Correct us if we are wrong, but most of us would be pretty well versed in knowing the taste and look of the famous purple liquid that sits behind most bars. And of course, we are referring to none other than the renowned Ink Gin. And ahead of International Gin Day (yes it’s a thing) on the 9th of April, we thought it would be only fitting we interviewed the man behind Ink Gin. Founder of Husk Distillery, Paul Messenger gives us an insight into how Husk came about and what the once-Goldy-local loves about the Coast when he does make the trip up north from his home in Northern NSW.
How long have you been a Northern New South Wales local?
I grew up on the Gold Coast and have fond memories of visiting Tumbulgum as a ten-year-old when the chain ferry ran people and cars across the river. When we realised we wanted to make agricultural rum, Tumbulgum was the first place that came to mind with its fertile soils, abundant water, rich sugar cane history, picturesque river village and close proximity to some of the world’s best surf beaches. It was with enormous satisfaction and a great privilege that we were able to buy Husk Farm in 2011, finally moving here in 2012.
Tell us how Husk came about.
It’s a long story. I was flying over the Nullarbor Plain on my way to a drill rig in the West Australian goldfields in 1998 when I read a story about how a fella by the name of Bill Lark, the Godfather of Tasmanian whisky, lobbied to change the law and allow small craft distilleries to operate legally. That story captured my imagination and over the next 10 years I followed the success of Tasmanian Whisky and wondered how I too could follow this dream. But it was during a Caribbean cruise in 2009 that my distilling ruminations started to take form during an afternoon sipping 20 year-old Rhum Agricoles in a small bar next to a small distillery on the small island of Martinique. While reflecting on the vast fields of sugar cane back home, my dream took on a clarity quite at odds with the relaxed rum haze that became the rest of the afternoon in that charming place. The locals explained to me that rum made from fresh cane juice has “terroir” – the taste and soul of the place where it’s made. As a geologist, the idea of capturing the provenance and spirit of the place where I grew up made my heart skip a beat and that was where our journey began.
What’s your proudest entrepreneurial moment?
Everything we were doing was novel or innovative and it was clear that it would take many years of devotion to perfect our rum and reveal the true spirit of this place. It was also clear that we needed an income fast, and with the early signs of a gin renaissance taking root in England we started looking for quirky gin ingredients. I actually found the colour changing butterfly pea flower early in the journey and had been experimenting with it in liqueurs, vodka, even rum as well as with a range of gin botanicals. I was mixing these concoctions with lemon or lime to make the colour change, but the “eureka moment” came when I mixed an experimental butterfly pea gin with tonic water. The magic of seeing that deep blue liquid transform into a bright, sparkling blush pink colour sensation will stay with me forever, I knew we were onto something big and that butterfly pea gin and tonic would be a match made in heaven.
What’s the most popular Husk Spirit you sell?
At the moment, at least, Ink Gin is by far our most popular spirit, even though we continue to invest heavily in developing a unique Australian expression of a French-style fresh cane juice rum. Ink Gin came about because of the need to generate cash flow and because cane juice rum is seasonal and can only be made during the harvest (August-November). The fact that we spent three years developing the recipe and getting the infusion right meant we had to keep our day jobs for a few more years, but we wanted to make sure that people would buy the first bottle because of the colour but they’d then buy their second for the taste. Ink Gin hit a nerve with people at the right time, when the craft gin boom was about to take off and people were thirsty for something new and different.
What’s your personal favourite Husk Spirit and why?
No question, Husk Pure Cane. This is how all our rums start – it’s the most pure, unadulterated expression of our ‘terroir’, our provenance. Call it what you like, agricole, fresh juice rum or Cultivated Australian Rum, this is a style not well understood in Australia and unaged rums even less so. But in the French Caribbean, where it is as much a part of their heritage and identity, this is how people drink rum – clean, fresh and full of flavour. Drink it in a short ti’ punch, a daiquiri, caipirinha or mojito, but it must be Pure Cane.
What’s a Gin Cocktail recipe you would recommend to all Gin-lovers?
The Southside is one of the classics, that’s also really easy to make at home. Otherwise, you can’t go past the simple G&T. I like simple drinks where you can really taste the quality of the spirit.
What does the next 5 years have in store for Husk Distillery?
The next 5 years will be just as adventurous, bold and busy as the last 10 years. We are investing in the future of Australian rum with a new sugar mill onsite at Husk. This is a complicated project which will take up a lot of my time this year and next. We are also finishing up a new tank farm and barrel storage and we are planning additions to our fermentation capacity and an upgrade to our wastewater treatment. As always we are very focused on quality control and process improvements and we are committed to making Husk Distillers, Tumbulgum one of the safest, most efficient and sustainable distilleries in Australia. You can also expect to see plenty of new product releases, a new Husk Rum brand identity and bottle (shhh…), and lots of new experiences at the Husk cellar door.
When you visit the Gold Coast, what are your favourites…
Café: Café D’Bar after a surf off the rock wall is always a favourite.
Coffee spot: Zephyr Coffee in Kirra is fantastic. And they roast their own beans!
Restaurant: Jimmy Wah’s in Burleigh is great.
Bar or pub for a drink: Rainbow Bay surf club. Best view on the coast.
How do you choose to spend your weekends?
Surf as much as I can, catch up with work, spend time with my beautiful wife. BBQ with family and friends and share a few Botanicals & tonics. We also enjoy cruising down the coast and catching a show at Bruns Picture House. Ending up in the Brunswick pub also makes for a great Saturday night.