“Is it gin o’clock?” asks Rowland Short, the celebrated mastermind behind Settlers Spirits glorious creations, including Spiced Fig Gin, Breakfast G & Tea Gin, and the most recent (and contentious) Coriander Leaf Gin.
Luckily for a small group of us on this particularly sunny morning, it was indeed gin o’clock.
We were gathered together, gin aficionados ready for an expedition into the world of South Australia’s favourite spirit at one of Settlers Spirits Gin Masterclasses.
Surrounded by sunlight streaming in through large windows, a long table stretched out before us, laden with glass bottles of clear botanicals infused in alcohol, measuring cylinders, and a glass of Settlers Rare Dry Gin. While we sip on the citrus blend, Rowland briefly outlines the history of gin and how it’s made. Turns out you can make it by distilling either grains or grapes!
(Settlers make their gin from grape spirit, which Rowland says gives the gin clean, bright, and crisp flavours.)
Before each of us is a line-up of juniper, caraway, cardamom, cucumber, coriander, lemon, lemon myrtle, lemongrass, native pepper, orange, pomegranate, and star anise botanicals, which you get the chance to try to identify which flavours are to your liking.
We learn that each botanical has a different effect. For instance, native pepper gives a gin length (which refers to how long the gin stays on your tongue) — and so does coriander. Cucumber, on the other hand, tends to soften the other flavours you use.
Your newfound knowledge is helpful for what comes next: making small test blends with your favourite botanicals!
There’s a fair amount of trial and error involved. At first, you’re making micro adjustments; every little drop of a new botanical can transform the taste of your blend. You’ll want to try it at different stages, just to see how it develops.
You’ll also want to keep a water bottle handy. If you’re a newbie on the gin scene, you may find yourself a little overwhelmed. The flavours of the botanicals can be intense. Try too many in one go without taking a break for water and your tastebuds can go a little numb.
Not to worry — Rowland wanders between his eager students to offer his expert tastebuds and opinion and a gracious guiding hand in case you’re ever at a loss.
Ultimately, he tells everyone, we all have our own individual palates — so everyone will create a gin that’s unique to them.
Once you’ve mixed your ideal blend, you make a bigger batch to bottle in your very own 200mL take home bottle! Fancy, right?
“Very onerous, this job,” Rowland jokes about creating new gin blends, as we all bottle our hand-blended gins. “But someone has to do it.”
It might as well be you.
The masterclass is $70 a head, which covers all the tastings, the 200mL gin you take home (that you crafted yourself!), and a cheese platter alongside a G&T at the end. Classes run every Saturday morning, from 10am to 12pm, but they book out quick, so make sure you get in early.
The gorgeous, recently refurbished distillery door is also the perfect background to your gin journey. It’s a bright, open space, fitted with comfortable lounges, filled with touches of Settler’s Spirits’ history, and facing the stunning rolling hills of McLaren vale vines.
Settlers Spirits is located at 197 Foggo Road, McLaren Vale, South Australia.