Route 9 Distillery | Square1 Big Red Gin

WRITTEN BY Rebecca Wellwood


From left: Sam Brown and Rob Watt

In 2007, it was serendipity that fellow Adelaideans Rob Watt and Sam Brown met while working in Hong Kong. Both with separate careers in vastly different industries – Rob in manufacturing women’s fashion and running a wine business; Sam in recruitment and managing a business in medical supplies – they found a common interest in gin and quickly became great mates. Through a lot of research (ahem, drinking), the pair were inspired and would often spin a yarn about opening the distillery of their dreams when they ultimately returned to their hometown.

In Hong Kong, Rob’s background in winemaking had partially included distillation. When he came home to Adelaide in late 2018 and COVID-19 hit, he decided to return to study and focus entirely on distilling spirits. Sam returned to Australia 18 months later, and the pair decided to start what they had always talked about. Finally, they’d both come home, back to Square 1.

So, what’s in a name? Route 9 Distillery is a nod to the place that drew the pair together in the first place. When Rob and Sam both met in Tai Po, Rob lived on one side of the street; Sam directly opposite on the other. The road was Route 9, and so the rest is history! 

The men opened Route 9 Distillery in the Adelaide Hills because of its reputation for quality. It aligned perfectly with their values and supplies them with an abundance of fresh and pure botanicals, citrus and spring water for their spirits. Rob and Sam aim to keep everything local, and source all the produce and materials they possibly can from the Hills.

When it comes to Square 1, their gin brand that sits under Route 9 Distillery, Rob and Sam are a busy two-man band. They are responsible for all aspects of the distillery, from distilling, bottling, labelling and cleaning to research, product development and marketing. The bottle labels were created by Derek Butler at Black Squid Design – it was a long process to perfect what the guys saw fit for their vision behind each gin, but we can agree it was worth it! 

As for the distillery and accompanying cellar door, the duo strived to create a modern industrial style. You’ll find barrels ageing, a long Tasmanian Oak bar sporting charred wooden paneling, plus tables and shelves featuring timber to soften the hard concrete space. Strings of fairy lights, a graffiti mural from a local artist, wine-barrel bar tables and a pair of leather chesterfield couches create a cosy atmosphere that shows this is more than your run-of-the-mill man-cave. Regardless of where you sit, everywhere offers full view of their large whisky/rum still named David (Copperfield), that is proudly badged with the Route 9 logo. “David” was made in Griffith, NSW by Mark Burns, while their gin still Ben (Stiller) was imported and modified by a custom fabricator in the Adelaide Hills.

Square 1’s range of gins are of course, available at their cellar door for tasting across G&T paddles and a delicious cocktail menu. They also offer an extensive selection of around 80 whiskies and 50 rums which can be enjoyed neat, or as a part of a tasting flight. The Route 9 cellar door features a curated wine list focusing on the Adelaide Hills plus a range of carefully selected European wines. Nibbles are well and truly covered with mouth-watering charcuterie boards and fresh homemade pizzas. Thinking of calling a babysitter? There’s something for the whole family, with plenty of activities to keep the kids (big and small) occupied, including a game of cornhole, a chess board and retro arcade games.  

About Big Red Gin

In an increasingly competitive gin market, Rob and Sam knew from the beginning that their stamp would mean finding something a little left of field or featuring some non-traditional botanicals. After trialling red juniper and loving it, Big Red became their flagship gin!  

Rob and Sam reckon it’s the only gin in the market made using 100% red juniper, and we have to agree that it’s pretty special. Alongside the traditional piney notes we’d expect from common juniper, red juniper offers something deliciously unique in a London Dry – it brings an explosion of juicy dark red fruit profile to the palate.  

Perfecting their first recipe proved to be a much more difficult endeavour than Rob and Sam had anticipated. Expecting it to only take a few months, they found it took close to a year (and 30 trials) to finally land on a recipe they loved. The reject batches sit in a 1,000 litre vat; it’s left in their line of sight to remind the pair where they’ve come from, and that sometimes from mistakes, remarkable things happen.

