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Food & Drink Business - A Cultured Spirit

In Rubibi (Broome) on the remote north west coast of Western Australia’s Kimberly, a distillery, pearl farm, and Indigenous company have come together to create a gin that embodies the flavours and spirit of the region. Pippa Haupt speaks to the team behind The Pearler’s Gin. 

Nestled behind Rubibi’s sprawling white beaches, with uninhibited views of the Indian Ocean, is Moontide Distillery. Founder Andrew Davidson launched the distillery in 2020, after moving to Broome and wanting to create a business that showcased the region.

Ours is a new story, and we respect and honour the stories told by the peoples that have lived here for many thousands of years. We are always learning from them, and it makes our story stronger,” Davidson says.Moontide Distillery is a product of the Kimberley, its history, diversity, and remarkable landscape of milky turquoise waters and vivid red Pindan dirt. But Davidson says it was the spirit of the place that he fell in love with and which gave life to his search for a new, creative endeavour.

“Moontide began with a dream, was given life by the spirit of Broome, and made a reality by the inspiration and passion of our hardworking team,” he says.Moontide’s handcrafted gins and spirits use tropical monsoonal water from the Kimberley and native botanicals that have historical and cultural relevance to the area, capturing the spirit of Broome in every bottle.The latest release – The Pearler’s Gin – is the result of Moontide working with Pearls of Australia and Indigenous owned business Mayi Harvests. Davidson says it is also the first gin in the world to use pearl oyster as a botanical.“The name symbolises the aligning of values between Moontide Distillery and Cygnet Bay, paying homage to the region’s rich pearling industry.

“Distilled with juniper berries is Burdekin plum, lemon myrtle, mint, and oyster mantle to produce a dry Australian gin balanced by citrus flavours,” he says.Pearls of Australia executive manager Jessie Hornblow says the collaborative partnership between its Cygnet Bay pearl farm and Moontide started with the excitement of a new producer opening up in town.“Andrew also has an interest in tourism, which is something that we’re really passionate about, so a friendship grew from there. We always think of each other and see how collaborating can help, but it wasn’t until this project that something more formal came about.“We’re big believers that it’s not about someone coming in and taking a piece of the pie, but about growing the pie together,” Hornblow says.

Power of the pearl

The Pearlers Gin uses the mantle, or by-product, of the cultured pearling process. Once the pearl has been collected, the pearl meat and mother of pearl shell are harvested, leaving the shell and mantle behind.

Hornblow explains harvesting a pearl doesn’t harm the animal, with it able to be reseeded up to three times to grow another pearl. That said, it is a lengthy process, with each pearl taking two years to grow.

At its final harvest, the pearl, meat, and mother of pearl shell are harvested. The remaining shell gets crushed into powder and used in a range of industries.

“The final part of the animal is what we call the mantle and that’s the part we send to Andrew and his team to make the gin. It means there’s no part of the oyster at all that goes to waste, everything is given a second life,” Hornblow says.

On the mantle

Davidson says that using the mantle was not his first choice.

“It’s an unusual botanical to use in that it’s not a vegetable, so that is something different for us. But we did want to make a drier gin because our other two are tropical and sweet,” he says.

It was the process of thinking and experimenting with flavours that had Davidson considering adding something salty and unusual to the mix.

“We started with the meat but that didn’t have sufficient flavour, and neither did the shell, but the mantle had enough to create something of interest,” Davidson recalls.

Hornblow says, “It adds a salty marine flavour to the gin, which makes it stand out as well as providing the dryness Andrew was looking for.

“There are only a handful of pearl producers left in Australia, let alone worldwide, so it’s a unique – and very Broome – flavour.

“There are also not many places where a distillery and pearl farm exist together.
The gin reflects the
uniqueness of where and who we are, we are really proud of the collaboration.” 

Bush botanicals

With water from the Kimberley and oyster mantle from local pearl farms, the final component of The Pearler’s Gin is botanicals harvested by local Indigenous company Mayi Harvests.

“We introduced ourselves to Pat from Mayi Harvests three years ago and she gave us more than 20 Indigenous products to try in our gin recipes.

 “Back in 2020, I played around with a lot of her botanicals and those in The Pearler’s Gin came from that process. Now we purchase as much as we can from Pat,” says Davidson.

Mayi Harvests was established in 2006 by Pat Torres, a descendant of Djugun, Yawuru, Ngumbarl, Jabirr-Jabirr, Nyul-Nyul, Bard, and Karajarri peoples of Western Australia’s West Kimberley region.

Torres set up the business to supply wild-harvested Kakadu Plum and other native fruits and seeds. In 2019, ownership of the Mayi Harvests brand was transferred to Mamanyjun Tree Enterprises.

From 2011 to 2019, Mayi Harvests employed more than 50First Nation people as harvesters every year. They would collect and process more than 20 native plant foods during the seasons, learning about food safety, quality control, safe storage of foods and bulk handling of products.

The main plant food was Kakadu Plum, which saw three to five tonnes of fruit harvested per season.

Torres applies a made to order process, only collecting to customer demand while prioritising sustainable harvesting.

“When I’m out harvesting, sustainability is about protecting the forest. It’s about ensuring the animals, insects, and other things that live off that particular plant have got food or resources there too when I leave; I don’t over collect.

“I generally pick according to a customer’s need, and a little bit more that I dry, grind, and package into small quantities,” Torres says.

Mayi Harvests also provides native ingredients to businesses in the tourism, food manufacturing, and hospitality sectors.

Hornblow recounts that the mantle and the pearl oyster have been eaten for tens of thousands of years by the local Bardi Jawi and Yawuru people, as well as other Aboriginal people in the Broome region.

Mayi Harvests’ methods ensure a sustainable future for the community and local businesses; an ethos shared by both Moontide Distillery and Cygnet Bay.

“The three of us are running our businesses and producing things in the middle of nowhere, with extreme conditions, and the added costs that come with being so remote. Moontide has created something that incorporates local ingredients, suppliers, and businesses. It’s a wonderful synergy,” Hornblow says.

She says there is a sense of pride for everyone involved in creating the gin.

To read the full article, click the link below:

This article first appeared in Food & Drink Business Magazine in July, 2022

Words by Pippa Haupt