While much of the world was locked down in 2020, most of us at home binged every streaming service, and baked copious amounts of banana bread. Meanwhile, one Melbourne trio began devising something very special that would go on to become the award-winning Darling Distillery within its very first year of trade. 

Meet Ben Evans, Sean Waddingham and Karlos Gudic, three friends who hatched the plan to open a distillery while the world slowed and consolidated. Until lockdowns gave them all the time in the world, discussions had been fleeting and nothing about the project was set in stone.

Ben Evans, Sean Waddingham and Karlos Gudic

Living locally in the Clifton Hill area, Karlos, Sean and Ben met and shared interests in good food and wine. Karlos and his family are the long-time owners of the Royal Hotel in Clifton Hill and have built up a lifetime of knowledge and experience in the Melbourne hospitality industry. Sean has a degree in Brand Management, Marketing and Design and spent years working alongside Karlos at Local Cellars, a boutique bottle shop in the area. Ben is the final piece in the puzzle; he’s a Food Technologist who loves all things fermented. You may be familiar with Ben’s work; years ago he founded St David Dairy in Fitzroy, which he later sold to Maggie Beer. Over the years, the trio embarked on many a trip to food and wine destinations around Australia where they were inspired to discuss interesting business opportunities that continued until the concept of a new urban craft gin was born.

During Melbourne lockdowns, Karlos and Sean were kept busy with their bottleshop. They saw the general public moving towards premium craft spirits, and creating high-end cocktails at home. After selling St David Dairy, Ben was under a restraint of trade in the dairy industry, so it made sense to turn to a different product that captured plenty of his creative interest – gin! 

The next six months saw Karlos creating a distillery space, Sean creating the branding, and Ben designing the equipment and working through the many regulatory requirements that come with starting a distillery. By the time October rolled around, they were ready to perform their first test-run. It was a nightmare! Pressure-relief valves discharging and numerous boil-overs created a brown and incredibly unappetising gin (no one’s favourite). Another six months of testing ensued until in April 2021, they were satisfied that they’d finally hit the mark on all counts. The quality, flavour, and brown-lessness was where they wanted it, and the packaging was ready to go and looking amazing.

The name ‘Darling’ comes from the nearby Darling Gardens, just a few hundred metres from the distillery in Clifton Hill. With lush lawns, gorgeous towering trees lining walkways, off-leash dog areas and kids playgrounds, Darling Gardens is truly a haven in the middle of a bustling inner-city suburb. 

“We liked the idea of some provenance to the name, and the passion we put into the business meant it quickly became our darling.”

Darling Distillery is embedded in the old bar of the Royal Hotel, which closed its doors over five years ago. It offers a striking view as the public walk past the building, with street art style artwork adorning the walls visible through the windows of the bar. Unfortunately, for now, the distillery is not currently open to the public for visits. But you can hold your breath as a tasting room/retail lab is a sure thing one day – Darling Distillery is also planning to run some events later in the year, now that they can finally plan with the confidence that the events will go ahead.

Darling Distillery wanted to produce a gin that was as interesting as possible, but smooth and extremely drinkable at the same time. Karlos being a publican, wanted a gin that was sessionable, and not so out of the box that drinkers had just one before moving on. Sean liked the idea of featuring some local urban produce; rooftop honey, foraged rosemary from the streets of the Clifton Hill Village, and Tasmanian Pepperberry (being a passionate Tasmanian). Ben was keen to create something that was a throwback to his dairy background and incorporating butter into the gin ticked that box. It was also a nice nod to a collaboration from back in 2017, when his fresh cream was used in a visiting UK distiller’s gin, for its delightfully smooth mouthfeel.  

The result was Australia’s only buttered gin, with a strong savoury and herbal finish. This savoury profile is lifted by delicate honey and zesty citrus. A note for the curious – butter is added to their still and not to the gin directly, so while no butter ends up in the gin itself, the creamy volatiles carry across in the vapour. Think about putting your head over a pot of hot cream on the stove – no cream is in the air but the beautiful buttery esters evoke strong flavours. 

“It’s complex, balanced and versatile. Everything we look for in a great gin.” 

