It’s an intoxicating tale of a Dutch-discovered herb transforming a 300 year old recipe and delivering a boutique distillery on a small South Australian island a foothold in China.
Kangaroo Island Spirits is increasingly acclaimed for its small batch, hand-made gin featuring local botanicals such as Boobialla with its berry reminiscent of juniper, and Olearia, a coastal daisy bush dubbed ‘wild rosemary’ by early Dutch explorers.
Every few days, husband and wife team Jon and Sarah Lark brave the elements to harvest an aromatic bounty of wild plants, that through trial and error have imparted a distinctly Australian flavour to their gin.
A heady aroma greets guests to their cellar door, where a petite copper still sits just behind the tasting area, turning out about 40 bottles of gin in a batch.
“We’re very conscious of the fact that a lot of gins made commercially don’t even see a still, they’re essentially oils added to alcohols” Mr Lark said.
The Larks would like to increase their output to cater for growing demand, but face a challenge – Australia has the highest excise on spirits in the OECD and the government earns more from their product in domestic taxes than they do.
For KI spirits to supply a major Australian retailer with say $50,000 worth of product, the Larks must first pay an excise of about $24,000. It’s a cost that’s curbing their foray into Australia and prompting them to concentrate instead on exports.
Australia’s 40 micro distillers are pushing for tax reform and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon is championing their cause.
“Niche small distillers are having to compete with the big guys and it’s unfair competition, there ought to be tax breaks for them in the same way there are tax breaks for boutique wineries” he said.
But until that day, the pleasures of KI Spirits’ artisanal tipple is likely to be denied to most Australians as it’s more economical to send their product to London or Beijing than your local bottle shop.