Noble Cut Gin, with head distiller Carla Daunton: S7E5

Young Henrys has been distilling Noble Cut Gin in parallel with its brewing operation since 2015.

However, likely because of the scale of Young Henrys brewing operation, its Noble Cut Gin has flown somewhat under the radar.

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The company hopes that will change with an improved recipe for Noble Cut Gin that was awarded a Gold Medal at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition earlier this year.

Also in 2020, Young Henrys launched the second iteration of its Barrel-Aged Gin along with another expression that looks set to become a permanent fixture in the range, Newtown Strength Gin.

Young Henrys head distiller Carla Daunton with Noble Cut Gin
Young Henrys head distiller Carla Daunton with Noble Cut Gin

The company’s new head distiller, Carla Daunton, joins us in this episode of the Drinks Adventures podcast.

Carla started at Young Henrys after previously learning distillation in her previous role at an ethanol facility.

First up, you’ll hear from Carla how she found her way into brewing and then distilling at Young Henrys.

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Carla Daunton on Young Henrys Noble Cut Gin: Full transcript

CARLA DAUNTON: So originally my training was based in science, in biochemistry. And I did a bit of post graduate research with biochemistry and nano-engineering. Very unhappy in science and just tried to find the best parts of the science that I do love, and applying them in a way that could bring me the most joy. Which distilling and brewing has all the fun bits.

JAMES ATKINSON: Were you already a gin enthusiast then, prior to arriving at Young Henrys?

CARLA DAUNTON: Yeah, I was. It was actually going to Junipalooza in 2017 I think, to get myself into gin, because I didn’t like it beforehand. But had me actually approaching distillers and discussing with them potentially moving into that industry for the first time, from my previous role as a science communicator and educator.

JAMES ATKINSON: And then you found yourself… was it initially you started at Young Henrys in a brewing role, or that kind of progressed into distilling from there?

CARLA DAUNTON: Yeah, so I was a production distiller before Young Henrys. That was my first role in the industry and then I came on board at Young Henrys as a brewer. I want to do everything. I want to know everything and I want to try my hand at everything. So I wanted to do both brewing and distilling in my career. So, in being a production distiller I was hesitant to continue distilling straight away in my next move, because I didn’t want to lock myself into that aspect of booze production. So I came on board as a brewer initially at Young Henrys, they took a massive chance on me because I was just this ditz that rocks up. And like oh, I distil and you know, I’m a scientist. I can totally lift bags of grain and they were like okay great, and they took a chance and yeah. I love brewing.

JAMES ATKINSON: Give yourself some credit. You had a you know, science qualifications which is probably more than what a lot of people have when they start. You know, there’s a lot of people who start out as home brewers I guess and get into the profession from there.

CARLA DAUNTON: I do enjoy the enzymatic utilisation in the brewing process, yes. Does speak to my soul. But yeah, no and then our previous distiller was coming to an end of his time, his internment there and they offered me to be distiller and so I was brewer distiller up until two weeks ago. And now head distiller.

JAMES ATKINSON: Oh well, congratulations.

CARLA DAUNTON: Thank you.

JAMES ATKINSON: I mentioned to a couple of people that I was going to be having you on the podcast, from Young Henrys to talk about gin. And I have to say, the reaction I kind of get from people is Young Henrys? Oh, do you mean McHenry’s in Tasmania? No, Young Henrys. Young Henrys makes gin? Is that something you get often, because obviously Young Henrys is such a powerhouse of a beer brand that maybe the gin’s just flown under the radar a little bit.

CARLA DAUNTON: As soon as you started that, I knew exactly where you were going. And it’s word for word – I didn’t know they make gin. That’s absolutely what that is. So yeah, I mean we are the second biggest independent craft beer company in Australia. So of course, everyone knows and loves the Newtowner. Everyone knows and loves Young Henrys beer. So, yeah. We were a little bit… I think subdued in the way that we were sort of pushing the gin a bit. We didn’t really know where we wanted to go with it for a little while. Now we’ve realised that we actually have a product that’s fantastic and let’s push it out now and actually make it known on its own, independent of the brewing aspect of the company. Because we’re a brewing and distilling company. And I think now we’ve got some awards and some credit behind us, that we can really actually say look. We’ve got an amazing product. It stands on its own.

