WHILE it has only been operating for under a year, a small, start-up gin distillery on the Far South Coast has beaten over 800 competitors to take home awards from an international competition.
The competition has run for 50 years and is one of the most respected of its kind in the world, attracting about one quarter of all gins, but Gavin Hughes and Karen Touchie's distillery from Stony Creek outside Bega still managed to draw the judges' attention.
"We're are just over the moon!" Mr Hughes said. "We've only been operating since October last year, so we didn't expect to get an award so early.
"We're stoked we were able to produce to a quality that was recognised at this level."
It was a long journey for the couple before they arrived in Bega to craft their own gins.
Mr Hughes manufactured biofuels before running bars in Melbourne, while Ms Touchie was the director of the climate change policy branch in the Victorian government.
An unexpected trip with friends who were living in the Bega Valley made the couple consider what they truly wanted out of life.
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That night, while searching online Ms Touchie found the Stony Creek property they bought for their distillery three months later and their gins first hit the shelves in March.
"We've been lovers of gins for a very long time, so we decided to take the opportunity to craft our own and feature local produce," Mr Hughes said.
"We're very much about being connected to the place. Where we can we try to get the produce from the coast."
A lot of the ingredients used in their gin is grown on their farm, and they have planted more fruit trees in their orchard, while other ingredients come from nearby - such as kelp foraged from Mystery Bay in the north.
"It's surprising what people are putting in gin these days," Mr Hughes said.
"Kelp offers a real minerality to the gin. It's a subtle injection of flavour, we find it really compliments our Connoisseur gin."
He said there were quicker and easier ways to make gin, but North of Eden's traditional approach was what gave it its own taste.
"I think the thing that makes it unique is the fact we are using technology that's well over 1000 years old; nothing about our process is automated, everything is artisan," he said.
"We determine what's good enough to go into the gin just by taste.
"We do everything as it's been done for many, many years."
North of Eden has some plans for the near future, such as finishing the cellar door to open to the public later this year and the owners have begun to experiment with seasonal gin, such as a kumquat one Mr Hughes said was "95 per cent there" and uses fruits taken from a tree at their home.
- This story first appeared on the Stock & Land.