the still. As the vapours rise up from the boil, they infuse the muslin bags, picking up the lighter, softer notes of those delicate botanicals. Local Mt Warning spring water, with its distinctive sweetness, brings the blend to bottling strength.
Innovation at every turn
Innovative thinking comes naturally to the Cape Byron Distillery team. The use of rainforest botanicals including macadamias, the innovative production process, the use of crowd funding to launch the first release, alignment with Big Scrub environmental group, and free native ginger seeds with every order are just a few of the fresh ideas accompanying the launch of Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin.
Yet Eddie is quick to point out that this is born from doing what is true to his family’s values and purpose. “We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘how can we tell our story to someone we know will be interested?’” he says. “For example, we’ve planted thousands of trees with Big Scrub, so we want to further that message. By sending out native seeds with our gin, as our business grows, so too do native rainforest plants when people plant them in their backyards. Those seeds will help to educate our customers about rainforest regeneration and the fact that it doesn’t have to take a lifetime.” The native ginger seeds offer up another benefit too. “Once it’s a mature plant, people can use it as a garnish for their gin!” says Eddie.
The Cape Byron team decided to crowd fund the first release of Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin, and not just because of the financial benefits the model brings to a new business. “The initial cash flow is great, but crowd funding also offers a brilliant platform to tell a story. We’ve got such an exciting story to tell, so it was a no brainer in that regard.”
The team recently opened up the distillery for public tours. “We really want to show people what we’re doing and how that ties in with our commitment to supporting Big Scrub,” Eddie enthuses. “Everyone who walks through our doors will be educated about macadamia farming and how that works hand in hand with rainforest regeneration.”
A premium product backed by a powerful story
Eddie has his eyes firmly on the top shelf of the spirit market. “Everything we do to make this product lends itself to the premium market,” he says. “The bar industry in Australia is looking for premium products with a story. We plan to have Brookie’s in Australia’s top bars, restaurants and bottle shops. We’ve already had some international interest from the US and UK and when that ramps up, we’re going to be ready.”
Eddie says macadamias play a role in helping to own that premium positioning. “We use them because it’s true to us and because the quality and flavour of Australian grown macadamias are regarded so highly. That unique quality and flavour is imperative to our product. Macadamias sit really comfortably in that premium space we’re trying to occupy.”
Like Brookfarm, Cape Byron Distillery is a proud family business, first and foremost. Parents Pam and Martin and brother Will are all closely involved with the new venture alongside Eddie. “We get excited about being a family and generational business. We want to create a legacy and pass it on to future generations,” says Eddie.
Macadamias to feature in future innovation
The first release of Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin was shipped to crowd fund supporters in January and Eddie and his team have been working hard to get it into the local market. But these first steps are just the tip of the iceberg for Cape Byron Distillery.
“This is the first of many products. We plan to release a whole range of native Australian liqueurs,” Eddie reveals. And it seems macadamias will be playing an important role.
“We’re working on a macadamia liqueur that will be great for cocktails and desserts, and we’re also going to do a timber aged whiskey, possibly using macadamia timber in the process.”
Here’s cheers to exciting times ahead!
Eddie’s favourite way to enjoy Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin
As a gin and tonic with a slice of finger lime and aniseed myrtle. “Both of those ingredients are in the gin itself. If you can’t get them, look at what’s growing in your backyard or what’s in season,” Eddie advises. Premium tonic water is a must. Eddie recommends seeking out Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic water from your local bottle shop.
Something a bit fancy…
Try Eddie’s recipe for a Davidson Plum Collins. Combine Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin with some Davidson Plum jam and a squeeze of lemon, then top with soda. “If you can’t get your hands on Davidson Plum jam, just substitute it with another kind. This is a great drink for BBQs,” says Eddie.