Dung: gin’s final frontier
Photography: Nikki To
1:16PM, Mar 31, 2017
Archie Rose Distilling Co's latest release incorporates the droppings of our native animals. Is this a step too far?
Editor's note: While we're sure you're as curious as we are to try the botanical notes of saltbush digested by a great white, this article was produced as a tongue-in-cheek prank for April Fool's Day. Thanks to the Archie Rose team for being such good sports.
It's getting tough to stand out at the bar. Exotic plants are nothing new in the gin world - just about every bottle is plastered with tales of Tuscan juniper berry, West African grains of paradise and Bulgarian rose petals - and local innovations have gone beyond flora, stepping into the fauna world with gins flavoured with green ants. But it has taken Sydney distillery Archie Rose to take the final step and combine the animal and plant worlds in a new - and, yes, to some drinkers, potentially challenging - way. These botanicals are coming from the final frontier: the backsides of animals.
From left to right; kangaroo, camel, koala, wombat, wallaby and great white shark.
Of course, Archie Rose isn't the first company to harness the awesome power of the digestive tract in the pursuit of flavour. Indonesia's famed kopi luwak coffee is made from beans collected from the droppings of the Asian palm civet, and is considered a delicacy by many Javanese coffee producers. An enzymatic reaction or natural fermentation occurring in the beast's stomach is thought to make a radical difference to the flavour of the bean.
But this is the first time anyone has turned the process to the making of spirits. And while kopi luwak has its critics, the initial response to the gin has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I was sceptical at first," says Archie Rose master distiller Dave Withers. "But run after run has proven that this isn't just good theory - it makes good gin." The Archie Rose team toyed initially with feeding the botanicals to the stray cats that call their Rosebery neighbourhood home, but instead chose to cast the net wider and gather pre-digested plant matter from animals all around Australia.
"We've been to all four corners of the country to find wombats that eat cassia in South Australia, camels out west that graze on pepperleaf and koalas in NSW that eat angelica," says Withers. "Most difficult of all was the great white shark. We knew we wanted a maritime note, so we stuffed some fish with saltbush and a tracking device and dragged them behind the Archie Rose icebreaker, with our botanicals dive-team following in a speedboat. It was expensive, but worth it."
Not every experiment was so rewarding. "Trying to harvest dung from crocodiles was probably a bit ambitious," Withers conceded, after a member of the botanicals team lost his right buttock trying to fish for spent coriander seed in Kakadu. "Poor Frank. He hasn't sat right since."
Wombat, wallaby and great white shark samples.
Just another marketing gimmick? Hardly, says the distillery's founder, Will Edwards. "We know that some people, especially our competitors, will claim this is nothing but a marketing stunt designed to shock. But that couldn't be further from the truth. This is simply us saying whatever works, be that rare but expensive casks for our malts, malted barley shipped from Scotland or indeed sifting through animal droppings with tiny combs digging out flecks of juniper."
Consumers have responded with enthusiasm. "The scat is out of the bag," says Archie Rose manager Harriet Leigh. "It's been a fun, though at times challenging, and, yes stinky process, but we're incredibly proud of Archie Rose Eau De Vie Du Toilette." Leigh recommends trying the gin in such twists on the classics as the Bum Collins, Poogroni, Pong Island Iced Tea, the Bronx Cheer, the Brown Lady and, of course, the Last Turd. "It also makes an excellent Dirty Martini."
The final word, though, might have to go to Archie Rose's sales and marketing manager, Nigel Weisbaum, playing devil's advocate: "Making bloody hipster gin is all very well and good but how do they expect me to sell this shit after April 1?"