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How a suburban backyard became home to award-winning gin

The unexpected success story hidden in the back streets of Botany

When you walk down the driveway of the house where Marty and Ed Svehla live with their two kids in Botany, your first greeting will most likely be from a friendly kelpie, toy in mouth, pleading with his big brown eyes for a play. That’s Frank the Distillery Dog, so named because this seemingly ordinary suburban home hides a surprise.

Rounding the corner and entering the paved backyard you’ll see a workshop filled with working stills, and rows and rows of glass jars containing labelled Australian native botanicals and bottles of spirits. Since 2019, Marty has been making award-winning gins and liqueurs from the proverbial garden shed, under the name Banks and Solander. And on Saturdays between 11AM and 5PM, anyone’s welcome to come by and sample a bit of the good stuff.

As co-owner and head of marketing, Ed is likely to be your tasting guide, which, if you’d told her would be the case several years ago, she would have said you were dreaming. “I didn’t like gin at all,” she says of her reaction when her husband suggested they go into the gin-making business. Her only experience of the famous juniper-forward clear spirit had been served to her at a pub using cheap mass-market gin and post-mix tonic and she found it undrinkable.

Left: Frank the Distillery Dog. Right: Ed and Marty with customers. Images: Supplied

It was only when Marty bought a bottle of the famous English dry gin, Monkey 47, with its layered mix of botanicals, and served it with proper tonic, did Ed understand how complex and aromatic — and delicious — gin could be.

The couple spent years perfecting their own flagship Signature Gin, which is generally the first one people try when they drop by. “I talk about the botanicals they can smell — you should get orange blossom on the nose, and then when you taste it, a big hit of juniper followed by the spice of the pepperberry, then wattleseed and then the long finish from the lemon myrtle,” says Ed. People can also taste Banks and Solanders’ unique Endeavour Gin, a caramel-coloured spirit made with Valencia oranges and aged with American oak or perhaps their fresh, not-too-sweet Limoncello which tastes of purest citrus sunshine.

For private groups who book ahead for $59 per person, she adds a cheese platter from Three Blind Mice in Mascot, as well as a cocktail on arrival (‘The Bayside’ is a favourite, made with Endeavour Gin, Kumquatcello, lemon juice and honey) and a full 1.5 to two hours of Ed’s expertise, including up-close touch-and-smell interactions with various botanicals (“Not everyone’s seen or smelled strawberry gum,” she explains) and, if they’re interested, information about the distillation process.

Left: The Signature Gin and Endeavour Gin. Right: Limoncello. Images: Supplied

To look at this humble backyard microdistillery, you wouldn’t necessarily guess how much success it’s had beyond the Svehlas’ home address. Banks and Solander won its first award in its very first year, a silver for its Signature Gin at the Australian Gin Awards. “That was pretty damn amazing,” says Ed. “We were just babies, trying to give it a go. That made us think we must be onto something.”

Since then the Signature Gin has won a fistful of awards globally including Gold at the European Spirits Challenge in 2021 and Silver at the International Wine and Spirits Competition a year later. The Endeavour Gin and Limoncello are also getting noticed.

Their Signature Gin is also stocked in restaurants like Woodcut at Crown Sydney, while their limoncello made a wildly popular takeaway spritz at Pocket Pizza in Brookvale throughout all the Covid lockdowns (and is still served there today). You can buy any of their products online at banksandsolander.com or at bottle shops all over Sydney including P&V Wine and Liquor and Mascot Liquor.

Left: Marty pouring the Signature Gin. Right: Bespoke Gin for Woodcut restaurant. Images: Supplied

With the exception of importing juniper — which only grows in small quantities in Australia — almost all of Banks and Solanders’ ingredients are Australian, many are local and ideally native, using Indigenous suppliers wherever possible. But they chose their company’s name to honour two Englishmen — Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander — the botanists who sailed to Australia on the Endeavour with Captain James Cook, and are credited with showcasing Australian botanicals to the world.

“We even think it’s possible Banks and Solander would have wandered through here collecting their samples,” Ed says, gesturing to the yard. “So it made perfect sense to make that our name.”

Once you know that, you think back to your initial glimpse of the suburban frontage of Banks and Solander’s hideaway distillery and understand that first impressions can be deceiving. “Our location,” says Ed, “is really what we’re all about.”

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