Mr Black Coffee was launched in 2013.

If you were to plant a vineyard in Australia today, would it be to the stalwarts, shiraz and chardonnay? Or would you seek to stand out with more exotic, yet lesser known varieties? Australian distillers are confronting a similar quandary as their ranks continue to swell with more competitors, all of whom are making gin. It’s undoubtedly the spirit of the moment, but it’s questionable how many more gins the retail landscape can sustain.

Sydney-based Mobius Distilling Co is among the newcomers exploring the lesser-travelled territory of unusual liqueurs. Launched in August 2020, its Moreau Apple Pie Liqueur is quite unlike anything else on the market. According to Mobius co-founder Alex Hardie, the inspiration comes from a distilling tradition in the US Appalachian Mountains.

Distillers dub ‘apple pie moonshine’ their spirits distilled from corn and flavoured with apple and cinnamon.

Hardie and his partner at Mobius, head distiller Philip Crossley, were intrigued.

“It sounds like it should be nice, but it didn’t taste that way. So Phil set about reimagining a more palatable style of apple pie spirit,” Hardie says.

Alex Hardie and Phil Crossley of Mobius.

They switched the base from corn to a more neutral spirit with the juice for the apple distillate sourced from Bellevue Orchard in Victoria. Crossley applied his skills as a gin distiller to balance the botanical components including cinnamon and vanilla. The result is a deliciously sweet and spicy, characterful 22% ABV liqueur that lives up to the promise of evoking the finest homemade apple pie.

It impressed judges at the Australian Distilled Spirit Awards in November last year, where it picked up the Champion Liqueur Trophy, following on from accolades including a gold medal at the London Spirits Competition.

“Why be a follower when you can go out and create something new?” Hardie says. “Sure, it’s a hard slog creating something new from scratch. But the alternative would be going up against 500 other gins.”

Mr Black Coffee’s Tom Baker.

Launched in 2013, Mr Black Spirits has shaken up a somewhat dowdy genre of spirits with its new offering worthy of coffee and cocktail culture.

“It would be great to have the tailwind of being an Australian gin or whisky, but there’s something really nice about owning this niche,” founder Tom Baker says.

“With espresso coffee you get that lovely bitter acidic astringency that you feel on the side of your tongue. The cold brew flavours in Mr Black are low in acidity but quite robust, more toasty and caramelised in character than other options.

“A Mr Black Espresso Martini is a lot more sessionable; very balanced and very crisp. It’s not as sweet, it doesn’t have that really sticky mouthfeel to it.”

Its latest limited edition release is Mr Black Single Origin Ethiopia, which showcases coffee sourced from Yirgacheffe, a high-altitude region where the slow ripening beans develop extraordinary flavour.

“Our single origin liqueurs are a bit higher in ABV and less sweet than the regular Mr Black, plus we roast them a bit lighter, all of which lets the individual character of each coffee shine a bit more,” Baker says. “The Colombia release used a fermented coffee, so it had a nice fermentation-derived funk to it that works really well in cocktails when mixed with oxidative wines like sherries.”

Never Never’s Sean  Baxter, George Georgiadis and Tim Boast .

Meanwhile, McLaren Vale company Never Never Distilling is championing a local expression of the historic gin-based liqueur known as a fruit cup, synonymous with stalwart brand Pimm’s No. 1 Cup. “Back in the late 1700s, people were trying to smother the unpleasant flavours of poorly made gin with whatever spices and tea and sugar they could use,” says Never Never’s Sean Baxter.

Never Never Fancy Fruit Cup marries the distillery’s award-winning gin with Earl Grey tea and Australian orange liqueur crafted by Melbourne company Marionette.

“The orange liqueur works really well with the bergamot in the tea,” Baxter says.

“I always wanted to base the flavour profile around tea, which was a very popular flavouring ingredient classically.

“It just gives so much depth of flavour and character and the tannin also balances out the sweetness of the mixers.

In contrast to Pimm’s, Fancy Fruit Cup is not technically classified as a liqueur, because its sugar content falls just short of the required 10% by volume threshold.

“We wanted to create a style that was slightly drier and lighter on the palate,” Baxter says. “Pimm’s made it famous, but we made it fancy.”

Summer Drinks

Fancy Fruit Cup

Simply combine equal parts Never Never Fancy Fruit Cup, lemonade and dry ginger ale and garnish with your favourite seasonal fruits. Never Never’s Sean Baxter recommends using orange, strawberries, cucumber and mint.

Coffee Tonic

Mix 45mls of Mr Black Coffee Liqueur with tonic water and serve over ice. “It’s a flavour combination that works so well – it really highlights the citrusy flavours in both tonic and Mr Black,” says founder Tom Baker.

Dark Pie & Dry

It’s delicious neat or over ice, but Mobius Distilling’s Philip Crossley recommends mixing one part Moreau Apple Pie Liqueur with one part dark rum and topping with dry ginger ale. Serve over ice in a tall glass and garnish with a lime wedge.