A Gin with Benefits At The Gin Birds HQ, we love finding all things shiny and new. Gins that elevate the Australian gin scene, widen our lens, deepen our understanding of creating brand new flavour profiles with unique botanicals. We knew it was time to talk all things HG Hemp Gin.
After it picked up a Silver Medal at the GinNation Awards in 2020 and met with roaring reviews from the consumer judges we sat down at The Gin Birds HQ with Andrew Kerrigan, the owner of HG Hemp Gin. We talked about starting out in distilling how Andrew was the first Australian to turn this superfood into a super gin.
So, this is the most unique gin we’ve have showcased yet – HG Hemp Gin. Tell us how your gin came to be?
I was studying towards a bachelor’s degree, part time of an evening. One of the assignments was to develop a business model in an industry of my choosing. Well, I have always enjoyed drinking all types of alcohol and gin was a particular interest to myself, so I thought I would build a gin business on paper. This was a big assignment and the more I investigated the industry, the more I started to think that I could bring my assignment into the real world. You could say it was a scratch that needed itching and I was hooked.
I had gained so much knowledge and I had become so passionate about my idea that I just had to bring it to life.
What was your vision and ethos for HG Hemp Gin, and has it evolved?
I wanted to be authentic about my product. I have a background in New Product Development and innovation, having always worked for large FMCG food manufacturing companies, specifically bakery ( I am a qualified baker). I have always been creative with flavours and ideas.
When I started my assignment, hemp was illegal for use in food and drink, as it had been banned during the prohibition era, due to its links to marijuana. Hemp is from the cannabis plant; however, it contains no THC (that’s the stuff that makes you ‘high’). Years of lobbying by hemp farmers and groups supportive of hemp had enabled the legislation to be corrected. I had been playing around with hemp in my corporate job to make hemp bread, but no one seemed too keen to move ahead with it. I like to challenge the status quo and with the regulations due to change November 12th 2017 I was keen to see how I could use this unique ingredient with my fledgling business of making gin.
Chef Nick Hollaway from Nu Nu restaurant in Palm Cove. His tropical Christmas puddings are getting vapour infused into a completely new gin we are distilling using unique Far North Queensland botanicals.
Tell us about the people behind HG Hemp Gin.
It is pretty much just myself. HG Hemp Gin is my baby. I conceived it and am now nurturing it like a growing child. I am ‘fully hands on’ and often joke, my business card would need to be A4 sized to cover all my jobs, from delivery driver, QA manager, sales and marketing to accounts payable/receivable.
We love to talk about region as it plays such an important part of what is created. How does region contribute to HG Hemp Gin to what you produce?
This is an interesting one. Australia has some truly amazing gins, and we have some unique native botanicals such as finger limes, wattle seeds and mountain pepper berry as well as many berries and plants that have been used by the indigenous communities for a long time.
I wanted to be authentic. I am originally from the UK so I decided to stay closer to a London Dry style gin, but with a twist. Australia is a land of opportunity and it enables you to be yourself but also reinvent yourself. Hemp is exciting and new and by modifying a traditional English style gin to make it truly an Australia product, I feel I have captured both sides of myself.
How did you come up with the flavour profile? Tell us about the process.
I knew I wanted to use the hemp, so I started working up some ideas in the kitchen, to get an understanding of how the flavours compliment each other. I found the hemp added a good depth of flavour and added a nice savoury aspect that complimented the fresher notes of juniper and lemon. Once I was close to a formulation that I was happy with, I reached out to some of the industry experts across NSW and they were happy to add input and help polish up my product to perfection. It took some time, but it was well worth it.
Tell us about your distillation process.
My research took me down the path of the varying types of gin production, and I settled on the vapour infused method, as something about vapours gently extracting flavours from a suspended packaged recipe of chosen botanicals appealed to my ‘product development’ brain.
What do you use for your base spirit and why?
When I started my research, I did not realise that many distillers use what is known as a ‘neutral spirit’. I had assumed that gin was made in a similar way to whiskey with a mash ferment that is then distilled. It was a bit of an eye opener if I am honest. I wanted the botanicals to be the star, so I decided a neutral spirit was the way to go, I also found out that not all neutral spirits are equal and this was another learning curve, despite being neutral, the base spirit is a significant factor in the final result.
Hemp seeds are the primary ingredient and interestingly a super food. Is it a challenge to change the perception of Hemp with alternative uses such as gin?
I launched HG Hemp Gin as the first gin in Australia to use hemp as a key botanical, something I am very proud of, especially as I did not come from a distilling background nor the hospitality industry. I knew hemp was a great source of omega 3,6,9 , amino acids and good source of protein. It also grows very well in drought prone soil, while helping to add Co2 to the atmosphere with no need to add pesticides or fertilisers.
Some people don’t get the concept and that’s fine , however I have found that most people are very interested in exploring new things and once they try my HG Hemp Gin they really enjoy it.
Tell us about the other botanicals in your gin. Do you access unique botanicals in-region?
As mentioned, I wanted to stay away from the indigenous botanicals and stay true to myself. Building an Australian Dry Gin, with a twist was my primary goal.
