DARWIN GIN | DARWIN DISTILLING CO.

WRITTEN BY BRITNEY KIDD

ABOUT THE DISTILLERY 
Behind Darwin Distilling Co. is the story of Rebecca (Bec) Bullen, a passionate entrepreneur who loves to experiment and has no real fear of failure. She’s one of only a handful of female distillers in Australia, and she’s certainly writing her very own story as she grows Darwin Distilling Co. 

When you meet Bec, it is obvious that she’s lived an interesting life thus far; she’s a lively and inspiring character with plenty of entertaining stories up her sleeve. Growing up in a small Victorian country town, Bec started working at the local general store when she was just 11 years old. Having worked in and out of the hospitality industry since she was 13, taking good care of customers is very much second nature for Bec, as is the importance that she places on flavour and experience. After travelling the world and living in China, Singapore, France and Hong Kong, one might ask how Bec has ended up calling Darwin home, of all places. 

Rebecca (Bec) Bullen

In 2010, Bec opened a wine bar in East Melbourne called Cohen Cellars, and it was here that her Darwin Distilling Co. journey began. Sitting in the rustic little bar one afternoon, a customer mused to Bec that Darwin was in sore need of a classy wine bar for locals and tourists alike to enjoy. After her success in Melbourne, and with a keen willingness to give anything a go at least once, Bec’s interest was piqued. 

Shortly after, Bec booked a plane ticket and was on her way up to Darwin to investigate. She, too, recognised the opportunities in the area, and quickly began the arduous process of arranging a liquor licence. Stone House Wine Bar and Kitchen opened in 2016, in one of the few remaining local stone buildings in the heart of Darwin’s city. The heritage-listed building is rich with it’s own history, having survived cyclones, unexploded bombs in the backyard, bullet holes from WWII, and it was even once an opium den back in the 1800s! Bec was sure to retain the original character of the building, while adding a distinctively European flair and a lavish green outdoor area.

Stone House offers an ever-changing and carefully curated wine list with over 300 different wines from near and afar, along with delicious cheese, charcuterie and bar snacks. Six years later, Stone House is more popular than ever and is on many a destination list for those visiting the Northern Territory. 

Up until this point, for Bec it had all been about wine. Ironically, a two week wine tour through Europe is where she began her love affair with gin and cocktails. 

The inspiration for starting her own distillery, as Bec likes to recall, hit her while she was coming up the escalators in Hong Kong after visiting a gin bar called Ping Pong (which she highly recommends paying a visit to, if you’re heading over there). It occurred to her that her love of flavours combined with Darwin’s incredible ingredients could create something very special. Bec is quick to acknowledge that she’ll never become a chef – scars from burns and sharp knives are testament to this – nor a winemaker as plants tend to die under her watch. Making gin and cocktails seemed like another wonderful way to play with flavours so she thought “let’s do this!”.

Darwin Distilling Co. launched in 2020, and what better way to do it than to open it up inside Charlie’s of Darwin; a gorgeous cocktail bar, restaurant and distillery in the heart of Darwin CBD. Bec wanted Charlie’s of Darwin to bring a glimpse of Melbourne’s energetic food and wine scene to the area. It features a graffiti-covered hidden entrance, an impressive cocktail list (think Bloody Laksa Marys and Kakadu Plum Margaritas), and even a Chef x Distiller series featuring Chef Fendi Bong’s delicious degustation menu, perfectly paired with unique house-blended spirit creations. 

Bec is still very much involved in the day-to-day running of the distillery and is supported by Duncan, her distillery assistant. You can see them in action at Charlie’s with their still, which sits proudly in the middle of the bar for everyone to see. Fingerprints have left it looking not so shiny anymore, but it’s a wonderfully immersive experience to see the distillery in full swing. 

To top off the Charlie’s experience, you can also enrol in a blend-your-own masterclass, where you’ll have the opportunity to blend four of your very own gin tastings. Bec and the team will bottle your favourite, so you can take home your very own Darwin inspired gin! 

