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Smoked Hemp Gin? Inside Margaret River’s Giniversity

There’s no two ways about it, Australia is smack-bang in the middle of a gin boom. The spotlight has been focused back on the juniper infused tipple, bringing with it the resurgence of the classic negroni, a flood of gin focused bars and a whole new batch of young distilleries all eager to put their own spin on the classic spirit. In Australia alone, the last 5 years have seen a 300 percent growth in the craft spirit industry – which is namely built on gin and whisky – and there are now over 100 operating craft gin distilleries around the country.

Riding the swelling wave of gin popularity in Australia, WA’s Great Southern Distilling Company (the home of Limeburners whisky) branched out and expanded their product line with the launch of their Giniversity gin.

In March last year, the Margaret River-based distillery released their three-bottle strong core range of gins, recently adding to it a fourth – their ‘smoked hemp’ gin, made in collaboration with the Margaret River Hemp Co – and allowing gin nerds to come and blend their own.

Experimenting freely with botanicals, aging and infusions, the Giniversity range takes on a distinct South West flavour. While unique in their choice of botanicals and flavours, Giniversity gin also makes a name for themselves as being one of only a handful of distilleries in the country to leave their product in the hands of a female distiller.

Rebecca De Burgh joins the likes of female distillers such as Samantha Stefani and Crystelle Evangelista at Archie Rose Distilling Co, Holly Klintworth at Bass & Flinders Distillery, and Lyn Lark at Lark Distillery, as the head distiller at Giniversity. Challenging the perception that the liquor industry – let alone the art of spirit distillation – is a man’s world, De Burgh and her fellow female distillers are starting to level out the playing field here in Australia.

De Burgh discovering distilling when she met the founder and master distiller at Limeburners, Cameron Syme.

“I’ve always been involved with liquor industry in one way or another. I started out in hospitality then onto the wine industry as a laboratory technician and gained some experience as a cellar hand and in sales,” she says.

“I instantly fell in love with the world of distilling; the diversity, the craft and the innovation. I’m really fortunate to have been a part of the gin journey; the rebrand and last year’s launch of Giniversity.

“Developing new recipes, sourcing and trialing new ingredients, creating new gin releases has been fantastically creative, and working closely with Cameron to bring it all to reality has been enormously rewarding.”

Australia’s spirit boom began just some 10 or so years ago. For De Burgh and the other female distillers around Australia, the infancy of the industry and lack of tradition to uphold within the Australian market, has meant that there is a lot more opportunity for women to get involved in the spirit making process.

De Burgh is 110 percent behind shifting the gender paradigm in distillation.

“Spirit distilling is on the rise and I hope to see more women realise the opportunities and viable career path that distilling can offer,” she says.

“Diversity is so important for all industries, ours should be no exception. Australian spirits production should not be confined to any masculine stereotype, some of the world’s leading brands are mastered by women distillers and blenders.”

It may be a little slow on the uptake, but the industry in Australia is starting to see an increase in diversity, not least because of the efforts of women like Kathleen Davies (the brains behind the spirit hub, Nip of Courage), and Kristy Booth-Lark of the Australian Women in Distilling Association (AWIDA). Through their advocacy and support of women in the craft distilling industry, as well as providing a means of connection for distillers both male and female, Davies and Booth-Lark are fostering an inclusive industry, and encouraging open and organic growth within it.

“There is a camaraderie in distilling and brewing, not just amongst female distillers but the whole industry, it is admirable,” says De Burgh.

Although De Burgh is well aware that geographic restraints make it hard to be connected on a daily basis, she also understands the importance in groups like Nip of Courage and the AWIDA for keeping up to date with what others are doing, new product developments and their successes.

Further driving her desire to showcase the distilling industry and its viability as a career path for both men and women, De Burgh opens up the distillery to guests for a hands-on day of gin making.

“Guests are invited to become an honorary distiller for a day; with a touch of history, pinch of practicality and their own artistic flare,’” says De Burgh.

Culminating in a bespoke take-home bottle of gin, the classes are run with the intention of having guests develop a practical knowledge of spirit making, learn the art of distilling and broaden their appreciation for gin.

Published 30 August, 2018