Distillery Botanica is arguably one of Australia's most prolific distilleries and one of its pioneering ones. If you haven't heard of the distillery itself, we wager you would be familar with at least one if not more of the spirits it produces. Obviously, it makes gin, but did you know it also makes a whole range of award-winning spirits?
Who is behind Distillery Botanica?
The distillery was founded by Philip Moore, who is also its master distiller. Prior to starting the distillery, Philip worked as a horticulturalist. In fact, he founded and owned one of Australia's largest wholesale nurseries called Renaissance Herbs. He operated this for over 20 years before a desire for sea change prompted him to try his hand at distilling. That was in 2007 and he hasn't looked back since.
What is the distillery's history?
As far as Australian distilleries go, you might say Distillery Botanica is one of the early pioneers. When it was first established in 2007, the number of micro-distilleries in Australia were only in the low digits. Philip originally called his distillery St Fiacre. This might seem like an unusual choice...until you realise St Fiacre is the patron saint of gardeners. However, he later changed that to Distillery Botanica after one too many people stumbled over pronouncing St Fiacre. (It may or may not rhyme with a certain swear word!)
As an entirely self taught distiller, Philip set out to incorporate his self-described passion for plants into alcoholic spirits. He did this by first creating a number of liqueurs using Australian native botanicals. Then he moved into the production of gin and vodka.
The be-GIN-ning of great things
As a gin lover himself, Philip set out to create a spirit inspired by a classic London Dry, but with an Australian slant. This, he achieved with the aid of various Australian botanicals, some of which he grows himself, such as lemon myrtle. To achieve the perfect gin, Philip creates separate distillates of each botanical used. He then blends each distillate together, sometimes using only a fraction of a particular distilate. The result? Moore's Dry Gin, which is a balancing act of competing flavours of the various botanicals used. In 2017, Moore’s became the first Australian gin to be awarded a gold medal at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. Philip followed this up with a juniper focussed gin aptly called Distillers Cut Juniper and a herbaceous take called Roots & Leaves.
Drinkers might also recognise the distillery from the distinctive Garden Grown gin, with its apothecary inspired green bottle design. Rather confusingly, Garden Grown gin was initially called Distillery Botanica gin. However, it was not the distillery's flagship gin. Instead, it was a separate joint venture between the distillery and a third party. The joint venture ended in 2018 and Distillery Botanica gin changed its name to Garden Grown gin. However, Philip continues to make the gin under contract and applies his same painstaking methods of production. What makes the gin unique is Philip's use of an ancient perfumer’s technique called enfleurage to extract oils from rose petals. Many other gins use rose essence instead.
Outside of gin, Philip has also had great success with a range of liqueurs. He extends the same focus on extracting the best flavours from every component of the plant; be it fruit, flower, stem or stalk. Lemon myrtle can be overpowering in the hands of some. But in Distillery Botanica's lemon myrtle liqueur, it becomes a sherbety and zesty delight to drink. And the raspberry liqueur? It delivers an intense hit of fresh fruity berries both on the nose and palate. This is unlike the more plasticky feel of some of the bigger commercial brands. And it's with good reason - Philip uses a kilo of the fruit per litre of alcohol.
But perhaps the most well known of Philip's liqueurs is the Mr Black coffee liqueur. Visitors to the distillery in the early days might remember seeing a coffee liqueur called "Short Black." This would form the basis for the now ubiquitous Mr Black brand after an encounter with co-founder Tom Baker in 2012. Together with Tom, Philip has changed the trajectory for caffeinated liquor in a market that until then, had been dominated by big names like Kahlua.
Where is Distillery Botanica?
You'll find the the distillery tucked away in a hill in Erina in the Central Coast of NSW where it has been since its inception. The distillery compound encompasses a decent sized garden housing quite a few of the botanicals that end up in Philip’s alcoholic creations. In fact, the sign "The Fragrant Garden" at the entrance serves as a reminder of the property's past life as a nursery. (though this was not the site of Philip's nursery business)
The compound also houses a cafe called Bar Botanica, which offers casual dining. The same people who run the cafe also operate Mr Goaty Gelato. So naturally, you'll find gelato as part of the cafe's offerings, which also extends to special flavours incorporating the distillery's gins and liqueurs from time to time.
What's next for Distillery Botanica?
More than a decade later, Philip remains firmly at the helm of the distillery. At an age where most people would be retiring to a less strenuous life, Philip shows no sign of slowing down. Not only is he planning more new releases, the distillery is undergoing significant expansion at present. This includes building an entirely new cellar door which will see a bigger distillery space. The intention is also to introduce new experiences involving the distillery gardens. On top of that, Mr Black's production is moving to its own dedicated site nearby; thereby freeing up the distillery to make more gin!
Regardless of what he is producing, Philip's love of plants continues to drive a meticulous approach. Those who know him speak of his almost obsessive nature in coaxing the best flavour out of the botanicals. This can see him engaging in upwards of 100 trials when coming up with a new product. Mind-numbing as it can seem, it's an approach that has served him well. In 2022, Philip became the first Australian gin distiller to be inducted into the Gin Magazine Hall of Fame; joining the likes of Desmond Payne (of Beefeater) and Leslie Gracie (of Hendricks). Recognition has been a long time coming indeed for one of Australia's most understated distilleries.
You will find the Moore's Dry Gin and Moore's Distillers Cut Juniper Gin at the Ginporium. From time to time, we also carry seasonal releases from Distillery Botanica such as the Moore's Blood Orange gin and We Three Kings Gin.
Want to visit Distillery Botanica? Check for updated opening times at their website here.