“We may not be from a long line of distillers but the line needs to start somewhere”.
Just outside of Sydney NSW in the untouched Australian bushland where crystal clear waterways flow through the valley. Inhabited by goannas, cicada killing wasps, wallabies, kangaroos & koalas that are accompanied by a vast array of incredible flora you will find hidden away at the edge of this unique part of the world Karu, an independently owned and operated micro distillery dedicated to the science and art of distillation.
Nick and Ally Ayres, the owners and distillers of Karu have created a new legacy on their own terms producing small-batch gin with not-so-small flavour profiles. Big, burly yet beautifully balanced. Since their first release in August 2018, the duo has picked up multiple prestigious awards nationally and internationally, among them Gold for Affinity and Double Gold for Lightning at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirit Awards.
At our visit to meet with Nick and Ally, we are embraced so generously by Nick and Ally inviting us into their hub of creativity where ideas flow, works are reworked, gin is handcrafted, bottles are hand-labeled, and G&Tea bags are hand weighed and packed. It's abundantly clear the gin is a manifestation of precision and passion.
Glasses are down, and the caps fly open. We start with Affinity.
Affinity Gin is a great contemporary gin for gin aficionados potent with juniper and a complex flavour expression yet still remaining accessible for new gin enthusiasts with a slight sweet finish. Karu suggests Affinity Gin over ice and Capi tonic and is excellent for cocktails. A fantastic gateway gin.
Next. Lightning Gin packs in double juniper and three layers of citrus profiles keeping the heat of the navy strength gin at bay until the citrus bursts through, leaving us momentarily head back, wide-eyed and breathless. This is not for the faint-hearted! The flavor sustains long after the taste, and we want to go back for more. Karu recommends Lightning Gin neat or over ice with Capi tonic.
We take a little bushwalk through the stunning property overlooking the Blue Mountains valley, listening to Ally's take on gin and plans for the future.
Can you elaborate on your background and the transition into gin?
We [Nick and Ally] both shared a love for whisky, and at the time was what we wanted to create - what started it all. We ordered our copper pot still Calcifer with every intention to use him for whisky, however as we got going realized that contemporary gin was something that became an obsession for us. So we purchased another still (whom we named Ding) solely just for gin production. To this day, we have not made whisky because like gin, our journey took a different turn when we discovered how amazing rum is.
How do you see gin evolving in Australia. Where do you want to take it with Karu?
At the time we set out to do gin, it was on the uprise; however, we did not think it would boom this quickly. The thing that is special about Australian gins is that we have the freedom to explore with different botanicals (especially our native flora), creating some truly unique flavours that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. In seeing gin take off here, we have had the opportunity to try what other distilleries are producing, and the standard has been set so high, no one Australian gin is the same as another. We see the gin popularity growing bigger and bigger because of the quality and the diversity in flavours.
We know that your locally source your botanicals, and also you grow your own. Which botanicals do you grow?
Throughout our journey we have tried to grow nearly all of them (including the specific species of juniper used in gin). Still, obviously, because different climates produce different botanicals better, we could not sustain all of them. When our lavender plants are in bloom, we grow the lavender. When it's not we source Australian. We cannot produce enough gin to use all the mandarin we have. The Rose Geranium is a strain that is over 50 years old, and we grow that in our botanical garden. We have lemon myrtle trees, which are an Australian native. We now grow ruby grapefruit. Rosella hibiscus we grow for some batches, but they are very sensitive in the cooler months, so we source Australian grown when out of season.
How many incarnations came before you found the recipe for Affinity?
Affinity took 6 months of research and development and 26 variants before we hit what Affinity is today. This was all during working two jobs for the both of us, preparing to get married and also setting up Karu Distillery.
Can we have more details about your current experiment with the gin and a whisky barrel? Any plans to evolve this into a new release?
In early 2020 we should have a barrel-aged gin released in collaboration with Craftworks Distillery. Craftworks do whisky, we do gin and so we thought this was a perfect opportunity for us to start tinkering with barrel maturation and "Crafty" (Distiller at Craftworks) can start to explore a different expression of barrel maturation.
