When I first tried an Animus gin it was a revelation - the complex, yet refreshing flavours redefined what for me a gin could be and why so many Australians are embracing the gin renaissance. Luke Jacques, co-owner of the award winning Animus Distillery, located in Piper Street Kyneton, talks to Calder Western about the burgeoning brand and its fastidious nature, and his passion for exotic lounge music and heady cocktails.
What are the origins of the name “Animus”? Is it the Latin word for “heart” or Jungian theory?
We draw upon the Latin meaning reflecting the heart, soul, essence or spirit of something. This applies to the process of craft distillation, but also the very ethos of our business - capturing the heart and essence of the botanicals we use and express them in an unique craft spirit.
The process you undertake to create your gin can be described as fastidious. You triple filter your grain spirit which produces an extremely pure base spirit and then you recharge your botanical infusions multiple times during a run. What drives this obsession for perfection?
During our 18 months of recipe trials, which included both the testing of various botanicals and how they worked,or not, together as well as different ways to distill, we developed this intense focus of vapour pressing and frequent basket changes which we felt really did capture the soul of the botanicals in a way that really resonated with the founding four! While our process is labour intensive and has significant preparation time, we’re proud of the unique craft gin that is produced through this process.
As we started to form the business, we thought long and hard about who we wanted to be and what we wanted to stand for. Resulting from the recipe trials, and the many discussions about the products we were creating, we developed a “no compromise” approach too literally everything we do. “No compromise” is one of our key values.
This approach starts with our base spirit - we use the very best highest grade extra neutral grain spirit which we then triple filter through our custom charcoal filtration unit. This softens and rounds off this spirit that provides us the best blank canvas to showcase the gin botanicals with.
Similarly, this drive for perfection is also reflected in our approach to our botanicals. As our gins rely heavily on citrus the only way we can capture the sharp brightness of our fruit and provide balance and complexity with our other ingredients is to recharge our still multiple times throughout the distillation process.
Back in 2015 when we started crafting our recipes, the craft gin market in Australia was beginning to burgeon. Our ‘no compromise’ approach is one of our many points of difference in the market.
There are four founding members of Animus, yourself, Rob Turner, Aaron Robinson, and Joel Wilson. Prescribe a word to each of you, that best describes the person’s personality.
Hmmm...I thought long and hard about this and we have always been a team so I’d rather choose 4 words that best describe how we work together: “Collaborators”, “Perfectionists”, “Innovators” and “Driven”.
Also “Quite Crazy” to have even contemplated it in the first place. But that's not one word.
How would you describe the Animus business philosophy in five words?
"Collaborative", "Inclusive", "Responsible", "Sustainable" and "Community-minded".
I love that your distillery is aware of its environmental footprint and responsibilities. This attitude will certainly build rapport for the brand. Was this a core principle from the outset?
It most definitely was. Right from the word go. In fact, it was part of the driving force to buy a farm in central Victoria and move our operation there. We not only wanted more space due to the often unpleasant smells derived from some of the whiskey-making processes but we wanted to teach ourselves about operating a business with sustainability as a key driver.
The first thing we learnt was how easy it was to reutilize waste. We rehomed abandoned farm animals from Edgars Mission - geese, sheep, chickens, and goats that would eat our waste grain from whiskey-making. They also ate most of our waste gin botanicals meaning instant composting. Anything they didn’t eat would then act as fertilizer for the next generation of botanicals we had planted on the land.
We were on 100% rainwater and solar power so our footprint was already low which was great. Any waste liquid from the still was simply pumped out onto the paddocks to promote grass growth - especially important in summer.
While we are not on a farm anymore this experience taught us how to become more sustainable in an urban environment like Kyneton.
We compost 100% of our organic waste including all spent botanicals from our still, every garnish in your drink served at our cocktail lounge, all food waste from our cheese and charcuterie boards comprised of local producers. Where possible, the ice in your drink and any still or sparkling water left in your drinking glass is collected and used to water our plants.
Additionally, we offer a $10 discount off your next bottle purchase with the return of an undamaged Animus bottle to our venue. No limits. This way we can reuse just about everything - the bottle, the wax, even the back label survives the cleaning process meaning it all gets reused. That's one less bottle we have to import from France, reducing our carbon footprint.
The only thing we can’t re-use is the front sticker as it has a handwritten bottle and batch number so legally it has to come off.
When we began planning our steeped gin we decided we wanted to utilize native fruit for two reasons:
One, we wanted to support Australian farmers that were growing something that occurs here naturally.