JAMES ATKINSON: I think I saw there was a gold medal in San Francisco earlier this year, which is obviously you know, one of the biggest competitions that there is for spirits.

CARLA DAUNTON: Yeah, that was a lovely surprise. It was probably my favourite batch that we sent over there that we’d done end of last year. And it does build on awards that we’ve won previously with bronze and silver in the San Francisco spirit awards in 2016 and 2019. So, it was a lovely progression to see us take the gold this year.

JAMES ATKINSON: What was your reaction when you got that news?

CARLA DAUNTON: I squealed. My partner thought we’d won lotto. I was running around the house like an idiot. It was an absolute joy and a really lovely surprise. Well earned though, it was a top notch batch of gin.

JAMES ATKINSON: And that recipes pretty much… is that a lock now that you’ve got it to that point?

CARLA DAUNTON: Oh yeah, it was already a lock before we sent that one off for the competition. It’s pretty much, it’s dialled in now. It’s what we like.

JAMES ATKINSON: When you say that batch was really strong, I suppose because it is small batch thing and you’re dealing with natural ingredients there’s always going to be a tiny little bit of batch variation that happens?

CARLA DAUNTON: That’s it. I think in that particular batch it was also me coming into the role of distiller was still relatively new, at distilling the gin. So I think that was the first one where I really found my legs as well. And sort of really realised that you know, I’ve got this and I know how the still works and she knows how I work. So we could dance together and produce some really top quality gin. So the main… the qualities been maintained from that point on.

JAMES ATKINSON: What category does Noble Cut Gin enter into, in the awards?

CARLA DAUNTON: We are a New World Contemporary Gin. Obviously there’s juniper, otherwise it’s just vodka. Pepperberry, lemon myrtle – which are both Australian botanicals. Lemon peel, to enhance the citrus of the lemon myrtle. Enigma hot flowers from Tasmania. So that’s where we incorporate our brewing soul into our gin. And I think they really complement each other and produce a really nice, well-rounded, easy drinking spirit. And you get the grassiness and the earthiness of the enigma flowers and obviously the juniper and the pepper berry bringing forward a nice spiciness and bitterness to it. And the pepper berry actually brings some sweetness, which then plays off the lemon myrtle. So yeah, it’s a really, really easy drinking, nice little gin which I’m a big fan of actually.

JAMES ATKINSON: Tell me about how it’s evolved, because there’s obviously been a lot of work that’s gone into refining the recipe over time and I’d imagine that if we put the current Noble Cut Gin next to maybe some of the early batches, that the differences would be quite stark.

CARLA DAUNTON: Yeah so when I came on board, the first thing I did was play around with the pepper berry concentrations because we were sort of not incorporating it as much as we could. So we were able to basically dial in that particular element of the flavour profile and actually, I think it actually enhanced the other components quite nicely for example. Other than that, we’re constantly doing quality control and quality assurance because the botanicals change over time. The growing conditions change over time for each of them, so the quality that you get considering you’re dealing with Australian natives as well as you know, produced herbs. You’ve got to maintain a strong palate to pick up what needs to be adjusted and when.

JAMES ATKINSON: When Young Henrys originally launched Noble Cut Gin in 2015, it was what is known as a grain to glass gin. This means it was distilled from scratch at Young Henrys Sydney headquarters in Newtown. Taking grain and turning it into wash. The alcoholic liquid ready for distillation into a higher proof spirit.

CARLA DAUNTON: So basically when you’re distilling from wash, in order to produce the right kind of neutral spirit, which is going to enable you to actually showcase the flavours of the botanicals you’re putting into it. We found that it just wasn’t possible on the size of the system that we had. The still is not designed to produce neutral spirit. She’s designed to produce excellent gin. Having come from a production distillery where we made neutral spirit, they were six columns, two storeys high.

JAMES ATKINSON: There’s a splinter group calling itself the Australian Guild of Artisan Distillers, that requires its members to make their own spirit in the way that Young Henrys used to do. But the vast majority of gin in Australia is made using neutral spirit, supplied by an industrial scale distillery. And that’s what Young Henrys is doing today.

CARLA DAUNTON: The decision that we made was to basically ensure that the quality of the product and the flavours of the product were as high as possible. It was a serious decision that was made, but it was definitely for the best, for the spirit. Yeah, you don’t want the grain flavours getting in the way of your delicate botanicals.

