We talk to the brains behind the award-winning distillery about their journey so far and what’s next.
When husband and wife Nick and Ally launched Karu Distillery in 2017, their vision was simple. They wanted to create unique, small-batch spirits celebrating the art and science of distillation while encapsulating the distinct character of the Australian bushland. With Karu nestled at the base of The Blue Mountains, it’s no wonder the pair were inspired to seek out native flavours and local produce to craft their spirits. Much like its home in “The Mouth of the Devils Wilderness”, Karu’s gins are bold, beautiful and bursting with an array of botanicals.
Having accrued a wealth of knowledge and awards over the years since emerging into the distilling industry, we caught up with Nick and Ally to hear about Karu’s origins, their current offerings and what they’ve got in store for the future.
Established in 2017, Karu Distillery has quickly captured the imagination of gin drinkers all across Australia, winning local and international awards within its first six months of operation. How did the idea and inspiration for Karu come about?
We originally wanted to start a bar, believe it or not! The brainstorming began and we began to realise that it was the love for what was behind the bar, the spirits, that we were fascinated by. Being big lovers of tequila, whisky, etc., we knuckled down and really focused on learning the production side. We travelled to a lot of places in the country, and even ventured overseas, to really gauge what it takes. In the interim of our copper pot still, Calcifer, being made we purchased a reflux still, Ding, and really started to play around with gin. We’d heard there wasn’t one type of gin for everyone, so we wanted to create the gin for us. Hence, Affinity was born. We wanted to focus on Australian produce, native flora, and experiment with the agriculture behind the botanicals. That was really the whole start of it and it only got more intense from there.
What has been the recipe for success for Karu?
We have a fresh botanical focus; we grow a few botanical’s that go into our gins and we outsource the rest mostly from small-scale Australian farms. It isn’t necessarily because it’s easier, because it isn’t, it’s because we are fascinated by the process from seed to still. We can honestly say we have tried, at one stage or another, to grow nearly all the botanicals used in our gins.
For those who aren’t aware, what does it take to be recognised for awards in the gin industry?
We see it as badges of quality. We get asked so often if our gin is any good, so we put it to the professionals. Originally we entered competitions just for the feedback by industry experts who knew what they were looking for, so we sent off bottles and came back with medals. Personally, for us, it’s a celebration of our hard work and a true achievement.
Tell us a bit about your environment. What role does your location at the base of The Blue Mountains play in the creation of your gin?
Karu Distillery resides on acres and acres of Australian bushland. The sights and sounds change with the time of day and the seasons, so does the flora and fauna, making it an ever-changing place to work. Our environment is evident in every bottle we create, from the mountain rainwater we collect to the native bees that pollinate our botanicals. It helps us create a true product of our environment and not just another bottle of spirits.
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What about your spirits? Tell us about your current range.
Affinity Gin is our Australian contemporary style of gin. It’s a very well-balanced gin from the rich juniper, to the semi-sweet citrus, floral and warm spice notes. The natural sweetness rounds this into a very versatile gin without a singular standout botanical. We drink our spirits neat so we wanted this to be something that could be sipped straight as well as mixed.
Lightning Gin is our navy strength, at 57.5%. It boasts double juniper and heavier citrus notes of ruby grapefruit, mandarin and rose geranium. The rose geranium we use is the original strain that Ally grew up with and is used to provide a bright herbaceous spritz to this spirit. She loved the scent of so much that she distilled it into this very striking gin which picked up the Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirit awards from its first batch.
We are also feverishly producing rum. Ally is usually speckled with splashes of molasses and the bees love it. The rum release is set for late 2021 or early 2022, depending on whether it’s up to scratch. We’re incredibly strict on quality. Quality must come first for us.
Delving outside of distillation, we’ve also created our own range of premium cocktail infusion. Our G & Tea Premium Cocktail range acts as an interactive garnish experience for your gin and tonic cocktail. We noticed a lot of people asking if we had floral gins, because they only like floral or lemongrass gins or flavoured gins, so Ally designed a way to create a complex garnish to accompany the popular cocktail duo without overpowering the gin. It takes you in by the curiosity, then the visuals create a satisfying aesthetic, and the flavour takes you by surprise. It’s not your usual gin and tonic or your everyday cup of tea.
What separates your Affinity Gin from your Lightning Gin?
They are completely different gins all together. Lightning Gin isn’t just a percentage boosted Affinity Gin, it’s closer to a more traditional gin style through the botanical profile and distillation process. As we grew as distillers and lovers of spirits, so did our tastebuds. The challenge of the navy strength gin really struck us, literally. We had an idea of things we wanted to try and even used a different method of distillation to explore different ways of creating and playing with other flavours.
I’m a gin lover not acquainted with Karu Distillery but open to exploring your range. What’s your pitch?
We always recommend Affinity Gin to people who either are not gin drinkers… yet, as well as to lovers of cocktails. It is just such an approachable gin. The natural sweetness from the vanilla beans with the finish from the orange drags you in for another sip, every time. It’s very approachable neat and has such a lovely aroma, thanks to the locally grown lavender and lemon myrtle. If you’re a gin and tonic lover, G & Tea infused with Affinity Gin is incredible. But don’t be afraid of Lightning Gin. It’s a high ABV but very tameable with a variety of tonics. Though in saying that, it is striking in a juice-based cocktail.
What does Karu Distillery have in the pipeline for 2021? Got anything exciting planned?
*Fingers crossed* our rum will be out. June is when it reaches two years barrel-aged, so depending on how that’s going it will be hopefully be released in 2021. Our gin liqueurs range will be out along with a brand-new spirit launch in early 2021. We can’t say what it is just yet so watch this space. Lastly, we’re excited to announce that our tasting room is finally being built after three years of waiting for construction approvals. We’re aiming to create a unique space where we can share our love of spirits in this stunning location. We’ll be providing a taste of local produce, walking tours of the property and of course spirit tastings overlooking The Devils Wilderness.
Shop the Karu Distillery range and find out more by visiting their website.
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