The scents in Distillery Botanica spirits evoke reminders of another place in time, at the moment of first sip.
On the NSW Central Coast, master distiller and herbalist Philip Moore is inspired by the botanicals hand-picked from his distillery garden. Located 90 minutes from Sydney in Erina, the distillery sits on a property renowned for more than 50 years as The Fragrant Garden centre.
“The garden has been our muse – we see what is growing and take inspiration from that,” Mr Moore told The Cultivator.
After 20 years as founding manager of leading Australian wholesale herb nursery Renaissance Herbs, which grew close to one million plants a year, the keen wine collector and “analytical and hedonistic consumer of all things alcohol” said creating his own range of top-quality drops held strong appeal.
“In 2006, there were about 2500 wineries in Australia and possibly 15 distilleries,” said Mr Moore. “I liked the sound of being one in 16 distilleries, rather than one in 2500 wineries.”
Purchasing a tiny still in 2007, he initiated himself in the ancient art and science of distilling, guided by two books and the internet.
With Mr Moore’s passion for plants, flavours, and aromas, Distillery Botanica is home to an array of award-winning tipples, including Roots and Leaves Dry Gin, Lemon Myrtle Liqueur, and the best-selling Mr Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur.
“Our Moore’s Roots and Leaves Gin (with a little wombat on the label) boasts eight out of the nine plants from our garden – and the Lemon Myrtle Liqueur is made entirely of the leaves of the lemon myrtles which grow very, very well in what would be challenging soil for most plants,” said Mr Moore.
“Another gin we make has the flowers of murraya, rose and chamomile, as well as the leaves of berggarten sage also from our garden.”
When not distilling delicious drops, Mr Moore can be found tending to the property’s gardens, planting the fresh herbs, fragrant botanicals and flowering plants that feature in the Distillery Botanica range.
“Given the long history of herb and fragrant plant cultivation at The Fragrant Garden – which was closed for a number of years and had become a perfect movie scene location for Tarzan, King of the Jungle – we resurrected the garden with a strong accent on fragrance and herbs,” he said.
“One of our guiding principles is that all Distillery Botanica drinks are made from plants. So if climatic limitations mean they can’t be grown in our garden, they are made from the highest quality botanicals sourced preferably from Australian growers.”
Another of Distillery Botanica’s policies is to use nothing artificial.
“We often hear at our cellar door, ‘it tastes like raspberries’ to the pleasant surprise of our distillery guests on tasting our raspberry liqueur,” said
“This indicates how consumers have grown accustomed to tasting artificially flavoured and coloured drinks that bear no resemblance to the real thing.”
Distillery Botanica’s award-winning top-seller Mr Black is the result of a partnership that began with a chance meeting between Mr Moore and “coffee-nerd designer” Tom Baker.
Having created more than 240 variations of Mr Black before he was satisfied, Mr Moore and Mr Baker founded Mr Black Roasters & Distillers in 2013, with a mission to take Australia’s coffee culture into the night.
More recently, they have celebrated the opening of Bar Botanica by Julia and Dan ‘Mr Goaty Gelato’ Hughes. The café-bar has brought The Fragrant Garden to the menu with simple garden-to-plate dishes, freshly roasted coffee, and Mr Goaty’s gelato and sorbet.
Next for Mr Moore is the new garden of gin botanicals. From this garden, visitors will pick herbs and distil them onsite, creating a gin to their own design in one hour. A new building will also be erected to facilitate the bespoke gin, master classes, cocktail classes, tours, tastings and sales.
“To create gins and liqueurs that have the scents of Australian gardens, the base spirit must be absolutely pristinely clean,” said Mr Moore.
“In these types of more elegant and refined drinks, if the base spirit has an off-flavour, it is immediately obvious to even the layperson.
“To guarantee the success of gin products, it is essential that there is a totally reliable Australian manufacturer of quality spirits – and Manildra Group has been fulfilling this role marvellously well for the past decade for Distillery Botanica.”
Manildra Group Head of Ethanol Debbie Forster said Distillery Botanica was one of Manildra Group’s founding grain-neutral spirit clients, with domestic distilling having expanded significantly in the past two decades.
“It’s been exciting to watch Distillery Botanica’s growth, to produce globally acclaimed spirits that highlight our dynamic and distinctive Australian botanicals,” said Ms Forster.
Mr Moore said Distillery Botanica looked forward to continuing to partner with Manildra Group – “and using their supremely clean grain-neutral spirit”.
“As a young industry, we have already had successes both in Australia and internationally, and this will only increase as the spirits industry matures,” said Mr Moore.
“As time goes on, the reservoir of distilling knowledge will grow and with education, higher quality spirits will be produced in Australia – just as we did decades ago in the wine industry.”