Wolf Lane Distillery: Leaders of the Pack

Wolf Lane Distillery: Leaders of the Pack

Pioneering the first bonafide bar experiences in the booming bar scene in the heart of tropical Cairns, was not a simple task but three mates, Darren Barber, Samuel Kennis and Grant Buckham introduced the swanky boutique Three Wolves, Gin Social at the Hilton Hotel and Flamingo’s Tiki Bar to the vibrant scene in Abbott Street.

Not long after, a swift turn of events saw them open the doors to their first micro distillery Wolf Lane Distillery in the central location much to the delight of the locals and the surprise of Darren, Samuel and Grant. They set out to showcase the unique botanicals from the local region that represents the climate and have since cleaned up with awards and accolades for their gins. 

Darren Barber, Co-owner of Wolf Lane Distillery talks about the journey into gin.

Tell us about that journey and your vision. What made you move into producing gin and what did wish you create?

After operating our bars for a few years, we loved gin in general and it was our most favourite spirit to play around with in cocktails. Hence why we opened a gin bar Gin Social. The purchase of a small still we began playing around with what we thought would be a perfect gin to represent our Tropical paradise we live in. The perfect distillery space became available next door to our cocktail bar Three Wolves which is down a little lane way nick named Wolf Lane, hence Wolf Lane Distillery was born.

Working with all different types of spirits like whiskey and rum, and running a brewery, what makes the gin loving community unique? 

Gin loving people just seem more fun and less pretentious then other spirit drinkers. It’s a fun spirit and it should be drunk that way. The modern day gin drinker we see ranges from 18 – 90 with no real boundaries setting them apart, apart from their love of gin.

What was your vision and ethos for Wolf Lane when you launched, and has it evolved?

Our vision is to support local farmers and growers that opt for sustainable and organic farming processes. Which allows us to make gins and liqueurs with a strong focus on local ingredients to deliver a slice of paradise in every sip. We have stayed true to this throughout our journey even when it ends up costing us more or taking more time. The end result is worth it.

Tell us about the team behind Wolf Lane.

Wolf Lane Distillery is owned by Darren Barber, Samuel Kennis and Grant Buckham. Darren and Sam work in the distillery daily and are also the head distillers. Greg Bowter is our sales manager and we have Hannah and Rory working in the distillery and running the distillery bar.

Cairns is known for many things, such as its beaches, sultry weather, and all things tropical. How do the culture and the location influence you and what you produce?

As its always summer up here we wanted our gins to reflect that. So the Tropical Gin was born. We have some amazing fruits and botanicals that we just had to show off to the rest of the world.

Photo: Darren Barber and Sam Kennis 

How do you and Sam collectively come up with a new flavour profile?

We start off with an idea of what we want and then it’s a big trial and error process. We still small batches first then progress to the bigger still.

We love the name of your still Column Farrell. It’s perfection. 

I'm glad you like the name. Our column still is perfect for the type of spirit we are creating. It is a reflux still and the spirit it produces is very clean and smooth. It was a challenge finding the right still but we are very happy with what we ended up with.

What do you use for your base spirit and why?

We use a neutral grain spirit which pairs perfectly with our botanical selection.

Congratulations with being awarded begin gin in the Navy Strength Gin category in the 2020 Gin Guide Awards and Best in Australasia among many others. It’s also much loved and talked about among gin lovers in the community. What makes your navy strength gin so exceptional.

Our navy strength is the big brother to our Tropical gin, using the same botanical base but just a lot less dilution, 58%. The fresh fruits really shine through in this gin and we find it is becoming a favourite with bartenders around the country.

And the botanicals for Navy Strength Gin.. do you access them in-region?

Our navy gin contains 13 botanicals which include – Juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, cinnamon, lemon myrtle, Tasmanian pepper berry, Green cardamom and raw macadamia nuts. Then we source Ruby grapefruit, finger limes, mango, lavender and mint all from local farmers.

