Provisions: The West Winds Gin
When it comes to white spirits, gin is – in my view – the mayor of flavor town. It has much more character than its popular Russian cousin, and can be savored for longer than pounding a shot of tequila then squirting some lemon in your eye. There are almost infinite ways you can drink gin too – it can be mixed with tonic, sipped with fresh grapefruit and bitters, and is the main ingredient in James Bond’s go-to cocktail, the martini.
Considering they’re based in a country that’s more known for its beer drinking, and are located in a part of Australia renowned for its wines, this seems as left-of-center as some of the flavor ideas they have executed.
Most mainstream gins hail from the UK: Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Hendricks, and Beefeater. So it surprised me when I heard a boutique gin house in Australia had swept up a swag of awards at the recent New York World Wine & Spirits Competition. They also nailed double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, in multiple years. More shocking still is that the distillery is only a thirty-minute drive from my home in Western Australia. I promptly jumped on the phone and dialled up 0412-THE-GIN (not even kidding) and spoke with The West Winds Gin’s Jez Spencer about how they’ve started to take the gin world by storm.
According to Jez, West Winds was started by four friends with a goal to create “damn fine gin” that would rival the best in the world. Considering they’re based in a country that’s more known for its beer drinking, and are located in a part of Australia renowned for its wines, this seems as left-of-center as some of the flavor ideas they have executed. However, when you get to talking with Jez, you pretty soon realise their team is anything but normal.
This journey didn't come easy, but they’re now producing around 12,000 bottles of gin per month.
Jez himself is a bit of an identity in the Australian liquor industry, having owned a pub and worked for Jack Daniels for years. Their chief distiller has an MBA from MIT in Boston, worked for IBM during its heyday, and just happens to have an engineering degree as well. Their marketing guru, James, has worked for some of Australia’s most respected wine brands, and their product designer was also 42Below World Cocktail Champion in 2005 (again, not even kidding). Together, these mad scientists bubbled up three key flavors that have now all won medals at international spirit competitions.
This journey didn’t come easy though. It took no less than 46 iterations of their first flavour using a New Zealand Amphora PDA-1 test still before they scaled up to a 150-litre Arnold Holstein copper pot still. They’re now producing around 12,000 bottles of gin per month.
The West Winds most popular flavor is the Sabre, a classic London dry gin laced with botanicals like juniper, lemon myrtle, lime peel, and wattle seed. It’s a smooth drink that Jez refers to as their “missionary position gin”. If the Sabre is their missionary position, then the Cutlass is all about 50 Shades of Weird. Using Australian bush tomato as the main botanical, it is now Down Under’s most-awarded gin.
To round out the West Winds line up, their latest flavour is called the Broadside. At a whopping 54 percent alcohol content and distilled using seawater, it will curl the chest hairs on just about any wayfaring sailor. This is also the flavour that cleaned up at the 2014 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition.
With this trio of tipples, The West Winds are now undertaking what they dub as a “Ginvasion” of both Europe and the USA. Keep your eye out for a release wherever you happen to be stationed. In the meantime, here are three gin cocktail suggestions from The West Winds’ own World Cocktail Champion, Jason "Jackie" Chan. Be careful not to slurp any on your chin after more than one or two. [H]
Who says an Old Fashioned has to be made with dark spirits? Enjoy gin close to straight but tweaked a little.
50 ml The West Winds Gin The Sabre
2 dashes lemon bitters
"Muddle bitters, peels, sugar and 10 ml gin in an old fashioned glass then slowly stir, adding ice and remaining gin over six minutes."
West Wind’s take on the timeless drink of UK naval officers, the Gimlet.
60ml The West Winds Gin The Cutlass
25ml lime juice
1 heaped barspoon Roses Marmalade
3 basil leaves
"Shake and double strain into a martini glass and then garnish with a basil leaf. Use a fine strainer to avoid those awkward green bits in your teeth that your date ends up pointing out. Our twist on a classic gimlet using Roses Lime Marmalade, due to the fact some big corporate type won’t allow the original Roses Lime Cordial on Aussie shores. Did you know they were commissioned to create the stuff to transport vitamin C around the world? True story."
Or, The 007. A great starter or substitute for an entrée. Enjoy the savoury delight and masterpiece that is the martini.
60ml The West Winds Gin The Cutlass
10ml Dry Vermouth
10ml olive brine
"Stir it all down with lots of ice and strain into a martini glass. Spend the children's education fund on the best three olives you can find; there is no point half stepping. Use and abuse the vermouth as it brings complexity to what would otherwise be frozen gin, let’s face it."