originally published 2 June 2022
This article was updated to reflect changes in relation to the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (A-UK FTA).

Kangaroo Island Spirits: The birthplace of authentic Australian gin

Australia’s first dedicated gin distillery was founded on Kangaroo Island off the wild Southern Ocean coast of South Australia.

The island is one of the world’s great nature-based destinations. With its unique Australian wildlife, abundant native bushland and pure water, the island was always an ideal place for a distillery.

Charlie Schmidt has been at the helm of Kangaroo Island Spirits for the past two years. He tells how he dodges the kangaroos and wallabies as the sun rises on his way to work.

‘Alcohol runs in the blood – in a good way of course!’ says Schmidt, a second-generation distiller.

He explains that being a good distiller is a fine art. ‘It’s all about consistency. It’s easy enough for anyone to make a gin. But starting something from scratch and continuously adjusting it to get it right every time: now that’s the art that has to complement the science.’

Schmidt and his growing team certainly seem to have perfected this art. Their Wild Gin won bronze in this year’s London-based International Spirits Competition, building on previous wins in the UK-based International Spirits Competition (ISC).

In 2020 Kangaroo Island Spirits won the ISC’s Consumer’s Choice platinum award for its Whisky Barrel aged Gin and gold for its O-Gin. In those days Kangaroo Island Spirits was known as KIS.

Australia-UK FTA to improve competitiveness

The Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is expected to come into force later this year. This is good news for Kangaroo Island Spirits as the import duty on Australian spirits will be lowered by around £8 per bottle.

‘This will give us a great boost. Along with Austrade, the FTA and our new under-bond warehousing facilities in Europe, our international market approach will be consolidated,’ says Sandra North, International Head of Exports for Mighty Craft, now the parent company of Kangaroo Island Spirits. 

‘It’s been wonderful working with everyone at Austrade. The team’s enthusiasm, and their willingness to hold our hands and push Mighty Craft forward as we enter the international sphere with our awesome Australian craft spirits has been really rewarding.’

Focus on sustainable growth

Mighty Craft bought the original Kangaroo Island Spirits in 2020 when work to grow and scale the business began. Schmidt joined the distillery to lead the development. A new building, equipment, stills and staff were installed. The team is working tirelessly to become big, both nationally and internationally.

‘What’s exciting for me,’ says Schmidt, ‘is to bring what we do here to an international stage and a wider recognition nationally. As we boost production, we will be able to bring our award-winning 2019 O-Gin to the masses.’

In terms of sustainability, the team forages for local botanicals. The fresher these unique plants are, the more flavour they bring. Kangaroo Island Spirits’ special technique is to pick in spring when there is lots of sunshine and the plants are in bloom. Then the distillery uses all the botanicals at once. These hardy plants include Olearia Axillaris, the coastal daisy bush, with its fragrant, needle-like leaves and pine taste.

‘We try and source locally for ingredients,’ Schmidt explains. The distillery will even ask local residents for oranges or lemons from their backyard trees. When these are not available, it gets more across South Australia. Coriander is sourced from the Clare Valley.

Schmidt says the team is continually adding to its experience and skill base and exploring new flavours. ‘We are always working on new stuff, like pink gin and navy gin.’

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