Saltie gin: Our emblematic salties inspire an exclusive, signature gin label
If Darwin was a flavour, we think it could be salty mixed with tanginess and spice. For the traditional owners of Darwin are the Larrakia, known as “saltwater people”, who have a close relationship with the ocean. Darwin is situated on Australia’s northern coast, so gently lapped by the Timor Sea and refreshed by salty sea breezes. And the Top End is home to the world’s largest living reptile, saltwater crocodiles, or as we affectionately call them, “salties”. Once our salties became protected from hunters in 1971, the estimated population of 3000 exploded and we now have about 100,000 in the Northern Territory. Isn’t that, alone, a good enough reason for Sea Darwin to call its exclusive, signature gin “Saltie”?
But there’s more to our “Saltie” story. Sea Darwin approached award-winning sparkling winemaker Natalie Fryar, who has recently discovered a new passion, gin, to create a spirit that captures the flavours of the Top End. The brief to Natalie was for the gin to be Territory-flavoured, including Southeast Asian influences such as hints of coastal tamarind and lemongrass. With Darwin’s close proximity to Southeast Asia, it’s no surprise the near-neighbours have influenced Darwin’s cuisine and culture - you just have to visit Parap Markets on a Saturday morning to be tantalised by the delicious array of Asian dishes, which instantly transport you across the seas.
Tasmanian-based Natalie, from Launceston’s small-scale distillery, Abel Gin Co., delivered just what the client ordered. “We built on our gin base with tamarind, lemongrass, kaffir lime and Australian lime and lemon myrtle – it has connotations of [ice cream] pine-lime Splice – and nuances and notes including native peppers,” she says. “It’s a gin that works in the evening in a tropical place like Darwin.”
But it’s the tamarind that is a “critical” component of Saltie, for very good reason. It was first introduced to the Territory by the Macassan people from Sulawesi (modern-day Indonesia), who sailed over the azure-coloured seas in prahus in the 1700s, or possibly much earlier, to fish for trepang (sea cucumbers). Stands of ancient tamarind trees along the northern coastline mark where the Macassans set up camps to fish and process the trepang – for it was at these places they ate the astringent fruit and dropped the seeds that sprouted into trees. The Macassans and the local Aboriginal people had a trading relationship: In return for fishing off the coast, the Macassans gave them goods such as calico, tobacco, rice and metal knives.
So, the story of Saltie is multifaceted: It’s about the salty, tangy flavours of the Territory and the influence of Southeast Asia on our cuisine; it’s about our magnificent, emblematic saltwater crocodiles; and it’s about the “old salties” - the Macassans, who sailed here for centuries and contributed to the Aboriginal language, culture and economy. It’s also a story about what we shared with them. Sulawesi may be densely populated and enveloped in heady, warm and comforting aromas, and the raw, natural, edgy Territory sparsely populated - it’s scent clean, dry and dusty - but we both have a tropical climate, a connection to water and a long, trading history. Human contact has left its imprint on each side of the sea that both separates us and brings us together - and which our respective saltwater crocodiles, our salties, call home!
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