Aroma wise, Darling Gin gives a blend of juniper, fresh citrus (mandarin and orange) and savoury herbaceous notes. Sipping reveals strong piney juniper flavours, warm spice from the Tasmanian pepperberry as well as earthy undertones from rosemary and green tea. The finish is long and creamy, thanks to the addition of cultured butter and locally sourced rooftop honey. Depending on your palate, your experience of this gin could be completely different from the next person. Some will immediately pick up on the mandarin citrus notes, while others may be more sensitive to the savoury and herbaceous notes. Alternatively, like us, you might come across both in different measures each time you come back to it!  

We’re not the only ones that think this one is a cracking drop to try. Within its first six months of trade, Darling Distillery was awarded Gold for their Darling Gin at the 2021 Australian Gin Awards. Even still, it is not just the liquid inside the gorgeous bottles that has been garnering attention.

Darling Distillery also picked up a design award at the 2021 Australian Gin Awards, making it a bottle worthy of keeping after you’ve drained it dry, perhaps as a vase or ornament! The bottle design represents Melbourne’s love for urban street art. A good friend to the Darling team and one of Australia’s leading street artists, Kitt Bennett, created sketches of their herbs, botanicals, bees, honey and fruit, which they then had locally screen-printed on the bottles.  

It’s impressive to think that the team translated what they wanted to achieve into an award-winning gin (with the help of a good distiller friend walking them through it) within just 6 months and not a great deal of recipe tweaking. It goes to show that good things don’t always take time; sometimes it just takes three knowledgeable mates to put their heads together and explode onto the scene with an award-winning gin.

Just recently, the team released a limited-edition Spring Gin in collaboration with Future Food System. It features their classic Darling Gin recipe with seasonal fruits and herbs from Future Food System’s rooftop garden, freshly picked juniper berries and a base of rainwater that Darling collected from Federation Square in Melbourne’s CBD. We just love this project of two teams embracing zero waste! If you’re lucky enough, there might be some left. 

Darling Distillery has two new products currently in the pipeline. Firstly, the Darling team is busy working on a Navy strength gin that pays homage to the multi-cultural roots of their neighbourhood around Clifton Hill. Karlos still has his father’s Grappa in the cupboards at the Distillery, and so they think a 58% Gin is their calling in the near future.  

Finally, we’re excited to share that their cold brew Coffee & Cacao Gin is fresh off the press! It uses a base of their Darling Gin of course, but with the addition of Melbourne-roasted coffee, cacao nibs, hazelnuts, roasted wattleseed and some date syrup to create their version of Melbourne in a bottle. It is perfect to drink neat, on ice, or shaken with a shot of espresso for a mean Gin Espresso Martini. We loved it so much we wanted to offer a 200ml bottle as an optional add-in with this month’s subscription, hopefully you managed to nab one and can try it out for yourself!

Gin type – Contemporary

Appearance – Clear, bright

Botanicals – Juniper, coriander seed, Tasmanian pepperberry, angelica root, lemongrass, lemon myrtle, fresh rosemary, green tea, honey, cultured butter, fresh orange and mandarin

Aroma – A complex blend of juniper, fresh citrus and savoury herbaceous notes

Palate – Strong juniper, a blanket of warming spices from Tasmanian pepperberry and earthy undertones from rosemary and green tea

Finish – A long and creamy finish, thanks to the addition of cultured butter, and locally sourced honey

Our perfect G&T
• 30ml Darling Gin
• 90ml StrangeLove Distiller's Tonic
• Dehydrated orange
+ optional sprig of fresh rosemary


Darling Gin is exclusively featured in September's Gin Subscription box!

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This gin is a nod to you, our members. We’ve tasted hundreds of delicious Australian gins over the years and every year our tasting panel has the (really terrible) job of choosing their 12 favourite gins to share with you. It’s tough competition and they’re a very picky bunch!

Twelve months ago, we floated the idea of making something exclusively for our members; something one off and never to be repeated. It needed to be something for the collectors to add to their gin shelves and moreover, we had to make a product we were proud to share, and one delicious enough to get past our tasting panel!