Tiny Bear Distillery: The Spirit of the Collective
It was back in September last year when we first heard of Tiny Bear. With that enigmatic name we had no idea what to expect yet the ever faithful and lovin' distilling community assured us we were in for something pretty special.
They were not wrong.
Tiny Bear Distillery, based in Knoxfield, Victoria, is a manifestation of founder and one man team Damien Anderson's lifelong passion for creating spirits. An ex-science and chemistry teacher who eventually embarked upon the life of an independent distiller. Driven by a big heart and deep values for community, family and all things local, Damien established Tiny Bear in 2017.
Yes, tiny because Damien wanted to ferment, distill and bottle everything on premises. That choice, inevitably meant production was always going to be “Tiny”. And the "Bear" part? It's reference to Damien vowing to growing and keeping a beard until he got the distillery opened. Hence, the Bear.
Photo: Founder Damien Anderson
You founded Tiny Bear in 2017 following a career in education. What was the inspiration to start your own distillery?
Pretty much since ‘forever’ I have been making spirits and alcohol. So it was always something I loved doing. Some would say, kids pushed me to drink, but in reality it was more parents and principals did. It was kind of a logical transition for me.
Tell us about the team behind Tiny Bear.
Tiny Bear started out as a mostly one man team including myself along with the incredible support of my wife, Amanda, who dedicated most of her time when she wasn’t teaching to the project. Our team has now expanded to an amazingly dedicated team with exceptionally strong science and hospitality backgrounds. On most days you will find myself, Sal and Emma pretty much making gin and whisky at the Distillery.
Your ethos is producing the best spirits together with the local community and building with your family. Why is this so close to your heart?
I suppose this somewhat ingrained after believing in the kids I used to teach. Everyone is capable of anything as long as there is passion. We just like to find that passion. The rest can be taught.
Photo: Tiny Bear family
What was your vision for Tiny Bear when you launched?
We had one aim. Make drinks that make me smile. The rest will fall into place.
Tiny Bear is such a great name. Share the story behind it.
The story of the name is split into two parts. It’s ‘Tiny’ because everything we do is small batch. The ‘Bear’ part references myself. When I decided to start up the distillery I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t shave my beard until the business was open. I was still teaching at the time, and of course my beard grew quite a bit in that time. The kids took to calling me grizzly bear – and hence the name Tiny Bear came together!
What are your influences when creating a new gin? Is there an experience or flavour profile in mind?
When I first started making gin I tried playing around with a few classic recipes and all of these sucked. So we kind of said screw it and just through in some things we thought would work. After blind tasting all these classic gins compared to my bold, punchy experiment, the taste testers all voted that this one was the best. Thus the Gypsy was born. From that point on I decided to trust my own palate and work with flavour combinations that I knew worked well.
We could not decide which gin to showcase for our members this month to showcase both! Gypsy is described as an incantation of Ancient Persia, smooth and spiced yet light bodied, while The Doctor invigorating and herbaceous with sweet florals and woody after tones.. a celebration of gin's medicinal powers. Both very distinct.
What's the story behind Gypsy and The Doctor.
When I first started making gin I tried playing around with a few classic recipes. After blind tasting all these classic gins compared to my bold, punchy experiment, the taste testers all voted that this one was the best. Thus the Gypsy was born. From that point on I decided to trust my own palate and work with flavour combinations that I knew worked well.
The Doctor was the second recipe after that, basically the name and the flavour profile was already created, it was just our job to make it. Lets just say the distillery neighbours, got to try a lot of gin to sample in helping us refine its herbal goodness.
You have a 200L 6-plate column still. What was your journey like deciding on what still to use?
This decision was charged largely by our very early decision to make our own alcohol. This meant we would need a column. From there it was, how big can we go with such limited power in our site.
Is this where the kale wine comes in? How does using this as a base spirit influence the gin experience?
I always knew that if I was going to make spirits I wanted to make everything from scratch. This gives us more control over the quality of the spirit. It also means that everything is produced on site which we love from a sustainability and environmentally friendly perspective. The kale is used in the process to provide nutrient to the yeast to keep them happy and healthy. Once the kale wine has run through the still there’s no kale flavour left, just a delicious clean spirit that we can then go ahead and turn into gin!
What makes your gin different or unique?
We are unique in that we make our own base spirit using kale, sugar, water and yeast. We also strive to create gins with bold, punchy flavours.
Are your botanicals in region?
Our botanicals are sourced as locally as possible, but anything that can’t be sourced locally then we’ll source from a region where we’ll be guaranteed to receive the best quality. Our most recent experimental series gin the ‘Bear and Wills’ was crafted using all native Australian botanicals including Tasmanian Pepperberry, Lemon Myrtle, Anise Myrtle, Wattleseed and much more!
Please share your best loved recipes for Gypsy and The Doctor.
Personally we think they both make pretty exciting martini’s, however the Gypsy goes particularly well in a Negroni Noir. The peppery spices of the Gypsy play nicely against the punchy herbs in the vermouth, meanwhile the coffee liqueur smoothes out the bitter orange flavours in the Campari resulting in a bold complex cocktail.
