What does Australia taste like? What if you could put all the flavours and tastes of Australia into one bottle?
That was the idea behind the creation of West Winds Gin, which uses distinctly Australian botanicals and combines them with traditional ingredients to create some truly unique artisanal gins.
“We discovered a lot of indigenous ingredients that are amazing, and making a gin was the best way to show the world what Australia tasted like,” said West Winds co-founder Jeremy Spencer.
“Gin is so versatile. There are no rules to gin. If you make a whisky, there are rules, if you make tequila you have to be in Mexico … but gin, as long as you had juniper you could put anything in it.
“So we put in all these wonderful Australian spices, which was a real show of respect to the traditional land of Australia.”
Distributed locally by Wholly Spirits, The West Winds Gins was founded by four people – Spencer, Jason Chan, Paul White, and James Clarke.
“James is one of my dearest friends and a wine industry expert, Jason has a degree in food science and has won awards for bartending, Paul’s our CEO, an engineer who handles the tricky aspects of putting the flavours together, and I’m just the guy who comes up with silly ideas when I’m bored,” he said with a laugh.
“The four of us together, with our different skill sets, is what gave West Winds the chance to succeed.”
They started out around 2010 with a vision to create two savoury gins, one incorporating toasted Australian wattle seed, and one incorporating native Australian bush tomato.
“Wattle seed is a lovely cereal grain that we use in the Sabre, and the bush tomato gives a very savoury flavour to The Cutlass,” Spencer said, adding that the company is based in Margaret River, which is better known for being a wine region.
“The water we found there was the purest we found on the Australian continent.”
The Cutlass and The Sabre were thrust into the limelight at the 2011 San Francisco International Spirits Competition, taking Double Gold and Gold awards respectively. The ‘Double Gold’ for The Cutlass was a first for an Australian gin producer.
Naming the brand for the West winds that brought travellers from the Old World to the New World, they continued the maritime theme with the various expressions for the gin.
“As we were little boys we wanted to be pirates! We’re trying to make something fun here. West Winds are about fun, and pirates are fun!” Spencer grinned.
“We want people to know that it’s ok to drink gin again. It had a bad name for a number of years, but now it’s fashionable to drink gin again,” he said. “A well-made gin and tonic is the best drink in the world, if it’s balanced and the ice is right. It’s easy to make, but hard to perfect.”
Named after the sabre, the sword traditionally used by English naval officers, this is West Wind’s entry level expression. It is meant to be the Australian expression of a traditional gin, incorporating twelve spices and botanicals including coriander root and seed, juniper, lemon myrtle, lime peel and wattle seed.
“It’s conservative and entry level, and we didn’t want to scare people with it,” said Spencer. “But it will also keep serious gin drinkers happy, and you can have it in traditional cocktails like the bramble, the gimlet, and the Aviation.”
If you’re a regular drinker of London dry gin, you’ll probably love the Sabre. It’s got that classic juniper flavour but has layers of citrus and spices, and has a wonderfully creamy and soft texture.
“Our gin is a lot softer. We want you to have flavour first, and then alcohol. The problem with so many gins and other white spirits is you usually first get the alcohol, and then you have to find the flavour.”
Coming in at 50% ABV and fuller-bodied than the Sabre, the Cutlass is a wonderful gin.
Beautifully aromatic with some savoury citrus notes, the gin uses Australian bush tomato alongside the traditional juniper, and uniquely Australian botanicals like cinnamon myrtle, and lemon myrtle.
“This is our flagship. It’s savoury, it’s vegetal, and it’s an intelligent gin to me. It uses native bush tomatoes, it’s fruity at times, sweet, and savoury with some chocolatey notes coming through. We also took fresh coriander and tripled the amount,” he said.
This is a powerhouse gin. It’s their “naval strength gin”, like the Cutlass on steroids, and also with a streak of saltiness that works perfectly in a dirty martini.
“It’s got 58% ABV, but it’s not just a matter of putting more alcohol in it,” said Spencer. “For me, the difference between a good meal and a bad meal is salt. We added Margaret River ocean water.”
The Captain’s Cut
We wanted to push the boundaries with this one. The Broadside was so well-received when we released it, I wondered if we could go higher in alcohol,” he said.
“Jason wanted to do something with spice for this one. The Sabre is citrusy, the Cutlass is savoury, the Broadside is salty, and so we wanted this one to be spicy.
With sage and thyme in there, hoppy resonance and grapefruit note, there is definitely a lot going on in the Captain’s Cut.
It has a whole bouquet of Asian spices on the nose, with hints of cumin and surprisingly, tandoori; and is a hefty 63% of spicy, sipping gin goodness.
West Winds Gin is one of the main brands featured in the East Imperial Gin Jubilee. Michael Cheang got a craving for banana leaf rice and tandoori chicken after drinking the Captain’s Cut. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page or follow him on Instagram (@mytipsyturvy).