Crafty had decanted his first barrel for his IB project "Just Derrek" (there is a very touching story behind this barrel here) which was a very sentimental barrel for him, he arrived at Karu HQ with it in his car and proposed the idea of putting our Affinity Gin in there and aging it. We didn't feel Affinity was a barrel age type of gin, so asked for all the details of the history of the barrel and began to nerd out to create an entirely new gin from scratch to suit the barrel. So far, the barrel age gin is displaying stunning notes of chocolate jaffer, caramelised juniper with a hint of smoke, a tad of spice but like the barrel-aged gin's siblings, Affinity & Lightning, they share a particular sweetness. The barrel is maturing at Karu and being taken to Craftworks closer to decanting date to be bottled there & released via both distilleries in 2020. We are pretty particular with projects we take on, this one was too good to turn down and we CANNOT wait for people to try it.
Any teasers for 2020? Please share what's next for Karu.
So besides Affinity Gin, Lightning Gin, G & Tea Premium Cocktail Infusions, we are really amping up rum production and giving Calcifer a workout.
2020 holds the barrel-aged gin release, hopefully, another cocktail infusion flavour & a liqueur and another gin to add to the range. Rum will be released in 2021 (fingers crossed) and also hopefully have our tasting room up and running by then. We never stop, ever.
Nick and Ally have been working on a tasting room two years in the making where they hope to showcase a lot of local producers wines, beers, other spirits and have Karu’s exclusive experimental batches available. Their ethos is multi-disciplinary, inclusive, and experimental, crossing over to wherever the inspiration takes them. Ally explains that eventually, they want to produce a lot of different spirits and that with every year, a new interest that captivates them. 2018 was gin, 2019 was rum, so just waiting on the next thing to dedicate to learning. More travelling, more learning from other cultures & distillers, as a distiller she tells, they are never done learning.
Written by Suzan Temizer with contributions from Ally and Nick Ayres.
We discovered the G&Tea infusion bags during our visit to Karu Distillery and wanted to share the special tasting experience with our members.
A G&Tea sample is included in the November delivery box with instructions below.
G&Tea was inspired by the gin and tonic movement and celebrated by tea culture. The complexity of flavours in both methods are intriguing and quite the show, they communicate wonderfully as a duo. Ally from Karu has worked hard and designed 2 different blends of botanical rich tea bags to infuse your gin and heighten the gin drinking experience. Each bag can be used multiple times in a sitting as a cold beverage the flavours and colour are released slowly.
The 2 incredible flavours are:
Vermilion - Red
An array of balanced flavour that will amp up your usual gin and tonic reseame. If you think Affinity was delicious before, Vermillion offers you another flavour journey to take. Honey bush sweetens your drink further and befriends the delicate rose petals to lighten to more floral experience. Whilst the orange and Rosella which feature in Affinity also pop the flavour further. Rosella Hibiscus performs beautifully with it’s natural striking colourant which gives Vermilion it’s name.
Amethyst - Blue
Inspired by flavours of Thailand through Lemongrass, butterfly pea and ginger root. Amethyst Bursts with not just one colour, but two thanks to the magical flower Butterfly Pea. Amethyst offers a more citrus and subtle spice trail as you follow sip by refreshing sip. Infuse the Amethyst G&Tea bag in your glass and watch as the colour reveals itself as blue, adding tonic to the mix transforms the hue to a striking purple.
Instructions to enjoy your G&Tea
For best results pour your gin into a transparent tea pot or into your glass. Pop a G&Tea bag into the gin and wait a few minutes and dipping the bag occasionally to ensure the contents of the bag have been submerged in gin (do not constantly dip the bag) . The colour should start reveal itself after a minute, the longer you leave the infusion, the more concentrated the flavour and the colour become, it’s up to you. Place some ice into the glass and top up with your desired amount of tonic water. Simple, it’s G&Tea time!
The bags are made from bio-degradable corn starch fiber and each careful ingredient is organically grown. As much as you enjoy a good G&Tea cocktail, the environment should enjoy it too. Allergies advice: Tea bags are made from corn starch fiber, manufactured in a warehouse containing sesame products where gluten may be present.
Instructions written by Karu Distillery.
Distillers' Recipes for Affinity Gin
Sharing the tried and tested recipes to best enjoy the Affinity Gin by Karu. Feel free to write some of your own and share with us!
Earl Grey late in the day
Grapefruit & Elderflower
Gin and Tonic
Or just neat. Maybe with ice. In good company.
Please share your experiences and your gin your way over at The Gin Birds Instagram.