There is something quintessentially English about the idea of Rhubarb Gin. You can imagine it being grown in small cottage gardens in rural areas of the UK and distilled by wily middle-aged women with homemade stills.
Or you could drive 20 minutes out of Adelaide, to an ex-fruit packing shed, where brothers Jon and Con Lioulios are making Rhubarb Gin at their 36 Short distillery.
“There’s a lot of imported Rhubarb Gin coming from the UK,” said Jon Lioulios, “and most of them are liqueurs, but ours is a straight, 45% Rhubarb Gin.”
“Our background is in fruit and veg, so our friend who used to grow zucchini for us, planted a whole heap of rhubarb and he had quite a bit left over. At that stage, there really wasn’t anyone producing rhubarb gin in Australia, so we thought we’d give it a go”.
Although the brothers will freely admit that they had to do a fair amount of experimentation and play around with the rhubarb, the reaction they have had to the gin has been outstanding. Lioulios puts this down to the fact that the gin is made with real fruit and not any sort of fruit flavour substitute.
“We hadn’t actually tried any rhubarb gin before we made it,” Lioulios admits, “so we didn’t know how strong to make the rhubarb taste. We found that the more rhubarb we put in, the tarter it became, so we spent a while playing around with it.
“We cut some of the rhubarb back, so it’s a more delicate rhubarb flavour. It’s not too strong on the rhubarb, so it’s just in the middle, I think. People like it, and that is what we have stuck with.”
To truly appreciate the flavour, Lioulios recommends that you mix it with a bit of dry apple or pear, ice and some ginger ale or a dry tonic. “About 45ml of the Rhubarb Gin to about 60/65ml of tonic will give a good balance, so you still have the rhubarb flavour taste come through.”
36 Short started five years ago and if you’re thinking 36 Short is an odd name for an alcohol brand, then Lioulios will tell you that the name is a tribute to his Macedonian born father, Pando (Peter).
“My dad used to distil a little bit for Rakia for himself and his friends. Of course, we’ve refined it a bit. We had a vineyard at the back in those days, so he used to make the wine and then distil it out there. But now we have bypassed that, and we use good McLaren Vale Shiraz or premium Coonawarra Shiraz, with our star anise.”
Starting with their White and Gold Rakia, the distillery have gone on to produce several Gins, including their Original Gin, a Barrel Aged Gin, as well as their Blood Orange Gin.
“We had the Rakia on the market for over two years, and then everyone was talking about gins. Eventually, a couple of people said don’t get into making gin because there are so many gins on the market at the moment. So because they said don’t do it, we thought we would give it a try.”
And with several awards under their belt, both in Australia and internationally, it would seem that the effort has been well worth it. And it appears that the Rhubard Gin may also take the brand overseas as well.
“One of our family friends went over to Malaysia, and he gave us some excellent feedback. He showed the gin to a couple of people who have big hotels around Malaysia, and they absolutely loved it. So this would be our first venture into export.
“If you have a good product and people like it, you get sales out of it. And yes, there are quite a few gins out there on the market, but it is like anything; if you do a good product, it will sell.”
36 Short Rhubarb Gin is available from speciality liquor retail and through their website 36short.com.au