Two, we wanted to reduce our carbon footprint by not importing fruit, like sloe berries.
This is how we discovered Davidson plums and our Davidsonia was born!
What milestones are you most proud of for the business?
There are so many!
2016: Launching Animus onto an unsuspecting market at the first-ever Australian Junipalooza comes to mind. The response to our gins was just so amazing and everyone in the industry is incredibly supportive. It was simply the best way to get our name out there.
2016: My baptism of resilience. Learning to distill alone 13 hours a day in a tiny open shed that was either freezing cold in winter or burning hot in summer. The shed didn’t have internet or phone reception or even radio. Yes, I started earnestly discussing issues of the day with our goats for hours on end but I also learnt a lot about appreciating my own company and making world-class gin!
2017: Opening our very first venue in Kyneton. The community immediately embraced us and we have managed to employ some outstanding local people. Our team have been a fundamental part of our growth and we are so very proud of what they have brought to Animus.
2018: Winning the Champion Australian Small Batch Spirit trophy at the Australian Distilled Spirit Awards.
2018: Premier Daniel Andrews choosing our Kyneton venue as part of his election campaign. That’s when I thought we had made something special here.
2018: launching our brand in Singapore. We’re international!!!
2018: Winning the best new business at the Bendigo Bank Macedon Ranges Shire Council Business Excellence Awards. This year we have been nominated for a Hospitality award.
2015: Present/onwards: all of the community organisations we have been able to support. From MainFm via Gin & Sonic parties to Loki’s Lodge and Hagar Australia, we have been so grateful and excited to be able to contribute in any way we can.
What are some of the challenges Animus has had to face?
One - growing the business sustainability while being ambitious. It’s a hard balance to achieve all we want to achieve, but doing so sensibly. We want to be here for the long term.
Two - until very recently we were 100% self-financed. No investors, no bank finance, etc. This whole venture has required a huge financial commitment from the four of us over the years.
Three - continuing to stand out in a crowded market. We have worked so hard to create brand presence domestically and are only now starting to do so internationally. You have to be consistent as well as innovative to build market presence. We do as many events as we can to connect with gin fans.
Animus has won several awards. What is one award you would like your gin to win?
“Best Distillery In All The World Of All Time!”
Ok, I am sitting at a bar with every alcoholic beverage ever created available to me. What five drinks do you recommend I try?
I am not a mixologist by any stretch of the imagination but I am a cocktail fan so I would suggest getting as much variety as possible.
You will want to taste a broad range of flavours and a nice balance between simplicity and complexity so here are my suggestions:
Ambrosian Kaffir Lime Gimlet: Animus Ambrosian Gin steeped in Kaffir Lime leaves for 24 hours added to freshly squeezed lime juice and simple syrup. Simple, elegant, timeless and for a citrus nut like me - lime upon lime upon lime.
Ambrosian Martini: Animus Ambrosian gin, Lillet Rose Vermouth, lime rind twist. Absolutely smashing citrus-based take on a classic.
Animus Barrel Aged Negroni: Equal parts Campari, Casa Mariol Vermut Noir and Animus Macedon Dry that we solera in ex-sherry and ex-sauternes barrels at our venue. Negroni perfection.
Any Tiki drink ever: Mai Tai’s remains a classic for a reason. But try a Zombie, or if you want something ridiculously complex and delicious, then try a Jaguar. If you’re at our cocktail lounge, ask Ziggy to make you one personally! He’ll love it.
Final Word: whiskey, green chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lemon juice. Absolute perfection for those that love whiskey-based cocktails.
There has been a growing sophistication in Australia’s alcoholic beverage market over the last 20 years. What are your feelings on why this has taken place?
Well, I think it's primarily because distillation laws have changed over the last 20 years meaning distillation has become accessible to more people recently.
With Australia’s amazing produce to experiment with there is no limit to the creativity that can be applied to what is being made here.
This, in turn, broadens and develops the domestic palate. I maintain that every Australian gin distiller owes Four Pillars a huge debt of gratitude as they did build confidence in the Australian gin market. They convinced Australians to try Australian gin which in turn built confidence in Australians trying other local gins. Australians now demand a certain quality and sophistication with what they drink. A great story will get you in the door but quality gins will keep you in the room.
If there wasn’t an Animus, what would you like to be doing?
That’s hard because I love what I do however I am also a huge record collector which is why I have a weekly music-based community radio show - The LukeWarm Cocktail Hour, pun intended, so if it wasn’t gin then it would have to be music-related. I’d have to put all that vinyl to good use somehow.
