Anyone who says there’s no such thing as magic hasn’t met a distiller. How they turn base ingredients into delicious spirits is nothing short of miraculous.
Our Meet the Distiller series is a chance for us regular humans to peep behind the curtain, to have a guest pass into the Magic Circle of distilling.
Mel and Mick Sheard from Imbue Distillery, Ivanhoe, VIC
This edition of Meet the Distiller - or Distillers in this case - takes us to the northeastern reaches of Melbourne and Imbue Distillery, where we get two distillers for the price of one.
Mel and Mick Sheard have been crafting gin and gin liqueurs since 2016.
Their mainstay gins, The Journey and the Sub-Urban, are packed with locally foraged botanicals that cast deep levels of flavours and aromas throughout the spirits.
A simple sip tells you that these distillers are all about harmony of flavours, integrity in their craft and a clear vision of what makes superb gin.
But you should hear it from them:
1. How did you both get started as distillers?
We’ve been distilling for the last 5-ish years. By trade we are a chef (Mel) and baker (Mick) respectively.
We have a pretty “no regrets/try anything once” kinda attitude to life and found as we were progressively pickling, preserving, fermenting, home-brewing, etc. So making our own spirits was the next logical step.
The physicality of working in high paced/stress commercial kitchens and the emotional toll of no work-life balance had us looking for a venture to call our own, and we feel our food backgrounds give a unique angle to our products.
2. What do you love about being distillers?
We love the “alchemy” that happens when a liquid is transformed into a vapour and back again, and literally what you can distill into that final product.
For us it’s more than a set of ingredients and flavours, it’s about creating a combination that tells a story, challenges the consumer or gives a nostalgic experience.
Without naming names, we have found a lovely balance in our partnership – where one will stress, the other is logical and calm and where one is a bit gung-ho, the other gently pacifies the situation.
The hardest part we find is having family time as in small business you are always working.
3. What makes Imbue special?
Everything we do is a reflection of ourselves – we don’t try to replicate the market or reproduce trends. We are true to our palates, our vision, our experience and limitations as distillers and people, and we are totally honest about it.
4. What is Imbue’s flagship spirit and what’s your favourite way to enjoy it?
Definitely our Sub-urban gin, which is based on the flavours Mick grew up foraging for in the fringe suburbs of Melbourne in the ‘80s: prickly pears, blackberries, wild fennel and dandelion.
It’s a polarising flavour for some people – the fennel gives a grassy, anise note, but honestly we love it as it’s so damn unique.
A slice of cucumber to bring out the melon notes of the pear and some dry/light tonic - it’s a delicious G&T.
5. What’s something we should know about craft distilling in Australia?
Simply: excise taxes.
It’s easy for people to harp on about the cost of Aussie-made spirits but there is little understanding of why and how much we have to pay before we’ve even filled the bottle.
We cannot and should not have to compete with imported products full of essences and it’s bloody time the average consumer understood this in the same way wine and WET taxes are now understood to the layperson.
6. Some people think that distilling is a dangerous pastime. Any near-death experiences?
Honestly, picking prickling pears has been much more dangerous for us than the actual distilling process. Mel got some serious side-boob prickle action one day – all for the love of gin!
7. Your choice of botanicals is fascinating - have you had any surprises with your R&D?
There is no cooking process akin to transforming a liquid to vapour and back again, so without R&D it is a guess at how botanicals will translate.
Some things are just a matter of quantity vs. balance – for example dandelion root has this incredibly sweet aroma like fresh sweetcorn, but too much and other flavours are cancelled out and nullified.
So I guess our biggest challenge with obscure botanicals has been in balancing them.
You can also visit the Sheards at their cellar door in Ivanhoe, where you can taste their delicious gins and learn a bit more about Imbue Distillery.