Every distillery has a backstory, but not many entail the 2019 Black Summer fires, a flood, a Death Adder, a pandemic, another flood, more pandemic, and yes; another flood. That sounds like the beginning of a sad story, but it’s the beginning of a story about resilience, rolling with the punches, seizing every opportunity to laugh and have a bit of fun. 

Karu Distillery, located amongst The Devils Wilderness at the base of the Blue Mountains, was formally established in 2017 by couple Nick and Ally Ayres. A few years prior, the pair returned from overseas and were looking for a change. They originally wanted to start a bar, but fell in love with the bottles behind it and what lay inside. It eventually occurred to them that distilling was a job that someone could actually have, so they set off chasing knowledge around the country and slowly learnt the art of distillation. At this point, Nick was about to move up further into the world of film and television, and Ally was experiencing great success in her new role. As for their much-needed life change; it was now, or never. 

Karu's Ally & Nick

Ally bit the bullet and quit her job to focus on Karu Distillery full-time, and soon enough Nick followed suit. Ally and Nick spent months researching, days producing and nights bottling. They slept on floors and shelves, and ran every single trade show themselves. To this day the Karu team remains fiercely independent, with those long nights and uncomfortable sleeps now paying off.   

In 2018, Karu released their first gin, Affinity Gin. They sent if off to spirit competitions for feedback, and it turned out they were pretty good at this gin making business because they won them all! Building on their success, they decided to make another, rewarded with even more global recognition. Despite the challenges along the way, Karu is still going strong, expanding their range and finally opening House of Spirits, the bar and tasting room they’d always dreamed of. 

Karu also managed to put together their ultimate dream team; Ally as Head Distiller, Nick as Distiller and Distillery Manager, Brogan as Brand Ambassador, Michelle as the Social Media and Customer Relations Guru, Reni as Events and Bar Manager and Taylor as the Token Tin Shaker/Cocktail Maker, and House of Spirits Duty Manager. Naturally, the team would not be complete without Ding, their trusty still (named Ding because it arrived with a large ding in the back of it; supposedly the supplier became quite defensive about it, so they rolled with the punches, and it became his name). They’ve recently purchased another still – and Nick doesn’t know this yet – named Megatron. Nick supposedly won’t approve of the name choice, but Ally figured once we’ve printed it in our magazine, there’s no turning back!

The team recently spent a lot of time putting their heads together to create House of Spirits; a fun space where visitors can learn something new, somewhere new. After years running events in other bars, now they’re ready to create the events that they would be excited to attend themselves. Visitors to House of Spirits are able to taste Karu’s range, and see Taylor in action tossing cocktails from a curated menu that features not only their own products, but their favourite spirits from other producers as well. We’re excited to include a voucher for House of Spirits in your box this month; be sure to pop by if you’re in the area – we might even see you there! 

Before Nick and Ally became gin connoisseurs, they actually thought they didn’t like gin. The more they learnt about distilling, the more they realised that they enjoyed contemporary-style gins. Setting out to create a gin for themselves to enjoy, and after a lot of mistakes (26 recipes to be exact), the couple realised they had an affinity for a recipe combination of juniper, coriander seeds, orange peel, lavender, cardamom, clove, lemon myrtle, vanilla, pomegranate, Rosella Hibiscus, and almonds. Once they’d settled on this, their Affinity Gin was born! The outcome is a delicate yet versatile gin featuring citrus, lemon myrtle and lavender notes that trail off into hints of pomegranate and Rosella. It finishes with a warm spice and lovely smooth vanilla notes.  

Despite months working on getting the recipe right for what was in the bottle, Nick and Ally were still at a total loss on getting the branding right. They wanted a short and snappy name; Ally’s mum is Estonian, the couple love bears, ‘bears’ rhymes with their surname Ayres, and ‘bear’ in Estonian is ‘Karu’. It was the perfect fit, but with no design background, the labels were a point of serious frustration. After months trying to get it right, Ally tells us they landed on the final design after she had a few wines, wrote the name Karu down repeatedly, chopped it into little pieces and slapped it on the bottle. She had another wine, and told Nick that it was going to be the label even if he didn’t like it, then fell asleep.

Overall, the Karu team has managed to produce exactly what they set out to; a very approachable gin with cool branding that pleases even those who may not like gin (yet). When Affinity Gin was first released, there wasn’t a fun or particularly positive drinking culture in the region, and while this is still a work in progress, it seems that Affinity Gin has contributed positively to the change. They’re starting to see famous chefs and higher end establishments calling their local area home, and bringing both culinary delights and a cocktail culture to residents who ‘didn’t know you could do these things…’

The second gin in Karu’s range is their Lightning Gin. This incredible drop sits at 57.5% ABV and won World’s Best Contemporary Gin at the 2021 International Wine & Spirits Competition. In 51 years, they are only the second Australians to have won this prestigious award, so we’d highly recommend trying this one if you get the chance. 

For those looking for something a little bit different, you may have been lucky enough to add some of Karu’s amazing ‘G&Tea’ bags in with your delivery this month! When asked how they came about, Ally replied that she loves gin, loves tea and loves a good pun. Before coloured gins were trendy, Ally wanted to create a red gin to pay homage to their local area, The Devils Wilderness. They initially tried Rosella Hibiscus in a tea bag, but it was too sour, so they found themselves adding other ingredients in. Soon after, the Vermillion cocktail infusion was joined by a blue Amethyst counterpart; friends couldn’t get enough of their G&Teas, and they knew they were onto something! 

For those who love vodka and Mexican food, Karu has also released their Morita Chipotle Vodka. It’s a savoury style vodka; infused with Mecco and Morita chile vapour, alongside coriander seeds, green capsicum, lime and a touch of agave syrup. It’s a champion in Bloody Marys, Margaritas, Palomas and a whole lot more! Karu’s third still, named Calcifier, is supposedly busy bubbling away in the corner with a brand new soon-to-be-released rum. The team dropped a few hints that they might even have something else gin-related coming up, and it’s quite possible that it’s sitting patiently in a barrel waiting to be bottled... Mum’s the word! 

Gin type – Contemporary

Appearance – Clear, bright

Botanicals – Juniper, Coriander seeds, Orange peel, Lavender, Cardamom, Clove, Lemon Myrtle, Vanilla, Pomegranate, Rosella Hibiscus, Almonds

Aroma –  Juniper forward notes, with a delicate suggestion of floral sweetness

Palate – Bursts of citrus from orange and lemon myrtle, floral lavender before tart notes of Rosella Hibiscus and pomegranate

Finish – Warming spices of cardamom and clove tingle with a smooth, vanilla sweetness

Our perfect G&T
• 30ml Karu Affinity Gin
• 90ml CAPI Dry Tonic
• Dehydrated Grapefruit


Karu's Affinity Gin is currently featured in May's Gin Subscription! Sign up to the club today for a complete curated distillery experience at home.

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