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Matt Argus - Patient Wolf

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Written by Gin Foundry

Ahead of Junipalooza Melbourne, we’ve caught up with a few distillers and owners, to talk all things Gin, Australia and what they’ve been up to. Here we speak to Melbourne local, Matt Argus, one half of the team behind Brunswick based Patient Wolf.

Hi Matt, thinking back, do you remember the first time you decided to make gin, as in, the moment you both took the plunge? 

We both lived in London for a few years and were pretty inspired by what we had seen in the UK with what Sipsmtih were doing and in Europe with the craft spirit scene. We both came back to our corporate jobs in Melbourne in 2011 and we’d been kicking around the idea of starting our own gin distillery. It was over a few too many negronis at our local bar where we decided to take the plunge!

It was a great experience. I read early somewhere that making Gin is a cross between a cooking and a science class and it’s not far from the truth. We bought a 50L still that was far too big for our needs early on. We dialled it right back to a 2L copper alembic pot still that we’d get going on the stove top at home. And that kicked off the exploration and experimentation of crafting our own spirits. Over the next few years we travelled overseas, spent time with master distillers, read as much as we could about the art and science of distilling and developed a business plan. In 2014 we placed an order for a custom made Müller still.

Ordering a chunk of copper is always a big moment. What was it like to go from inception to production? The still itself must have taken a while to get to you…

A lot of hard work! There’s a famous quote by an Australian media mogul, Kerry Packer, ‘Bite off more than you can chew. Then chew like mad.’ That’s been pretty much a constant since we the beginning.

Our big vision is around the belief that well-crafted and considered things have no fear of time. It takes considerable effort to realise them, and it takes even more to critique and refine. But they’re worth waiting for.

Our brief for our still was pretty simple, we wanted one of the best stills in the world and we weren’t going to compromise. We also wanted something a little different. We worked with Sebastian Muller, from Muller in Germany. They worked with one of Germany’s top distillers, to create a patented column called an Aromat. Instead of the traditional plates, the Aromat column has a 10 meter continuous copper spiral column. It results in more copper contact with the spirit and a more seamless distillation given the minimal temperature difference between each step in the spiral ‘staircase’. This means we can produce a more aromatic and refined spirit. We also have a botanical basket so that we can also vapour infuse fresh botanicals. Our still took 1.5 years to arrive!

Where there parts of the journey you remember most, or even most fondly?    

The exploration and distilling of unique botanicals such as tonka beans! We came across the tonka bean in a book called The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. It’s used by very high end restaurants around the world, but very sparingly given the exorbitant price of them!

We imported a sample from Brazil. The flavour is amazing with so much going on; vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves. It’s marzipan-like. They allow us to create a big bold gin while making it as smooth and well-rounded as possible. It also plays an important role in bringing an incredible mouthfeel to our gin.

At what point did you know what you were going to call it - What was the inspiration behind the Patient Wolf name?

The name Patient Wolf is inspired by Lana Turner, an iconic prohibition-era actress known as much for her celebrated character as for her appreciation of fine gin. ‘A gentlemen is simply a patient wolf’ - Lana Turner.

We loved the history around prohibition and it was a really important time in gin’s history. Apparently Henry J. Topping Jr, owner of the New York Yankees proposed to her by dropping a diamond ring into her gin martini!

She was refined, sophisticated and extremely successfully. So the term ‘Patient Wolf’ just stuck. We kept coming back to it and so we couldn’t ignore it.

You’ve mentioned the Tonka, what’s made you settle on your botanicals and your recipe?

Like everything we’ve done, it was very considered. One of the main things that attracted us to gin was the creative license it offered the distiller to create something truly unique. That was our focus, we didn’t want just another London Dry.

The vision for our gin was to achieve a happy medium between a classic London Dry and New World style. We didn’t want to lose the essence of gin, but we also wanted to create something unique. That was the first layer we looked at.

For the next layer down, we also wanted to create a gin that would stand tall and not get lost in a cocktail but it had to be as rounded and smooth as possible. So, that was the challenged we set ourselves. We spent years refinishing our recipe to create what we have today. A process that seemed endless at the time but was obvious when it arrived.

Our botanicals are steeped overnight and include: juniper berries, coriander seeds, orris root, angelica root, cardamom, cubeb pepper, and tonka beans. We buy fresh organic grapefruit and oranges locally which are vapour infused in a botanical basket along with native aniseed myrtle. The most unusual botanical we use are tonka beans from South America, which add complexity and texture

We also have two new products launching very soon and in time for this year’s Junuipalooza event in Melbourne, so we can’t wait to share them very soon. They are Patient Wolf Summer Thyme Gin & Patient Wolf Blackthorn Gin

As producers new to distilling and having gone through your first 18 months, what’s been the biggest learning curve for you?

We’re in a highly regulated industry, so navigating through the various licenses and ensuring we are 100% compliant was a big learning curve. It’s where we were able to use our corporate backgrounds to ensure the right planning and processes were out in place in the early stages.

In terms of advice for others looking to do something similar, I’d also say to take their time, which is exactly what we did. Go about things the right way and don’t take short cuts. As we grow the category of Australian produced spirits we need to ensure quality is being added so to add value to the industry, not detract from it.

And what do you think the next year and a half looks like for the Gin category in Australia in general?

More broadly, the shift in consumer behaviour from mass market brands back to local, handcrafted brands will continue.

The Trade and Consumer’s appetite for understanding what their consuming is insatiable and will also continue to escalate. The level and depth of questions we now get about our gin is becoming very sophisticated. People now want to know whether the still you use is from Germany or whether it’s been made in China. For distillers going about things the right way, that’s great news.

Lastly, if you had to name a few things that you think makes your gin stand out and will allow you to grow in the years, what would that be?

Patient Wolf is a brand with a real point of differentiation. Our brand story, from where our name came from to what we stand for is resonating with a broad audience across various markets.

We spent years creating a unique product. As we look to roll out new products our NPD process and considered approach ensures what we launch products that people actually want.

We’ve already scaled for the future. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s going to be some big things happening in the next 12 months.