When I go on vacation, it is vital to include something culinary to the program for it to be interesting. Usually, my trips to Australia have always been to see my family, and not so much anything else other than that. This year, I decide to visit a childhood friend in Victoria state, where the city of Melbourne is located. My friend lives on the Mornington Peninsula, a picturesque seaside town where Hugh Jackman is often sighted while he is visiting his family during the holidays.
During our stay with my friend Petra, she takes us to Bass & Flinders, an artisanal gin distillery where she takes a gin making class not too long ago. Founded in 2009 by Wayne Klintworth and Bob Laing, Bass & Flinders is an artisanal distillery, producing grape spirit using a traditional Alembic Pot Still to create a range of world‐class distillations including award winning gins, Australia’s first grape based Vodka, Limoncello, Grappa and an outstanding five year aged spirit, Ochre.
On this particular afternoon, I meet Wayne who takes me on a gin tasting journey, showing me their small batch, slow distillation, high quality spirits. Bob and Wayne distill in minimal quantities, ingredients are prepared by hand, and botanicals are sourced by the two using local where possible. They hand-craft their spirit right there at the distillery from Shiraz grapes which is what gives their products a truly unique grape flavor profile.
I have no rhyme or reason in the way I choose which I’d like to try, other than its name which intrigues me. When I tell Wayne where I’d like to begin, he shuts me down immediately telling me to start from the top of the list. So begins the tasting with Gin 10: Wild and Spicy. I sip it on its own, and then with a splash of tonic. The difference is astonishing, the latter so easy to drink it can become dangerous. I can’t contain myself about Angry Ant and ask Wayne about it as he is pouring me a taste of Monsoon. His response: “it’s a long story.”
I relent for a few minutes as I sip on Monsoon, but then, return to pestering him about Angry Ant. As Wayne pours me a taste of this fascinating title, he tells me it has won the silver medal at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition – a myriad of Australian gin take home medals this year. He tells me the story about the ants found at Wooleen Station, about 700km north of Perth where the temperatures can rise above 50 degrees Celcius. The ants feed on a unique blend of botanicals on the property which attribute to their distinctive taste.
The long story starts with a young lady by the name of Frances Jones who arrives at Wooleen Station during her “gap year” – a year typically taken by high school graduates before starting university – for a two week visit due to her curiosity and interest in touring the outback. Needless to say, she falls in love with the landscape, the outback, and David Pollack, who himself arrived at Wooleen six months ago to help his family with the outback station, and never leaves.
The botanicals are the very element that keeps the range of gin fascinating. Wayne and David are forever scouting Australia (and the world) for the finest, most interesting flavors. They have in recent times, sourced some pretty unusual native botanicals from central Western Australia including native lemon grass and flowers for their gins. They also ensure that their hand-made Shiraz-base spirit expresses the local grapes as a key botanical in their gin range. I finish with Ochre, an aged spirit double distilled in an Alembic still from Chardonnay grapes; and the limoncello is to-die-for.
I ask Wayne if their products are available in the US since the win in San Francisco. He shakes his head. When I leave Bass & Flinders, Wayne’s last words are “you will have the ONLY bottle of Angry Ant in America” and I’m sure he’s not wrong about that.
If you’re interested in Bass & Flinders, please visit their website, or for more information on Wooleen Station and outback eco-tourism, you can check out their website or watch this segment on ABC’s Australian Story from 2012.