The Adelaide Hills winemaker tapping into the gin revolution

By Nick Carne

Sacha La Forgia studied winemaking in Adelaide, honed his skills working vintages around the world for six years, then returned home to follow his dream – to build a distillery.

He hasn’t given up his day job; doing interesting things with grapes in the Adelaide Hills still pays the bills, but he spends as much time as possible in a small concrete room next door to the winery where the very first batch of 78 Degrees Gin was produced in earlier this year. Others have followed, and the new brand is slowly appearing in bars, restaurants and upmarket bottle shops in Adelaide and interstate.

Sacha La Forgia.

Sacha La Forgia.

It’s all part of a gin revolution that is sweeping the world and has seen similar micro-distilleries start up in McLaren Vale and on Kangaroo Island. It’s not a cheap hobby, and until quite recently the licensing laws made it almost impossible for small players to start doing with spirits what others have been doing with craft beers and cider, but sometimes you just have to go for it.

“From the start I said I was going to do it as cheaply as I could but without sacrificing quality,” Sacha said. “You look at your options, you say it’s going to cost me 20 grand for that so I have to find another way. I don’t have the money so I have to be smarter; it means a lot more work but it also makes it attainable.” It also means day one of the new venture was spent scrubbing down the walls of the empty room to make it habitable, let alone productive.

Sacha in his still.

Sacha in his still.

Since then Sacha has been able to turn his mind and his creativity to just what type of gin he wants to make. In Australia, unlike the rest of the world, it’s not compulsory to include juniper berries in the mix, as long as there are other core elements such as botanicals and aromatics; it’s a bit of a grey area.

Sacha uses juniper, coriander and other herbs to achieve a style he describes as spicy-savoury. “I’m a winemaker, my thing is playing with flavours, it’s what I enjoy and when you make gin you get to play with upwards of 20 different flavours. The way I do it it’s a blended gin, so I distil individual botanicals then blend them.”

That’s the first stage. The next is getting known and getting sold, and that involves a lot of legwork. “Gin is the spirit of choice at the moment; people are quite interested, especially bar owners, bar managers and people in the trade. If you can get them on side they are on the front line and they can get consumers to try it.”

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