The red juniper in Big Red Gin brings an unexpected complexity not often found in a gin. Do yourself a favour and take a moment to study the aromas and taste it neat before building your G&T. You will find an alluring burst of the dark red fruit profile entwined with classic juniper pine on the nose. With your first sip, you’ll notice an explosion of red fruit in the mid-palate with exotic savoury notes of cardamom and olive leaf. The oils from the almond give a beautiful mouthfeel that allows the flavours to linger that little bit longer. As well as making a very refreshing G&T, this London Dry style gin is great for any cocktail. We hear it’s exceptional, too, in a glass of OJ in the afternoon (okay, morning. It’s exceptional in the morning). C’est la vie!  

We have paired Big Red Gin with East Imperial’s Tonic Water this month as we think it stands up beautifully to the robust traditional flavours that come through in the gin. Extra red juniper and lime for garnish nod to its star ingredient and add some zesty freshness that is sure to brighten any chilly winter evening! You can enjoy your gin alongside a creamy hard cheese or red fruits like fresh strawberries – or both together! The experts think this is a cracking gin too, with Big Red earning a Silver medal in the Contemporary Gin category at the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC) this year!

Other Products in the Range

When it comes to producing gin, the most difficult is Navy Strength as there is nowhere to hide! So, hearing that Square 1’s Sea Legs Navy Gin had received 95 points and won a gold medal at IWSC in London early this year made Rob and Sam immensely proud! Think timeless sophisticated juniper with gentle spices of star anise, pink peppercorn, and vanilla warming the palate to finish with a refreshing citrus zest.  

Limited release gins also crop up to showcase local Adelaide Hills produce – ‘Xstrawdinberry’ Strawberry Gin and Bohemian Raspberry Gins have been a popular indulgence. We’re also keeping an eye out for their Ballanah Blush Gin; Big Red Gin nurtured in a local shiraz wine barrel, that also picked up silver at the IWSC this year.

The third gin to their core range is Unrind Citrus Gin, which features an explosion of citrus; lemon, orange, blood orange, grapefruit, and mandarin alongside subtle spices, and tempered with a savoury finish. We love it so much that we’ve featured it in its own gift box just in time for Father’s Day!

Up next for Route 9 Distillery is a special release just around the corner for springtime as they partner with the tonic legends at Mischief Brew. Together, they’ve been tinkering with a custom tonic to pair with their gins, creating a convenient and delicious RTD so you can enjoy a Big Red while on the go. We’ll be keeping an eye out for those! 

If rum or whisky also speak your language, check out Route 9 Distillery’s online store to stay on top of launch dates for their Rum Project and Adelaide Whisky Co. coming soon!  

We were lucky enough to visit Rob and Sam at their cellar door recently – we loved every second of our trip and their distillery certainly did not leave us wanting (say no more!). Be sure to drop in to see them in Balhannah for plenty of great drinks, good vibes, a killer pizza or two, and to experience the passionate characters behind Route 9. We’ve fallen in love with the Hills all over again, and highly recommend planning a trip to the region to explore everything that it has to offer. 

Gin type – London Dry

Appearance – Clear, bright

Botanicals – Red juniper, coriander, angelica root, cardamon, pink peppercorn, cassia, golden berries, almond, bilberries, olive leaf, lime

Aroma – Elements of the traditional pine profile, with hints of the red juniper coming through. Keen noses may also pick up bilberry and golden berry 

Palate – Red juniper shines with the mid palate exploding with cranberry, red current and dark stone fruits 

Finish – Almond builds a creamy mouthfeel, creating a long, lingering finish

Our perfect G&T
• 30ml Square1 Big Red Gin
• 90ml East Imperial Tonic Water
• Dehydrated Lime and red juniper

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