JAMES ATKINSON: And in the early days the botanical bill was quite different as well. What’s sort of happened over time from that?

CARLA DAUNTON: Simplification. There was over 20 botanicals in batch one. I still go back and look at that recipe and goggle at it almost, like it’s huge. But they really pulled out the best botanicals and really sort of dialled in the kind of gin that we actually wanted to produce and the flavours that we wanted to showcase. And we were able to really make it a lot cleaner and a lot more beautiful in its simplicity.

JAMES ATKINSON: What are the key elements of the flavour profile that you get from Noble Cut Gin now?

CARLA DAUNTON: So I do think it’s a lot better balanced. It’s a lot more easy to consume. So basically in the beginning when it first hits your nose and you take that first delicious whiff, you’ll get aspects of the juniper and the pepper berry spiciness. And then you’ll get your citrus coming through, with a little bit of earthiness as well. And then on the front of the palate it will definitely hit you with the juniper and pepper berry, it’s quite forward in that. The pepper berry then devolves from spiciness to sweetness, which then you’ll sort of get your grassiness coming in through the middle there, with your lemon myrtle and your citrus finish. So it’ll be the last quite clean citrus, sweet finish.

JAMES ATKINSON: Do you guys do quite a bit of testing of how it works in mixed drinks and cocktails, and that kind of stuff?

CARLA DAUNTON: Yeah we do. We’re taking greater care with that, particularly with our two limited that we produced earlier… a few months ago. We took great care in developing in conjunction with an excellent couple of bartenders. The kind of cocktails that it would really lend itself to and so yeah, it’s something that we’re definitely thinking about in terms of the consumer and how they best enjoy it. I personally drink it straight, but then that’s just me. I’m definitely not necessarily your target audience. Yeah, so we do actually care about what people consume it with and we’ve even recently adjusted our tonics that we serve it in the bar at Young Henrys, just to make sure that the flavours are presented the best way possible, to make it most enjoyable.

Young Henrys Newtown Strength Gin

JAMES ATKINSON: Yeah tell me about the two new additions to the range. This year has been obviously a very disrupted year for everyone, is that how you kind of had the breathing space to think well, what can we do this year? Maybe we should have a look at expanding the gin range? Or has that been on the cards for a while?

CARLA DAUNTON: Its been on the cards for a while. We do have some super secret spirit sitting out the back, that we’ll be pulling out you know, as time goes on. The barrel aged gin had obviously been in barrel for about nine months. So, that was laid down obviously pre-COVID, last year. So it was almost like we knew what was coming. And then in developing the Newtown strength, which was concocted from scratch during COVID, with this release of the barrel aged. I think it was because when tasting the barrel aged it was, in my mind and in the mind of the directors, too whiskey like. Too sweet. Too, in my mind delicious. Like too much of a good thing, not so gin like. So then it was how do we pull it back into being more of a Noble Cut, barrel aged Noble Cut Gin? And that was where we could blend it back in with a fresh batch of gin and then we’ll… we’ve got this special batch of gin that we’ve used to blend in with the barrel aged. Let’s do something special with the rest of it. It’s a fantastic you know, cracker of a batch. So let’s think about how we can showcase Newtown as well, and the strength that its shown in its resilience, in its love for its community. So we decided to do the Newtown strength to really you know, show some love for where we’re at.

JAMES ATKINSON: The barrel-aged product, there might still be some of it in market but I gather that was a limited edition thing that’s been and gone pretty much?

CARLA DAUNTON: Single barrel.

JAMES ATKINSON: Yep and maybe be more future iterations though?

CARLA DAUNTON: Yeah, its probably got one more batch in it. The first batch of barrel aged came out two years ago from that barrel. This barrel aged batch two took a little longer, so its probably got one left in it before we have to switch up the barrels or put it to bed.

JAMES ATKINSON: Tell me about the Newtown Strength Gin. Apart from obviously the alcohol, how does it differ to the regular Noble Cut Gin and how should people enjoy that one?

CARLA DAUNTON: So, in a production perspective, from a botanical perspective it doesn’t differ at all from the Noble Cut Gin. But being a higher ABV, it really comes across completely different when you’re consuming it. The palate is completely different.

