Produce, language and imagery are often appropriated for the use of drinks in Australia, but perhaps none more so than from First Nation Australians. The proliferation of gins (and other drinks) touting native ingredients, place names as brands and the co-opting of Aboriginal art are pervasive in Australian beverage culture.
While acknowledgment and promotion of Aboriginal culture has great value in raising the profile and supporting Indigenous people in Australia, questions arise over ethical usage and sourcing of elements belonging to Aboriginal communities, let alone the questions around ownership of land that they’re grown and produced on.
Consider grape vines, grains for beer and spirits, and a wealth of ‘native ingredients’, and the uncomfortable truth is that ethics around agriculture and sourcing of produce are vexatious and troublesome. Appropriate contributions to local Aboriginal communities aside, the investment in the groundswell of Aboriginal owned and operated drinks businesses is an essential play in moving forward with First Nations’ alliance in mind.
Aboriginal owned and operated drinks and produce businesses are increasing in profile and are vital to a more meaningful connection to Country. Both ethical sourcing of ingredients for non-First Nations producers and supporting actual Aboriginal drinks companies are essential – and fundamental to moving past existing appropriation. At the core of this is putting money and support back into Aboriginal communities before profit.
Some of the most exciting, delicious new drinks to emerge from this position are spirits that work closely within Aboriginal communities. The Motlop family of Larrakia Country in Northern Territory and their Seven Season Spirits are benchmarks. Daniel Motlop established his spirits company with a mind to reinvest back into his family and Aboriginal people, creating pathways to more sustainable and meaningful sourcing of produce.
The Seven Seasons Spirits Green Ant Gin is notable for its unique flavour profile and inclusion of whole green ants, but alongside the wild harvest of three tonnes of bush apples, yams, strawberry gum, boobilalla and pepper berry is a significant commitment to community.
Seven Seasons Spirits' Green Ant Gin, Bush Apple Gin, and Native Yam Vodka.
Taka Gin Co, established by proud Aboriginal woman Niyoka Bundle, follows a similar path, with brand artwork and design created by Aboriginal businesses, and native produce included in the gin sourced from First Nations harvesting and farming companies Natif and Warndu. Axel Vodka is likewise Aboriginal female owned and operated, and delivers a percentage of profits to nextmove.org.au to support the economic development of First Nations youth.
Non-alcoholic craft beer company Sobah is co-owned by proud Gamilaroi man Clinton Schultz. The products are outstanding, credibly include native ingredient themes, and raise positive mindfulness around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture while supporting a wealth of programs around health and well-being.
A newcomer to the wine scene, Munda Wines is led by proud Wirangu/Kokatha man Paul Vandenburgh, noted for his role in the AFL as Diversity Talent Manager for athletes. Paul is committed to conversations around Country, land and culture through the lens of Eurocentric notions of terroir, reimagined through the landscape of Aboriginal Countries.
Taka Gin Co's Native Fusion Gin.
All this bodes well as vivid examples of better practice around First Nations produce and products. The essence is that these beverages, and more to come, offer further opportunities to support and raise awareness of First Nations culture, arts, history and language.
Three to try...
Seven Seasons Spirits Native Yam Vodka (Larrakia)Produced from a base of two wild-harvested yams. The connection to place is distinct here – the base ingredients simply distilled to give the essence of flavour from where they’re grown. This is a vodka with characters, showing gently earthy notes, some lactic sweetness and a distinct, albeit light, spiciness akin to wasabi or horseradish.
Lemongrass & Lemon Scented Gum Gin (Naarm)A light and bright gin that delivers refreshing, citrusy lift and clean, cool juniper piquancy. Detail and complexity, but high drinkability too. Best served simply, this is a gin for generous pours blended with soda water and simply garnished with native finger lime pearls. It can also be drunk neat as a chilled shot.
Sobah Finger Lime Cerveza (Kombumerri)
The finger limes are ethically sourced from Bundjalung lands spanning across parts of Queensland and New South Wales. This non-alcoholic beer is at the apex of refreshment and drinkability, crisp, clean and thirst quenching, with an uplifting limey tang.