ABOUT THE GIN
When considering her first product release, Bec’s wish was to create a well-balanced gin that subtly captured the flavours of Darwin using locally sourced botanicals. Bec loves going out foraging, and heading out to markets to discover local botanicals that she’s never seen before. Aside from sounding like the best job on the planet, it allows her to experiment with ingredients that no one else is distilling. This makes her gins Uniquely Territorian, which just happens to be the motto that Darwin Distilling Co. live by.

Nearly 20 recipes were trialled with a collection of lucky taste-testers before Bec settled on the final recipe for her Darwin Gin. Kakadu plum, Native Lemongrass, water lilies and juniper are the heroes; water lily provides rounded floral notes on the nose while Native Lemongrass adds a sweet tang that balances out slightly tart notes of the Kakadu plum.

As always, we’ve selected our favourite G&T combo for you to try with the Darwin Gin, and it’s a treat! We’re so excited to be sharing a limited-edition garnish this month coming all the way from Darwin; Bec and the local community have worked tirelessly to source starfruit, local mangoes and calamansi limes to perfectly compliment your Darwin G&T. If you’re looking for more variety still, Bec highly recommends pairing her gin with Capi Tonic, pink grapefruit and a stick of lemongrass. She’s a firm believer in experimenting with flavours to find something that you love, and truly believes that there is no wrong answer here!

There are no prizes for guessing what inspired the label on Darwin Distilling Co.’s Darwin Gin bottle, but there are a few tales to tell. When Bec and the team (fondly referred to as ‘the boys’) were out foraging for water lilies in one of the communities they work with, they had a few close encounters with some of its local reptile residents. They soon learnt to throw logs into the water to scare off any crocodiles lurking below. I was keen to go foraging with Bec one day, up until I heard that part… Yikes!

With both the label and the contents, Bec has certainly managed to capture the essence of Darwin in this bottle; it’s a wonderfully smooth and complex gin that makes a cracking G&T after a hard day’s work (particularly if work involves foraging amongst the local crocs!). It pairs well with spicy food, so we’re privileged to share exclusive access to the recipe for Chef Fendi’s famous Crocodile Dumplings with Szechuan Numbing Sauce. It’s a little more intensive than recipes that we usually share with you, but it was far too special to keep to ourselves! 

OTHER PRODUCTS IN THE RANGE
There is always something exciting happening or being released at Darwin Distilling Co. In true Bec style, we can confidently say that she has managed to create the most unique gin that we’ve ever tried; her famous Salty Plum Gin. If you’ve never heard of a Salty Plum before, you’re certainly not alone. 

Salty Plums originate from China; they have a salty yet sweet red powder coating that gives them a distinctive mouth-puckering sourness and a strong salty tang. Salty Plums also have very deep roots up in Darwin, and are almost seen as an initiation to Territory life. Although an acquired taste for those who haven’t grown up eating them, they’re so popular in Darwin that they’re even available to purchase as a snack in school canteens. 

“Salty Plums up here are comparable to the way that we ate vegemite down south, so I thought ‘why not make it into a gin’?!” – Bec Bullen

The gin itself is just as distinctive – salty, tangy and bright orange with a single Salty Plum sitting in the bottom of the bottle. It makes a martini unlike we’ve ever tried before, and we’d certainly recommend giving it a go (it won’t be like any other gin you’ve tried before, so keep an open mind here folks!). 

If Salty Plum gin isn’t for you, keep an eye out for other limited releases from the Darwin Distilling Co. team. Over the last year, they have created a unique blend in support of the Darwin International Laksa Festival along with their Fierce Pride Gin to celebrate and support diversity and inclusion in the NT. Bec remains tight-lipped about what’s coming next for Darwin Distilling Co., but after having distilled jujubes, chocolate pudding fruit and native tree sap all in the last two months, we’re confident that she’s working on another incredible gin that we’ve never seen before. Watch this space! 

TASTING NOTES
Gin type – Modern Australian

Appearance – Clear, bright

Botanicals – Juniper, water lilies, Native Lemongrass, Kakadu plum

Aroma –  Sweet tang from Native Lemongrass with a slight floral note from water lily

Palate – Kakadu plum gives a tongue-tingling tart note, rounded by savoury lemongrass flavours

Finish – Smooth and refreshing

Our perfect G&T
• 30ml Darwin Gin
• 90ml CAPI Tonic
• Dehydrated calamansi citrus, mango and starfruit

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