Imbue Distillery: Future Nostalgia
Imbue Distillery brings spirits rich with flavour and narrative from the founders Mel & Mick Sheard. After 30 years experience in Melbourne’s food industry from retail to wholesale, bakeries, catering & hatted restaurants, Mel and Mick naturally gravitated their artisan and culinary expressions towards producing gin imbued with the exuberant nostalgia of growing up in Melbourne’s fringe suburbs foraging botanicals such as including dandelion, prickly pear, blackberry and fennel.
Creating contemporary gins that push the boundaries while nurturing the deep sense of connection to the childhood beginnings inspires a unique playfulness and experimentation required to propel this genre forward. Master Distiller and Co-owner Mel Sheard sits down with us to share their story.
Coming from hospitality you transitioned into gin and spirits. Tell us how Imbue Distillery came to be.
Mick and I have both been in hospitality (Front of House, chef, pastry chef, baker) for years and at home we’ve always loved pickling, preserving, fermenting and brewing in addition to cooking.
In 2015 we started experimenting with distillation and just couldn’t shake the idea so we kept working on it until we launched Imbue in 2018 with Suburban and it’s Barrel-Aged counterpart. Honestly, it’s been a roller-coaster of a journey with a lot of learning, personal growth, challenges, triumphs and luckily gin too, but we wouldn’t have it any other way – part of the reality of small business is riding this wave and we think it ultimately makes for a much higher quality brand and product integrity.
Photo: Imbue Distillery, Mel and Mick Sheard
Tell us about the team behind Imbue.
Though we started as a partnership, our very good friends Luke and Nikki joined us on the Imbue journey last year. They also both have hospitality backgrounds and their assistance with so many aspects has been invaluable. Though at first hesitant to combine business and friendship we feel so very lucky to have a team that not only can we rely on but one we respect and enjoy each other’s company too.
What was your vision for Imbue when you launched?
Our vision was/is to tell a story through our spirits to engage our customer’s in both a new and nostalgic experience.
You describe your gin as Australian Contemporary Gin but you also have that element of nostalgia. How do you honour the past and create for the future?
Nostalgia is such an important element of connecting and engaging with people as it’s both universal and very personal. It’s also highly linked to flavours and aromas so a memory often initiates our inspiration behind a certain flavour combination or product and through that story we are able to develop our label design and product narrative.
Our Suburban Gin sits in the contemporary category as it is not strictly juniper forward or using solely classic botanicals whilst The Journey we’ve dubbed as an Aussie dry as juniper is at its front and centre. Generally we don’t limit ourselves to known or usual botanic combinations and our pairing of the quirky and frankly unusual make us rather contemporary.
Photo: Owner and Master Distiller Mel Sheard
What else drives your narrative around creating a new profile and gin?
Having a point of difference. There are some fantastic things on the market at the moment and we strive not to replicate any of them.
Photo: Imbue Suburban Barrel Aged - Sherry barrel
What do you use for your base spirit?
We initially were using a grain base spirit but have recently swapped to a grape base. We really love the texture of the grape – it has a softness and roundness on the palate that seems to be much more forgiving with some of the volatile botanicals we use and giving us a much more balanced end product.
We know you use the most unique botanicals. Where do you source these?
Some of our more unique botanicals are wild fennel fronds and prickly pears which we forage in our local area. We also support local growers for as much of our fresh produce as possible.
We are showcasing your Suburban Barrel Aged Gin - Sherry Barrel for our members this month. Please share the story of how you created it.
When we launched in 2018 we really wanted to do so with more than one product but we also didn’t want to delay our launch with further recipe testing. We were able to get our hands on some 20Lt barrels early on so experimented with aging the Suburban in initially Port barrels, then Bourbon and now in 100Lt Sherry and Apera.
It’s been an amazing opportunity to see how the botanicals react to the different woods/previous spirtis and taste the alchemy that happens during the aging process. All our aged styles have been quite different but the Sherry/Apera the most successful with the unique botanicals of Suburban.
Share your recipes for Suburban Barrel Aged Gin.
The dry Sherry finish and the light nuttiness makes this product an excellent match to sip on neat with a cheese platter!
We also really love using it in an Old Fashioned: to serve 2 people, combine 3 shots of gin, 1 shot of sugar syrup (or to taste) and 10 dashes of quality bitters over ice with a big twist or slice of orange (tangelo and mandarin work really well too!)
90ml / 3 shots of Imbue Suburban Barrel Aged Gin
30mL sugar syrup
10 dashes of quality Bitters
Orange, Tangelo or Mandarin twists garnish or slice
Do you have any products in limited release that use experimental ingredients or techniques?
Nothing in limited release at this stage but worked with experimental ingredients in terms of techniques. I guess our gin liqueurs are quite unique. Though there are many in the UK it seems to be a developing sector here and we find it offers so much more dimension to the liqueur when using a gin as its base.
What makes Australian Gin so special?
The absolute range of both native and introduced botanicals and the ability to create outside of the confines of a classical category such as ‘London Dry’. We are a young country, built essentially on layers on immigrant cultures. I think some of the most exciting Aussie gins are ones that celebrate this.
How do you see gin evolving in Australia and where do you want to take it with Imbue?
We love our vision and how our unique backgrounds give us a point of difference in the market. We aim to stick true to this regardless of where and how Aussie gin scene continues to evolve.
What's next for Imbue? Any teasers for what's in store or anything in development?
We hope to get a cellar door open soon, continue to get Whisky down and will have a new gin shortly named Inner East which will highlight some of the flavours that I grew up with like balcony herbs and cherry tomatoes.
Finally, how do you take your gin?
I love a G&T with a light tonic so the gin can shine and a garnish of a botanical which the gin has been distilled with. (It drives me crazy how so many gins do not have the main botanicals or serving suggestions on the bottle!!!)
Distiller's Tasting Notes
Imbue distillery’s inaugural gin - a smooth wheat-based spirit starring locally abundant, foraged botanicals from Melbourne’s fringe suburbs, aged in Oak Sherry barrels.
Suburban’s spice notes are transformed into the toastiness of gently sweet nutty granola with a dry piney finish. Enjoy straight up or in an old-fashioned.
Written by Suzan Temizer and Melanie Sheard. Photos courtesy of Imbue Distillery.
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