Our distiller this month is quite possibly as far away from the impressive presence of our previous gin of the month, Archie Rose, as is possible. Loch Distillery, run by husband and wife team Craig Johnson and Mel Davies, is based in the tiny village of Loch in South Gippsland, about a 90 minute drive south-east of Melbourne. Surrounded by green pastures and rolling hills it’s hard to imagine you are not in England, the traditional home of gin.
As you drive through the village (there’s a café, garage, a couple of art galleries etc.) you get a sense of a place that only comes to life at the weekend when the tourists pass through.
After decades spent in the transport industry, Craig became a fan of single malt whisky 15 years ago. He spent time in Scotland and with Bill Lark in Tasmania learning the art of distilling, with a view to making whisky. But whisky needs time, so they decided to have a go at gin.
Loch Distillery’s base of operations is an old bank building, which doubles as their family home, as well as cellar door and brewery. Yes, like a few other gin makers in Australia, they also brew beer and distribute to many bars in Melbourne. Our tasting visit was a pleasurable mix.
Whilst the brewing takes place in a small, but purpose built facility outside the main building, the gin and whisky distilling takes place right inside the cellar door. The bulk of the distilling is done by their beautiful hand-beaten copper pot still from Portugal, but Craig experiments using a small 20 litre still and his trusty pestle and mortar, used to hand grind all ingredients. At the start this dual capacity allowed them to trial small batches and settle on a final version, a traditional English Dry Gin. While not focussed on Australian botanicals like many others, it does draw inspiration from the local region and their beautiful garden.
When we visited Loch in 2015, Craig and Mel were extremely welcoming. Their story from the world of big business to this small village is fascinating, and surprisingly not uncommon in the craft gin scene.
If you are ever down that way, we recommend a visit (Friday to Sunday, 12-5pm).