HG Hemp Gin is not as heavy in juniper as some other gins, but this was a conscious decision to enable a balanced gin with a hint of traditional and a hint of the new. The citrus element is lemon as I did not want to go too tropical. The other botanicals include cardamon and coriander to compliment the hemp then there is vanilla and liquorice to add some depth.
When tasting it neat or on ice, you can taste these flavours at different stages. There are sweet, fresh top notes on first taste, and you will start to taste the hemp linger on the back of your palate.
Distiller Cocktails for HG Hemp Gin
Andrew enjoys HG Hemp Gin neat over ice, or in a dirty martini to allow the savoury aspect to shine through. Here are a few simple drinks to make at home.
HG Hemp Gin & Tonic
40ml HG Hemp Gin
Plenty of ice
Top with Fever-Tree Aromatic Tonic
Add a simple garnish of lemon. Boom, a refreshing G&T.
Garnish – Lemon or grapefruit peel
A sexy version of a Bloody Mary, as the savoury notes of HG Hemp Gin elevate this cheeky breakfast cocktail to a new level.
Fill a tall glass with ice
Pour in 60 ml of HG Hemp Gin
3 dashes of Tabasco
3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce (more or less of both to suit your taste)
Add a little cracked pepper
Half fill the glass with tomato juice, stir it around and fill to the top with more juice. Garnish with a wedge of lemon and a stalk of celery.
This has to be the best naughty Sunday morning hang over cure. Though it’s just as delicious any time of the day.
A little bit fancier but still super easy to make.
This one is a shaken cocktail. If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, try using a jam jar.
Add some ice to your shaker, then add:
45 ml HG Hemp Gin
15 ml Triple Sec
30 ml lemon juice
15 ml Aquafaba (This is just the juice from a can of chickpeas – traditionally egg white was used)
Shake, shake, shake-it up.
Pour through a strainer or sieve into a chilled coupe glass and add a couple of mint leaves for garnish.
Distiller’s Tasting Notes
Hemp Gin includes Cardamom, Coriander, Liquorice, Lemon, Vanilla and Hemp
HG Hemp Gin is an Australian Dry Gin, with a twist. Hemp adds a good depth of flavour a unique savoury aspect that is complimented by the fresher notes of juniper and lemon.
Not as heavy in juniper as some other gins to produce a balanced gin with a hint of traditional and a hint of the new. On the nose and first taste you’ll find juniper and the fragant lemon as the citrus element while other botanicals include cardamon and coriander to compliment the hemp with vanilla and liquorice to add depth.
When tasting it neat or on ice, you can taste these flavours at different stages.
There are sweet, fresh top notes on first taste, and you will start to taste the hemp linger on the back of your palate.
Do you have any interesting observations about the gin consumer?
I attend many events where I get to meet lots of lovely people. They all have interesting stories and different favourites. Each person is on their own journey of discovery and they love to share ideas and tips with one another. It is always a pleasure to attend events and chat with the gin community.
What is life like for a craft Australian distiller? Is the independent distiller supported? What are the highs and challenges?
The distilling community is very welcoming, the industry has exploded and there are many small businesses now. Starting out, I found everyone very welcoming am happy to share tips and work through issues. Australian spirits only makes up a tiny proportion of what the Australian consumer is drinking, so the more the local producers grow the better the industry becomes. For me personally, I get a massive buzz each time I get consumer feedback on my product, see it on the back bar or get tagged in a social media post.
I think the biggest challenge is getting the wider population to understand that small craft producers can not compete with the pricing structure of the big multinational companies.
Consumers are seeing lots of brands of gin pop up making it difficult to know what to choose. How should they differentiate between gins. What should they be looking for?
Great question. Gin has such a wide range of flavour profiles now, one persons favourite may not be liked by another person. I like to think that we should all be doing ‘research’ in our local bars, try asking for Australian made and if your local is limited in stock, ask them to get a few in. Once you have tried different gins, the best way to support the local businesses is to buy direct. If you and your friends are keen gin drinkers, set up a swapping system or run your own in house tasting nights.
How do you see gin evolving in Australia?
There are a lot of new gins entering the market every week. In the UK there has been a big movement to strongly flavoured gins, I would say closer to fruity vodkas. This trend will continue, and while they may not be for the purist gin drinkers, I say if you like it drink it. One concern is regarding the taxes we pay in Australia. The government makes a lot of money from the small guy with increases in tax every 6 months. There will be a tipping point that makes it impossible for many Australian distillers to stay in business, this can’t be good for consumer choice or innovation in the industry
Any teasers for what’s in store or anything in development? Gin or non-gin related? If so, please share.
I am working on a couple of collaborations and micro batches…. But that’s all I can say for now..
Finally, how do you take your gin?
How don’t I take my gin? I love almost all cocktails, but as mentioned I often have a neat HG Hemp Gin over ice, or a very dry martini super chilled.
Is there anything else you wanted our gin community to know?
Thanks for reading about my business, I am truly grateful to everyone that buys my product, tags me in a post and provides me with feedback. One of my many jobs include ‘social media manager’ so if you want me discuss anything in more detail, please send me an Instagram DM and I will be sure to help you out.
Written by Suzan Temizer and Andrew Kerrigan. Photos courtesy of Hemp Gin.
Thanks for supporting us to support Australian Craft Gin Distilleries.