The Australian bush, in a bottle
Nestled in the base of the Blue Mountains is a small batch, Karu Distillery Gin is a locally run and independent distillery crafting award-winning spirits made from predominantly homegrown and local ingredients.
Karu Distillery is run by husband-and-wife team Nick and Ally, who had a dream of creating a unique Aussie small-batch spirits range and are now proud makers of what’s dubbed the world’s best contemporary gin.
Homegrown with an edgy character
It was in 2017 that Nick and Ally decided to open a bar. And it wasn’t long after that that the pair realised their real dream was actually stemming from what was behind the bar: the spirits. The more they focused on this aspect, the more fascinated they grew by the world of spirits and distillation. So they set out to do a lot of research.
The couple spent the next several years learning the production side of distillation, travelling around the country and overseas to gauge what it takes to make a successful small-scale distillery. They took in all the information they could about the art and science of distillation, and then sought out a beautiful property nestled in the Blue Mountains to bring their dream to life.
It was a simple vision that Nick and Ally had at first. They wanted to create small batch spirits that celebrated the art and science of distillation while encapsulating the distinct character of the Aussie bushland surrounding their property. To infuse the heart and soul of the Blue Mountains into their spirits, the couple sought out native flavours and local produce to craft their spirits.
The result is a range of bold and beautiful gins that are bursting with the flavour of native botanicals reminiscent of the Aussie bush.
The strength and fearlessness of a bear
Karu is the Estonian word for ‘bear’, inspired by the couple’s Estonian family heritage. Spiritually, bears stand for strength rather than speed, they’re fearless and symbolise introspection and intuition merged with a strong sense of instinct. These combined qualities drive the team at Karu, allowing them to follow their own instinct and intuition when creating their products. Strength also comes into the picture through the duo’s prioritisation of strength of character and flavour over mass production.
Heading the distillation operation is Ally, who brings an almost obsessive passion to the team. The work she does in distillation combines her years of research with her own unique character and desire to push the boundaries of what can be done. Nick comes from a film industry background in rigging and carries the driving force to get things done. He’s always inventing new product ideas, multitasking, and leading the team with his operational skills.
When it came time to produce their first batch of gin, Ally knew that there wasn’t just one type of gin that would please everyone. So she set out to create a gin that was made with her and Nick’s tastes in mind. The result was Affinity Gin: focused on homegrown Australian produce, native flora, and experimentation with the agriculture behind the botanicals. That was just the start for Karu, and they’ve only grown from there.
The Australian bush, in a bottle
Karu Distillery is nestled on acres upon acres of Aussie bushland, in the heart of the wilderness under the shade of giant gum trees. Here, the sights and sounds change with the time of day and the seasons, as does the flora and fauna. This classically Australian environment is evident in every bottle the distillery creates, from the mountain rainwater they collect to the native bees that pollinate their botanicals.
All the spirits made at Karu Distillery are focused on fresh botanicals that are grown on their property where possible. What they can’t grow themselves, they source from small-scale Australian farms. Fascinated by the idea of distilling gin from seed to still, the couple tried at one stage to grow every botanical used in their gin but found it wasn’t feasible. Despite that, the character of their property seeps into every drop of the gin they produce. The couple have really created a true product of their environment and not just another bottle of spirits.
Being so heavily reliant on the surrounding bush and nature, Ally and Nick do what they can to reduce their impact on the environment and wholeheartedly believe in the importance of giving back and taking care of the beautiful habitat surrounding them. Permeating throughout every step of the distillation process is an underlying aim to create products with the smallest impact on nature as possible.
The gin that’s inspired by a fire demon
The heart and soul of Karu Distillery is their 600L Australian-made Knapp Lewer Copper Pot Still, nicknamed Calcifer after the fire demon in Howl’s Moving Castle. At the moment, Calcifer is working overtime to produce rum that’s made using NSW molasses, due to be released anytime soon. Patience is key when it comes to aged spirits.
Until then, there’s plenty to love about Karu Distillery’s current range of spirits. Affinity Gin is their hallmark, a contemporary Australian style of gin that’s well-balanced from the rich juniper, semi-sweet citrus, flora, and warm spiced notes. With a natural sweetness, this versatile gin has a balanced flavour with no single botanical standing out too much, and it’s just as beautiful straight as it is mixed. Lightning Gin is Karu’s navy strength option at 57.5%, made with double juniper and heavier citrus notes of ruby grapefruit, mandarin, and rose geranium that provides a herbaceous spritz to the spirit. Lightning Gin is closer to the traditional style of gin through its botanical profile and distillation process, while Affinity is more approachable with hints of vanilla bean and a lovely aroma from locally grown lavender and lemon myrtle.
The couple have also created their own unique range of premium cocktail infusions that act as an interactive garnish experience for gin and tonics. The G & Tea premium cocktail range acts as a way to add complex garnishes to the gin without overpowering its flavour. Over the last few months, the couple have begun researching into the development of liqueurs, with the intention of creating flavours that have a unique and distinct twist.
If the gins are anything to go by, the liqueurs are sure to be an award-winning range that quickly earn their fair share of accolades and loyal fans. Since 2018, Karu Distillery has won Gold in numerous awards, including the San Francisco World Spirit Awards, Sip Awards, Gin Masters, Australian International Spirits Competition, and International Wine and Spirit Competition. When this much heart and soul is being poured into a passion project, it’s really no wonder Karu Distillery has earned such a name for itself so quickly.
Read about some of the exclusive & most passionate producers in Australia in CHEFIN’s team deep dive into New South Wale’s best producers.