What instigated the move from Melbourne to Kyneton?
My partner and I wanted a tree-change and the business wanted to relocate to the Macedon Ranges, as we had always seen this as an ideal destination for gourmet food and wine and believed we could add something else new and interesting to provide people even more reasons to visit the area.
The launch of Animus Distillery on Piper Street in Kyneton received such tremendous support from the local community right from the start! We have been thrilled by the response so far and the continuing support we have received. We want to do ‘our bit’ to support the area and provide even more reasons for people to put Kyneton and the Macedon Ranges on their ‘must visit asap list’.
What places would you recommend people visit while in Kyneton?
Well, there are just so many. Kyneton ticks just about every box. It's a progressive town with that small-town feel. The food, wine, and cocktail scenes are thriving here. The restaurants and wine bars are excellent.
Piper St is bursting with food and drink options. Try the newly relaunched Royal George for amazing cocktails and wines. The menu is outstanding. Similarly, Parkland has recently relaunched with a fantastic brand new wine list and menu.
Fook Shing has just launched with an Asian fusion theme. It’s amazing. I’ve eaten there twice. They’ve been open for two weeks.
Tansy’s is always exceptional dining with an inspired wine list.
The Tipsy Rabbit - our newest local wine bar has just opened and a must-visit.
Our neighbours at Piper St Food Company is the place for your picnic planning - rillettes, pates, everything!
If you’re a vinylist like me then Long Story Short is a record collector’s dream including vintage clothing, books, etc.
Local wineries are a short drive from Kyneton and each other, making wine tours a must-do here. Granite Hills, Cloud 9, Cobaw Ridge Estate and Kyneton Ridge Estate are all within eighteen kilometres of Kyneton and all are exceptional.
We even have our very own cellar door in town - the newly opened Musk Lane Winery just off High Street.
We have amazing clothing and retail stores as well.
What websites do you frequent for inspiration or a good read?
I am pretty old school and prefer actual books. I tend to chew through as many music-based books - especially biographies - as I can.
You host the Lukewarm Cocktail Hour on Main 94.9 Main FM. Who are some of your favourite artist and who is currently on high rotation?
My show is a lounge music based show so I tend to play a lot of early to mid-century artists. While I have always collected a huge variety of seemingly disparate vinyl it was actually the grossly and criminally underappreciated Julie London that kickstarted my radio show. She was the first one to sing “Cry Me A River”. I first heard her while passing a second-hand shop on my way home in Spotswood. The proprietor had an old mixtape of Julie London playing in the store. It took about 8 seconds and I was hooked for life. So much so that every single one of my shows, no matter the theme, starts with a Julie London song. My Duet theme was especially challenging as she never recorded any. But I made it work.
I have every single LP she ever released, all thirty of them, and they are all exceptional. She tried moving with the times but like most lounge singers of the 50’s and 60’s she couldn’t compete with the advent of rock’n’roll which she hated.
I am fascinated by lounge music as it is the one genre that intersects jazz, exotica, electronic, pop, and rock’n’roll and continues to influence and inform modern music today. I even made a show out of it recently.
Curating the playlist of a weekly radio show has educated me about recorded music and I am so grateful MainFM keeps giving me that opportunity every week.
You can play the lead in any movie of your choosing? What character do you play and why?
The other three founders of Animus, apparently my best friends, delight in reminding me that I play an excellent real-life C-3PO without even trying, so I’ll go with that. Besides, I love Star Wars like I just saw it for the first time and I like to think of C-3PO as the unsung hero of the franchise. Like me, he is hapless and just wants a quiet life but he always seems to be there when something big goes down or goes wrong. Mostly when it goes wrong. (laughs)
Casamigos, the tequila company George Clooney founded with a couple of friends, was bought for one billion dollars in 2017. Would you ever consider selling or is Animus too close to your hearts?
Well, they say you can’t put a price on what is so very dear to your heart...but I’m working on it. Do you have an offer to make!? (laughs)
Honestly, we are at the very beginning of our journey. We have many ideas for new products and spirit ranges and are years away from fulfilling these dreams and aspirations. We’re not for sale!
What does the future hold for your distillery? Are there plans afoot for world domination in the next five years?
We intend to keep innovating and play our part in moving Australian spirits forward. While we will always have our three core gins I foresee new editions to the Animus roster. The best way to keep across our new releases to market is to follow us on social media, or subscribe to our website. We don’t spam, much.