Updated: Sep 5, 2019
When it comes to breaking the mould and looking towards innovation, Cameron Syme fits the bill.
Having established Western Australia’s first legal whisky distillery, Great Southern Distilling Co, out of Albany in 2004; Cameron set his sights on new ventures, extending his vision to gin. And he saw Margaret River, the state’s primary wine region, as the place to do it.
He took what was once a local vet clinic, tucked away among the native bushland and within walking distance from town, and in 2015 he transformed it into what is now Margaret River Distilling Co, home of Giniversity Gin.
“I think the region has always been diverse,” Cameron says.
“The Great Southern has its focus on whisky and rum. Here in Margs, we distil gin and other non-whisky spirits.”
It’s from inside the distillery that the innovation flows, with new gins crafted all year round using native and exotic botanicals and small-batch distilling techniques.
““Innovation in Gin through ingenious experimentation” are the very words in our business plan,” Cameron says.
“In 2005 we were the first to use West Australian native botanicals in an Australian gin.
“We were the first distillery in Australia to make a barrel aged gin, in 2006. At that time there were only two barrel aged gins to be found globally,” he says.
“And in 2018, we were the first in Australia to release a gin with hemp - our Smoked Hemp Gin, which we make in collaboration with the Margaret River Hemp Co.”
The Giniversity Experience is another ‘first’ to take note of, Cameron says. With the Experience being gin-making classes; a chance for the everyday punter to innovate too.
The classes offered include: a two-hour Blending Class, with a vast selection of botanical distillates available for the purpose of blending a bottle of gin like a master distiller; and a four-hour Distillation class, with raw botanicals available to craft your own gin essentially from scratch, using a working still.
In each class, you’re taken through the highlights and lowlights of gin’s rich history and - to make things even more fun – you get the opportunity to taste the Giniversity range of gins, first neat before they give you a splash of Fever Tree Tonic.
Taking Giniversity beyond the classroom, a collaboration with celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal was also within the mix of last year’s projects, with the resulting gin featuring at the Melbourne restaurant Dinner by Heston.
For the locals, the distillery’s most recent gin to be released was their 2018 Christmas Gin, made using macerated quandong sourced from local farms, fig, apple, berries, citrus, and juniper. This one flew off the shelves as fast as one can ‘sip’ back a shot, so be quick if you want to get your hands on this year’s annual Christmas release.
“We’ve released four new gins in the last six months,” Cameron says.
“My staff are asking me to slow down.”
But that hasn’t put out Cameron’s fire to keep creating.
“I’ve been working on a small batch of a very special gin for Valentine’s Day - to be fitting this should include some botanicals of love and passion,” Cameron says.
“We’re still debating whether we allow any aphrodisiacs to make their way into the botanical basket - so watch that space. We’re also working on a special gin in time for winter. There’s plenty of innovation in ‘distillery only’ releases coming.”
What we do know for certain is the first-time collaboration between Great Southern Distilling Co’s flagship brand Limeburners Whisky and Giniversity Gin can be expected to be released within the coming months.
Cameron says this one is something of significance to look forward to.
“We’ve aged a special Giniversity Gin recipe in an old Limeburners Champion Whisky Cask,” he says.
“This is a fantastic gin, which I have to say is very fine when neat.
“I haven’t had access for cocktails yet, but I can see this easily forming a base for a classic V.O.C - with apricot brandy and green tea, simple syrup and lime juice, garnished with orange zest, served in a chilled Martini glass.”
While we wait in anticipation for that one to hit the menu, in the meantime, we recommend trying out their latest cocktail creation ‘Long Peach Tea’ or making one at home – see our recipe included for reference.
Lady Marmalade is another top pick to taste test on your next warm day in Margs. Made using orange marmalade, grapefruit juice and Giniversity Barrel Aged Gin, it’s dangerously refreshing.
If the cocktail list isn’t appealing enough, the convenience of its location helps.
“Margaret River Distilling Co is one of the closest must do experiences to the Town of Margaret River,” Cameron says.
It helps if you’re staying a stone’s throw away too, at Riverglen Chalets.
Cameron says Riverglen Chalets, which he acquired following the founding of Margaret River Distilling Co, shares a property with the Distillery and is also known as the ‘Giniversity Campus’.
“Set on eight acres, surrounded by 65m tall forest, right on the north bank of Margaret River, across from the town weir, the property is alive with birds and surrounded by mountain bike and hiking trails,” he says.
“We now have bookings for upcoming weddings at Riverglen, with the reception being at the Margaret River Distilling Co right next door.”