It was known as the green fairy for its alleged psychoactive properties, but Australia’s only commercial absinthe maker believes the aniseed beverage’s reputation is more fiction than fact.
Alla Ward produces absinthe with an Australian edge, using locally grown aniseed myrtle for its dominant flavour and growing the pastiche of bitter herbs, which gives the 60 per cent proof spirit its hallucinogenic reputation.
She is the distiller of the family-run Tamborine Mountain Distillery in southern Queensland and has won international awards for her absinthe and range of 70 different spirits, schnapps and liqueurs.
Absinthe is making a comeback of sorts in Australia, with a bar dedicated to the misty green spirit recently opening in Sydney.
“It was the drink of intellectuals and artists such as van Gogh and Lautrec in Paris in the 1800s and its mystique grew from there,” Ms Ward said.
“Essentially it was strong and it was cheap. Probably the story has grown and has been stretched from there.”
The Tamborine Mountain Distillery is a classic family-run enterprise.
It began in 1996 when Ms Ward and her husband Michael moved from Tasmania and purchased a two-hectare citrus orchard on the verdant mountain west of Surfer’s Paradise.
Mr Ward says starting a distillery was their only option after the market rejected their fruit.
“We didn’t want to spray and the market didn’t want to take the fruit because it was all wrong size and colour,” he said.
“So it was like value adding – we can then use the fruit to make the spirit to make the farm viable and work.”
From those humble beginnings the company now boasts more than 100 international awards, more than any other Australian distiller, and last year won the major alcoholic beverage prize at the Australian Food Challenge Awards in Sydney.
“It’s just to stay an edge, a nose ahead of your competitor and I love sticking it up the big boys and saying ‘yeah, we knocked ‘em off again’,” Mr Ward said.
“I love that – the little Aussie battler having a go. [I] reckon that’s exciting.”
Last year the company invested $500,000 in a new bottling plant and warehouse. It has a growing clientele around Australia, but sells most of its produce from its cellar door.
Mr Ward says the distillery’s success has invited approaches from Coles and Woolworths to stock its produce, but he says he is not interested.
“I said no bloody way, I don’t need you blokes,” he said.
“I just do my own little thing, I’ll grow in my own little way and people love this artisan approach.
“We can give people our undivided attention – they love this one on one. They [Coles and Woolworths] couldn’t care a stuff. They’re only interested in money.”
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