“Sprawled across two levels on a busy corner of iconic Smith Street Collingwood, the historic building not only holds a distillery, but also houses a commercial brewery, a micro-dairy, as well as an eatery and bar. If that wasn’t enough, The Craft & Co also manages its own coastal winery and farm site in Bangholme, 40 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD. To make matters even more interesting, it doubles as commercial contracting distilling, brewing and winemaking facility to some of Australia’s best beverage operators. And we’re not exaggerating – ADSA champion and gold medal gins and liqueurs have been produced here. So you could safely assume that there is nothing quite like it around. But with so much on offer, we wanted to find out more about what’s happening in their highly-esteemed distillery and what they’re currently offering the public and trade.
What was the inspiration behind starting Craft & Co?
The inspiration behind The Craft & Co was to create a real working, multidisciplinary community of artisans, makers and the public – something we hadn’t really seen in Australia. The aim was to create an inclusive and accessible environment of craft production and collaboration amongst all those involved in the food and beverage industry. From distillers & brewers to bartenders & baristas and from cooks to consumers. Creating an atmosphere of crafty folk pushing boundaries of product development, flavour profiles and philosophies. Take for example a project where we collaborated with bartenders across Melbourne’s best bars where we collected their spent lemon garnishes and distilled the product to create a short batch limoncello. Or working with MFWF to collaborate making a special edition “Acheron Gin” that used native botanical from the area their World’s Longest Lunch was held. It ended being awarded the Best Gin at the Tasting Australia Awards that year.
What is the inspiration behind each of Craft & Co’s gins?
Just another craft gin was not enough for us. There needed to be something special about the product. In a particular, flavour or process that we utilise. A lot of times that ‘something’ wouldn’t even make it to the label but we need to develop many arrows to our quiver to stay in front of the game. Generally we try to avoid trends and looking at what others are3 doing. Sometimes a good idea is just that and will come from multiple sources (which often includes our own bartenders, chefs & brewers). It will have staying power and, with time, can develop into a style of its own. At the same time we don’t want inspiration to become plagiarism. We strive to be leaders, not followers.
Gingerbread Gin – European Christmas, Gingernut and Pfeffernüsse – the stuff of sweet & festive childhood memories.
Navy Strength Gin – Northern European aquavit style spirits with loads of caraway and fennel etc but with added juniper notes. We wanted to do a 100% distilled product where we load the still with a reduced ABV charge and distil the product down to bottling strength. This way we didn’t have to ‘proof’ the distillate at all. We avoid vegetal note by minimising green botanicals and the result is a ‘spicy’ & ‘woody’, more rounded Navy.
Collingwood Dry Gin – The inspiration for this ‘London Dry’ styled gin was uncovered in research for native botanicals. We wanted a truly Australian expression of the classic dry gin.
Old Tom Gin – This Old tom screams of native myrtle, wildflowers & fennel, whilst offering a smooth palate derived from the addition of locally sourced cream prior to distillation. Again, a local expression of this spice-laden and expressive style.
As you’ve done contact distilling for others, what’s the best way for a bartender with a great idea to go about getting started distilling their own product?
Bartenders have incredible knowledge, passion and understanding of their customer taste palates. Our bartending base that are currently developing their own spirits have an exact vision of what they are looking to achieve with flavour, ABV, colour and packaging. The key suggestions to bring a gin to market is to identify your vital botanicals, how the spirit will be poured and mixed in a venue and home environment. Most importantly have an open conversation with industry experts, particularly around the service offer of recipe formulation, distilling and packaging. And just go for it – some of the most interesting and flavour driven gins we are producing are coming from our network of bartenders. It’s an incredibly exciting arena to be working in – the best way to get started is to get in touch with Gypsy Hub via email@example.com who manage all the contract and start-up distilling brands we work with.
What types of sprits can we make for potential customers?
It’s an open conversation – happy to discuss with customers what they are looking to achieve. We can make gins, liqueurs, flavoured vodkas, grappa, rums, brandies, macerations, beers, fermentation wash or anything really… We’ve even worked with cheesemakers to create a Gin Cheese! We are open to any challenge. That’s what The Craft & Co is all about after all!”
This article first appeared in Australian Bartender Magazine