Being a supporter of sustainable and organic farming how do you nurture this, and what led you to that as a part of your values?

We visit all our producers farms before buying from them to see the farming process and make sure that the fruits live up to the quality we require. We strongly believe that if what goes into the gin is farmed in the correct way then it will only make the gin taste better.

Share us about the process behind Navy Strength Gin. Did it end up how you imagined? 

The navy gin came after our Tropical Gin and it turned out better then we had hoped for. It took quite some time to come up with the right ALC percentage to get the flavour just right. I think we must of tried about 100 different varieties before we come up with what we have now.

Please share the best way to enjoy Navy Strength Gin. 

Both Sam and myself prefer to drink all our gins with soda water and a garnish of grapefruit or lime. Tonic water works too.

Do you have any products in limited release that use experimental ingredients or techniques?

We had a sherry barrel aged gin which is almost all sold out now. We also have a Davidson Plum Gin which is part of our core range and is steeped in Northern Davidson Plums from the Tablelands for about 3-4 months. Also there is a Christmas Pudding Gin in the works that we are collaborating with Celebrity chef Nick Hollaway from Nu Nu restaurant in Palm Cove. His tropical Christmas puddings are getting vapour infused into a completely new gin we are distilling using unique Far North Queensland botanicals.

What is life like for a craft Australian distiller? Is the independent distiller supported? What are the highs and challenges?

Its certainly a tough career and a tough market to break into. The ATO excises taxes don’t help either. Seeing your end product behind a bar or on someone’s bar at home is the greatest feeling but the process to get there is a very long and expensive one. But its worth it.

Where do you want to take it with Wolf Lane?

We want to make Wolf Lane Distillery a house hold name and take it global. We are already working with a few exporters and hope to see our gin in Japan, Canada, Thailand, and Germany in the near future. 

Finally, how do you take your gin?

A double pour over gin over ice with a dash of soda water and a slice of ruby grapefruit.


Distiller Cocktails for Navy Strength Gin

Royal Sea

45ml Wolf Lane Distillery Navy Strength Gin 
30ml Rugby Grapefruit Juice 
30ml Lavender syrup 
20ml Lemon juice

Add all ingredients into cocktail shaker.  Add ice. 
Close shaker and shake until shaker is cold to touch.
Double Strain into a coupe style glass. 

Garnish – Lemon or grapefruit peel 

Style South Side

45ml Wolf Lane Distillery Navy Strength Gin
15ml sugar Syrup
25ml Lime Juice 
6 Mint leaves 

Add all ingredients into cocktail shaker. Add ice. 
Close shaker and shake until shaker is cold to touch.
Double Strain into a coupe style glass. 

Garnish – Mint Sprig


Clover Club

45ml Wolf Lane Distillery Navy Strength Gin 
15ml Lemon 
15ml Raspberry Syrup 
15ml Aquafaba

Add all ingredients into cocktail shaker. Add ice. 
Close shaker and shake until shaker is cold to touch.
Double Strain into a coupe style glass. 

Garnish – 3 fresh Raspberries

Grapefruit Martini

50ml Wolf Lane Distillery Navy Strength Gin 
10ml Australian Dry Vermouth 
3 dash Grapefruit bitters 

Put ice into martini glass and chill it down. 
Add all ingredients into mixing glass. Add ice and stir till mixing glass is cold to touch. 
Dump contents of martini glass. Strain mixing glass contents into martini glass. 

Garnish – Grapefruit Peel

Distiller's Tasting Notes

Our Navy Strength Gin pays homage to when gin was drunk by the Royal Navy officers and sailors alike whilst exploring the high seas. At 118 proof (58%), this gin packs a punch with strong notes of finger limes and ruby grapefruit. It will make a sailor out of you yet! 

58% ABV | 500 mL

Written by Suzan Temizer and Darren Barber. Photos courtesy of Wolf Lane Distillery.


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