New gin distilleries are springing up in north-eastern Victoria, with passionate distillers using interesting botanicals to create fabulous drops.

Story Sue Wallace  Photo courtesy Swiftcrest Distillery

As soon as Dave and Jen Hodges spotted the noisy resident barking owl perched on a beam in their rustic timber 1950s shearing shed, they knew just what to call their gin – Barking Owl.

Barking owls adorn their striking labels, and if you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the owl that still drops by the distillery.

Dave is one of a growing number of passionate artisan gin makers who have opened small family distilleries in north-eastern Victoria over the past few years. They all share 2 things in common – a passion for distilling and a love of experimenting with botanicals that flavour their gin.

“I love using different plants from the garden to create special gins,” Dave says. “It requires a mix of logic and science.”

The family moved from Sydney to Wooragee 9 years ago, after finding the ideal property and Dave started making essential oils for his daughters in the shed. That progressed to gin, vodka and liqueurs.

Jen, a talented ceramicist, first used the shed as her studio, but now shares it with the 2 shiny copper stills nicknamed Molly and Louis, and the Barking Owl bar and tasting room.

Distillery dogs Arlo and Basil greet visitors as they step inside to taste Dave’s offerings and locals often gather on a Saturday afternoon under the olive trees.

Dave’s latest flavour is wattleseed. His popular Tuscan Gin is flavoured with rosemary, sage, native thyme and olive leaves, while Distillers Cut Dry Gin has notes of lemon myrtle, native pepper berry, lime, lemon and fresh pine. The most unusual is smoked tea tree gin. 

“It’s an exciting time,” says Australian Distillers Association CEO Paul McLeay. “Gin distilling captures local flavours and tastes of the terroir, and supports other local artisans with botanicals and produce.”

Paul says that Australia-wide the rise of gin distillers has been phenomenal in the past decade, going from about 28 distillers in 2014 to more than 400. There are more than 100 distilleries in Victoria and north-east Victoria is leading the charge.

This story excerpt is from Issue #148

Outback Magazine: April/May 2023