30mL Tiny Bear Gypsy Gin
30mL Red Vermouth
30mL Tiny Bear Brew
Orange Twist Garnish
The Doctor goes wonderfully in a Hot Toddy. The cinnamon garnish ties beautifully into the woody notes that are already within the gin whilst the sweetness of the honey delicately enhances the herbal and floral notes.
30mL Tiny Bear Doctor Gin
1 Tablespoon Honey
Juice of 1 Orange
¼ Cup Boiling Water
Cinnamon Stick Garnish
Add boiling water and honey to a heat suitable container, stir to dissolve the honey. Once slightly cooled add all other ingredients. Stir once more and enjoy!
When it comes to simple G&T you can't go wrong with The Doctor and a sliver of Grapefruit and StrangeLove's No8 Tonic.
For Gypsy I recommend StrangeLove's Light Tonic with any citrus or even a fresh slice of ginger!
Gypsy is packed full of exotic spices from four different peppers, clove and Tiny Bear favourite botanical, cardamom, hints of sweetness from almonds and a softening citrus finish that is supported by cucumber. Why not have a play with a flight?
Do you have any products in limited release that use experimental ingredients or techniques?
We generally always have a limited release gin available from our ‘Experimental Series’. Our most recent experimental series gin the ‘Bear and Wills’ was crafted using all native Australian botanicals including Tasmanian Pepperberry, Lemon Myrtle, Anise Myrtle, Wattleseed and much more!
We’ve also started laying down a few casks of whisky which are currently in hibernation. We can’t wait to get stuck into those!
What is life like for a craft Australian distiller? Is the independent distiller supported? What are the highs and challenges?
Its hard, yet its fun and rewarding. Supported? Yes by locals and drinkers. Sometimes though we probably feel a little under prepared to the big players in the game.
What makes Australian Gin so special?
Diversity and quality. The Australian gin market is full of delicious and amazing creations.
How do you see gin evolving in Australia and where do you want to take it with Tiny Bear?
Such a hard question to answer. As where we have gone isn’t, really where we thought we would be at this time.
What's next for Tiny Bear?
Lets just say some things are in hibernation. Things are happening, just trying to get all our bears into rows I guess.
Finally, how do you take your gin?
We like to have fun with how we drink our gin. It’s never the same. Sometimes it’s neat or on ice, other times its with tonic or soda, other times it’s a cocktail. Variety is key!
Distiller's Tasting Notes: Gypsy
The ancient Persian book of Kings - the Shahnameh - tells of a time when the King demanded that India send him 10,000 musicians to entertain him. They did, and the King was so pleased that he gave each musician an ox, a donkey and a cart filled with wheat so they could wander the countryside, support themselves on the crop they grew and entertain the people of Persia. Of course, these were musicians - a group of people famously incompetent at pretty much everything except music and trashing hotel rooms. So, it was to no one's surprise when they returned to the King a year later, having eaten through their supplies. The King, of course, was furious and expelled them to Europe. The Europeans assumed that they had migrated from Egypt and began to call them "Gypsies", along with the usual persecution of outsiders which we're all familiar with. How true is this story? We have no idea.
What we do know is that the name of THE GYPSY brings a hint of exotic spices, a touch of the orient and a hint of magic. Just the thing to describe our latest blend of gin. A spice driven gin, with a pungent juniper base. Flavored by four different peppers, as well as cardamom, clove and cumin. Fresh citrus notes added from lemon and lime, with a crisp finish from the added cucumber. A bold gin, which makes a great "Red Snapper", or a "Dirty Martini".
Serve with any of Lemon, Lime, Cucumber, Capsicum, Fresh Ginger, Orange, Mandarin in a Gin and Tonic.
Add tonic with Cucumber = cool the spice or Orange = almond sweetness or Clove or Capsicum or Ginger = warm spice.
Distiller's Tasting Notes: The Doctor
Alcohol and medicine have a long and proud history. It has been used as everything from a digestive to a disinfectant. Dogs bearing tiny casks of booze were used to rescue travellers from the threat of avalanche in the Swiss Alps, while a shot of gin was known to ward off the plague in Medieval times. Indeed, where would the British Empire have been without gin around to make their anti-malaria tonic drinkable? In 'the DOCTOR' we believe we continued in that grand tradition of people ‘exaggerating’ the medicinal powers of alcohol. This product is both refreshing and invigorating, just want the doctor ordered and hey it's made from kale too, so you know it has to be good for you! A herbaceous gin, with strong notes from fresh Basil, Vietnamese mint, Sage and Dill. Floral notes from Hibiscus, with woody sweet after tones from cinnamon. A subtle juniper sweetness blends it all together.
Best served with a sweet garnish like apple, to bring out the floral notes in a Gin and Tonic. Add tonic with Apple = floral notes or Citrus = Refreshing G&T.
Written by Suzan Temizer and Damien Anderson. Photos courtesy of Tiny Bear Distillery.
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