JAMES ATKINSON: It was a lot spicier I thought when I tried it the other day in the brewery.

CARLA DAUNTON: Spicy and sweet. Yeah, it’s really sweet notes as well. Yeah, I think it just dances across the palate, it’s so nice and so easy to drink. You don’t really register it as being 55%. When it comes to consuming it, I mean there are a lot of good cocktails that it could go in. I think that’s probably why it came in at number 12 on the hottest 100 spirit list. Probably because it lends itself so nicely to a cocktail. I think it’s really versatile this one, you can shove it into anything you’d put a gin in.

JAMES ATKINSON: What else is happening out the back there of the distillery? I mean, there’s been constant rumours of some whisky that’s been put down and also there’s a vermouth I think that’s been knocking about that was done with Alex Retief. Can we talk about any of those products at all?

CARLA DAUNTON: The Animal Spirit vermouth has been out for quite some time. That’s a limited batch and there’s not much left of it, but you can still find it. Especially if you come into the brewery. We’ve got a few barrels out the back that we’re taking very good care of. There was an apple brandy that we put into a barrel that was a batch of cider that we distilled. So our cloudy cider got distilled and put into a barrel and that’s just the nicest apple brandy, so that will be coming out quite soon. And we do have some whiskey out the back, some barrels that have been sitting there for quite some time. So, they’ll be ready to pop pretty soon.

JAMES ATKINSON: Cool, you’ve talked a bit about how there is going to be a bit more focus on the gin moving forward, what’s that going to look like? Are you talking internally about how you’re going to give it a real push?

CARLA DAUNTON: Long days for me. I think it’s just… it’s going to be meeting demand. We’re seeing an uptick in interest from the gin. And I think it’s just natural that production will need to follow and we’ve got a really passionate sales team that are really starting to fall in love with it… well, have fallen in love with it. So it’s nice to have a team behind you that also recognise the quality of the spirit and can recognise where it should be, in terms of people’s shelves.

JAMES ATKINSON: It must be a bit of a tough sell for them though, just because there are so many gins out there these days? 600 Australian gins or something like that, I heard just recently.

CARLA DAUNTON: You’d think so, but it’s very good.

JAMES ATKINSON: Do you feel like you’ve found your calling and this is what you’re keen to do now, focus on distilling for a while?

CARLA DAUNTON: Yeah. I say that with some trepidation because you know, I’m brewing’s my home, but distilling’s my heart. It’s how I’ve been describing it. I had a really sad moment the other day, where I was brewing. I was actually on brew deck, brewing a lager. And I had a quiet little moment where I was like oh, is there going to come a day when it’s my last brew day? And I got a bit sad.

JAMES ATKINSON: If you get too good at making gin you mean?

CARLA DAUNTON: Well if the production just ramps up so much that they need me on making gin or packaging gin. So just had a little moment there where I was like wow, this might actually you know, have a used by date or an expiry date on it. And I love brewing, I absolutely love everything about it. All the gross parts of the job – cellaring, fuging, packaging, kegging… I’ll keg for days because then they have to listen to my music over the Sonos. But yeah, I think distilling is always quietly been where I’ll end up. So it’s quite nice and quite early for me really, to already be in that position as head distiller now. I would love to not have to hear that didn’t know you made gin ever again. That’d be great. If we could reach that point, I know I’ve done my job. Maybe if we can have some gin drinkers coming and going oh, I didn’t know you made beer. Don’t think it’ll ever happen, but you know.

JAMES ATKINSON: Well hopefully we can help a little bit with that. Where can people find the gins?

CARLA DAUNTON: So you can find it in a lot of retailers, a lot of independents have it. You can always come into the bar in Newtown, come and say hello. Come check out the display case or the gin still in front. Yeah, there’s quite a few majors that have it. Dan Murphy’s, BWS. Yeah we do sell it online and we ship Australia wide.

JAMES ATKINSON: YoungHenrys dot?

CARLA DAUNTON: Com.

JAMES ATKINSON: Nice. Carla, thanks so much for joining us on the show.

CARLA DAUNTON: No worries, its been an absolute pleasure.

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Author: James Atkinson

Journalist specialising in the food, drink, travel and hospitality arenas. Australian International Beer Awards 2017 Media Award Winner and Certified Cicerone®.

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