August 24, 2022
People & Places

Three cheers for life in the outback

A tree change has provided Alby and Leah Trotta with a gin distillery, many projects on the go and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of community they haven’t experienced anywhere else.

Alby and Leah Trotta, with Ernie, in the old stables at Flinders Gin, which will soon be a tasting room.

It’s afternoon on the edge of the Flinders Ranges as Alby and Leah Trotta methodically pour their gin offerings into glasses.

Alby explains the flavours and intricacies of each Flinders Gin product, which are made mere metres from the tasting table in the Trottas’ 1890s Quorn home. There’s the Farrier’s gin, the Quandong gin, the Native Lemongrass and Native Lime gin, and the Butterfly Pea Flower gin.

Tonight, Alby and Leah are hosting two other couples for dinner and they’re preparing for the feast as Alby chats about how a man who previously spent his working life jetting around Australia came to happily settle in Quorn just a year ago.

The country lifestyle suits Alby just fine – he grew up in Kapunda just outside the Barossa Valley, where he jumped from an apprenticeship at the local bakery to a position as head baker at the Hyatt Hotel.

Leah and Alby Trotta offer tastings from their Quorn kitchen table at Flinders Gin.

Alby moved into making frozen dough, and then for another company working with chilled goods, including exporting oysters. When the frozen bakery products company asked him to come back, he found out they were in financial trouble so, with others in his team, bought the business. They supplied Subway nationally, as well as other fast-food chains and supermarkets.

“It was a lot of fun, but there wasn’t a bakery in SA, so I got on a plane Monday at 6am and got home 10pm on Friday and did that for 12 years,” Alby says.

Towards the end of that stint, Leah was diagnosed with breast cancer. To that point, she’d had a busy career in public health, including managing the education unit at the SA Ambulance Service, being general manager at Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre and the executive director for the SA Prison Health Service.

“I had three full years of cancer therapy – chemo, radio, hormone suppression and I went into theatre 12 times,” Leah says.

Botanist Andrea Tschirner turns up with an armful of native botanicals.
The evening starts on the right note with a tasting platter featuring South Australian cheeses.

“Alby had been an amazing carer and we were both at a point where it became really important to do what made us happy.”

Leah told Alby to do whatever he wanted. With an interest in distilling that had been nurtured by family in the south of Italy who make amaro, he went off to the UK to do a master distiller’s course.

Flinders Gin grew faster than either of them could have expected. The pair are experienced business consultants and are no strangers to planning. However, their miscalculation of the success of Flinders Gin is testament to the current thirst for gin and the specific product they offer.

“We hit our projected 12-month sales in 13 weeks. Six weeks in, I had to get a bigger still flown in,” Alby says.

Just eight weeks after Flinders Gin was born, they took away a bronze medal in the Australian Gin Awards for their Quandong Gin.

The levels they’ve reached may have astonished the couple, but they were always onto a winning formula with Alby’s background.

“The brewing part uses all the baking skills and I really enjoy infusing flavours,” Alby says.

It’s all in the detail and he chooses to triple distil. “It’s a hell of a lot more work, but it makes it a lot smoother to drink.”

There’s no shortage of gin tonight; Alby in his little distillery.

A tiny three-by-three room houses the current distillery. “We started it in here because we didn’t want to risk a lot of money. We wanted to make sure it worked – and it does.

“I had 800 litres fermenting as soon as I started and it hasn’t stopped every week since.”

As Alby chats away, Leah instinctively comes over to let him taste the raita. “A bit more salt, a little lemon and some garlic.”

The pair have big plans for the Quorn site, which houses the remnants of the old stables as a beautiful courtyard.

Leah pours a Quondong Gin and Tonic from a can, this one’s for you.
Alby skewers the meat, ready to go in the homemade tandoor.

They’ve put a development application to council, which includes erecting a shed over the courtyard, housing a 100-person tasting room.

The guests wander the courtyard where drinks are being served – gin, of course. There’s gin with all the usual accoutrements, but also the new Flinders Gin cans.

Alby laughs with his guests while he throws more wood into the fire. Into a big pan, he adds kangaroo meatballs, which are so tasty everyone goes back for seconds, and thirds.

While Alby’s baking came with formal training, his cooking skills are more of the self-taught variety.

Kurt Tschirner helps check the chicken and cook the roti.

“I was a bit of a handful as a kid, so I was sent to the kitchen to help out.”

Tonight’s menu has a distinctly outback feel. There’s freshly baked Calabrese-style bread with Flinders Ranges saltbush dukkha, local olive oil and sticky wattle seed balsamic, served with SA cheeses, spiced quandong paste and those kangaroo meatballs, with a desert lime dipping sauce.

When the time draws near for main, Alby hoists giant spears with lamb and chicken on them. Alby is nothing if not handy – his blacksmithing efforts are on show in the courtyard – and he built the tandoor, which will cook tonight’s meat and roti bread.

There might be some distinctly Indian flavours in there, but the marinade is made with native bush tomato and the Spear Creek lamb’s marinade features gin salt.

Leah dishes up a gin cocktail flavoured with honey.

It’s clear both Alby and Leah have been bitten by the Flinders Ranges bug. They’ve lived in several country towns, but say there’s nowhere quite like Quorn.

“Quorn’s really quirky,” Alby says.

“If you want something up here, you’ve just got to ask somebody. We wanted fire drums for a function we were having.

“I was talking to Wendy [Brown] at the Great Northern Lodge about it and she gets on the phone and says, ‘Kevin, Alby needs fire drums’.

“Kevin pulls up and 10 minutes later I’m in his workshop making fire drums.”

When the couple first moved in, they were invited by Wendy to dinner only to discover the small dinner they were imagining was in reality 40 people from town welcoming them to the area.

Local botanist Andrea Tschirner has been an invaluable source of knowledge about the ingredients that flavour their gin. She, along with her husband Kurt, has come along tonight as a guest. Andrea is the regional ag landcare facilitator for the Arid Lands Landscape Board, which Kurt is also on.

Andrea cradles a bundle of foraged botanicals. She says the pig face flowers make a nice colour in a drink and the native lemongrass and river mint pair beautifully in gin. There’s also peppercress, which she says is lovely to wrap meat in and bake it over coals.

Owner of the Cradock Pub, Dave Wallis has become a good friend.
There’s no standing on ceremony here, Dave, Alby and Kurt fill their plates.

Also at the table are Dave and Amy Wallis, who own the Cradock Pub, 70 kilometres down the road. Flinders Gin works with 20 outback pubs – you’ll find them in most watering holes from Jamestown to Maree – and they do particularly well at the Cradock. Flinders Gin is the second-most bought drink at the pub, runner-up only to beer.

Dave and Amy have relished the chance to get to know the product and create their own cocktails with it for the locals and travellers who stop in. Although, that doesn’t stop them from getting excited when Leah’s honey-infused creation hits the table.

From the Landscape board members to the pub owners to the gin distillers, everyone at the table speaks with affection towards the Flinders, as the couples swap stories of locals and local happenings.

However, there’s a halt in the conversation while the theatrics of the final course take place. The pears have been poached in Butterfly Pea Flower Gin and dramatically activated with citrus to change colour. They’re served with a wattle seed-infused cream, which creates a coffee flavour.

Once the pears are eaten to the core and the curious purple syrup devoured, the guests make their way over to the courtyard for one last gin under the brilliant Flinders stars.

This article first appeared in the June 2022 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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