Ester Spirits | Dry Gin

Written by Rebecca Wellwood

ABOUT THE DISTILLERY Sparked by an obsession with unforgettably crafted food and drink experiences, Ester Spirits brings the best of a love affair with Sydney’s bold epicurean culture and a whole lot of fun. Ester Spirits’s mission is to create drinks that knock your socks off with flavour, riotously loud and full of character, but carefully crafted and versatile enough to make a killer martini, a smooth and balanced Negroni, and a very charismatic G&T. 

It’s no surprise, then, that with 40 years of hospitality experience between them, Felix Clark and Corinna Kovner have brought Ester to life after turning their sights towards the spirit scene. It’s a classic tale of front-house meets back of house, after working together over 12 years ago. The now husband and wife Sydneysiders are a creative force to be reckoned with, and aren’t slowing down any time soon. 

Founder and head distiller, Felix cultivates a fascination with both booze and science. Working across a multitude of venues and his family owning and operating a vineyard, he’s been hands-on with every facet from harvest, picking, crushing, fermentation to bottling, serving and of course, drinking!

Ester’s other half, Corinna, is the creative director of the project. She’s always had a strong affinity with food and more hedonistic pleasures, which drove her to a chef’s apprenticeship and food design from back of house. She now looks after everything from branding direction to the design of the distillery and upcoming bar. 

Long-time mate and fellow chef apprentice Cydra Joyce rounds out the team as Junior Distiller. A jeweller on the side, Cyd’s understanding of machinery and tools, artistic flair and a killer natural palate made her a great addition to the ragbag team.

Corinna and Felix bring to Ester a naively ambitious outlook with everything they do. A decade ago, they opened a café and bakery (one of the top 5 cafés in Sydney at the Good Food awards) with the view to make everything that went on the plate, from pastry to house-smoked bacon and more. It was a penniless labour of love that had them working 70–80 hours a week. Constant hurdles loomed, but the pair kindled a burning desire to pivot into the spirit scene where they could create a unique and well-made drink to enjoy at home.  

Sometime in 2013 – unashamedly inspired by an obsessive quest for the perfect negroni – Felix and Corinna began their distilling journey with a 20-litre coffee boiler still in the backyard of their Newtown digs. Every night and afternoon, Felix would tinker about in his shed with an unquenchable thirst to create something to rival what competitors offered. Tentative sampling to other hospitality friends confirmed their suspicions – their efforts were hitting the mark. With a flavour-first approach, it was a no-brainer to use the name ‘Ester’; the name of flavours that are formed during fermentation. 

The inspiration behind the brand, from the visuals and also in its flavours, is to capture a clash and intersection of opposing forces. Sitting in that sweet spot somewhere between masculine and feminine, art and science, modern and classic, heart and brain, they embraced the tension of dichotomy to create the visual character and flavours of Ester Spirits.

By 2016-17, Ester’s launch was set in partnership with a well-known pub in Sydney. Unfortunately, this fell apart at the last minute, and amid a very hectic schedule juggling three busy hospitality venues, a house build and a baby on the way, the project was temporarily shelved.

Fast forward to 2019, Felix and Corinna made the decision to utilise contract distilling to kick off production. Despite some negativity around it in the industry, they were confident their juice was good, and after a three-year delay, they weren’t willing to wait another two years to find the perfect site. Six months of research and development later, Ester Spirits finally launched its two gins in May 2020. 

Initially, reception was a slow burn while managing two successful cafés in Sydney and important life admin took the fore. This all changed when the Ester Strong Gin won Best in Show at the Australian Gin Awards of 2020.  

The following year, Felix and Corinna landed a 500m2, double-storey warehouse oozing 1950s/60s charm in the heart of Sydney’s craft brewery and distillery scene, Marrickville. On the ground level, it houses the distillery and newly-opened tasting room. Featured is ‘Tiny Tina’, Ester’s 200-litre Spark Brew hybrid offset still; named after Felix’s larger-than-life mother. Felix expects that this still’s smaller batches will enable him to refine his recipes even further.  

The distillery and tasting room strive to be a harmonious union of art and science, functionality and beauty to create a space that embodies intuitive creativity at its core. A rotation of artists will line the warehouse walls, and a 6-metre-long red marble and stainless-steel table sitting proudly in the heart of the factory floor. This is where everything from tastings, cocktail mixing, distilling prep, communal lunches and meetings will happen. 

Throughout the distilling journey, Felix tested over 20 recipes, ranging from just 5 botanicals, to well over two dozen. Sometimes less is more, and he settled on the fabled 6th recipe, featuring 13 botanicals. When using Australian natives, he found there was a fine line between adding delicious depth, or turning the recipe into a ‘punch you in the face’ soup. As with everything Corinna and Felix do, flavour is key, so the hardest part was the gruelling taste testing to perfect it! 

Ester’s striking Dry Gin is crafted using a traditional all-in method of distillation. Sitting at a proper 43% ABV, the recipe takes the clean, juniper-forward profile of a classic London Dry with Australian botanicals; namely macadamia, Tasmanian pepperberry, finger lime, lemon myrtle – plus sweet mandarin peel (chen pi).  

Aromatically, a proud hit of juniper, coriander and liquorice root spikes the gin with classic dry spice and herbaceous intensity. The unctuous, macadamia-enhanced texture floats across the tongue, animated by earthy citrus notes of native finger lime and lemon myrtle. Sweet mandarin lifts the finish while adding a twist of elegance. The result? An unfiltered, exceptionally sophisticated and well-balanced gin for classicists and modernists alike, and a must for any traditional gin cocktail.  

Bold enough to hold its own against food and in cocktails, Ester Dry is a winner in any season! Alongside the Ester Strong taking out Best in Show at the Australian Gin Awards in 2020, Ester Dry also took home gold; followed by more gold awards at the Australian Distilled Spirit Awards 2020, the World Gin Awards 2021, plus silver at the IWSC in London last year. 

Of course, Ester Strong sits proudly in the lineup alongside Ester Dry. The navy strength gin boasts a peppery citrus burst, eucalypt freshness and earthy undertones culminating in a flavour that is big, smooth and spicy.

For the ultimate convenience, Ester also offers ready-to-drink cocktail creations. Uncork Felix’s ultimate Negroni; a fresh, bright and boozy Mandarin Gimlet; a cracking Martini, or a truly divine Bees Knees – featuring a bees-waxed lined bottle, Ester Strong Gin, honey and citrus. Felix describes this as rubbing your face in an alcoholic beehive, and we’re first in line!

Currently in the works is Ester’s much-awaited expansion into a cocktail bar upstairs above the distillery next year. Several new gin styles are also in conception, with whispers it will include utilising their experience with coffee. The building next door has already been earmarked for Felix’s other love – rum – with which they have ambitious plans, too.

It doesn’t stop with booze, either! Bespoke Ester barware in mixed metals, and jewellery in conjunction with Cydra’s talents, themed around good food, good drinks, good times. If we’re lucky, this may also include clothing, homewares and sculptural table pieces in the near future. 

Whew! We need a drink just thinking about that! Ester is on a mission to fight complacency, and that means as consumers we’re all winners here.

Before you go, what’s your favourite part of owning a distillery?
Felix & Corinna: “We love the creation at Ester. This is a new industry for us, so everything is exciting and new. We have always strived to create and make things from scratch.”

GIN TYPE - London Dry
APPEARANCE - Clear and bright
BOTANICALS - Juniper, coriander, cardamon, clove, cassia, orris root, licorice root, angelica root, macadamia, tasmanian pepperberry, native finger lime, lemon myrtle, sweet mandarin peel (chen pi) 
AROMA - A proud hit of juniper, coriander and liquorice root spike the spirit with dry spice and herbaceous intensity
PALATE - Unctuous, creamy macadamia floats across the tongue, animated by earthy citrus notes of native finger lime and lemon myrtle
FINISH - Sweet mandarin lifts the finish while adding a twist of elegance to warming pepperberry

- 30ml Ester Dry Gin
- 90ml Midnight Mixers Classic Dry Tonic
- Dehydrated grapefruit


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