A major player in the Kimberley’s pearling industry has found a new purpose for one of its by-products, transforming the flesh of its pearl oyster into a gin.
Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm has partnered with Broome’s Moontide Distillery to create the unusual spirit, made from the mantle of its end-of-life pearl oysters.
The oyster mantle is the thin outer edge of the animal’s flesh that is harvested once the final pearl has been collected at the end of its lifecycle.
Although rock oyster shells have been infused in spirits elsewhere, Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm executive manager Jessie Hornblow says a product of this kind is a first.
“Nobody has used pearl oysters in a gin, as far as we know, worldwide,” she said.
“We’re really excited to have a play and bring that new flavour through.”
While other by-products harvested from the farm’s oysters have found use in cosmetics, jewellery, inlay and food products, the mantle has been yet to find a commercial purpose.
Ms Hornblow said the creation of an oyster-infused gin was borne out of the company’s commitment to improving its sustainability by ensuring none of its by-products went to waste.
“Obviously, the main thing that we’re doing when we’re pearl farming is farming for that pearl itself and that’s the core product that we get out of this process, but we do try and use everything else,” she said.
“It’s really great that now we can collect the pearl mantle and give that off to Moontide to make this gin.”
Market for local flavours
Distiller Andrew Davidson, who co-founded Moontide with his wife Trish Davidson jumped at the opportunity to work alongside Cygnet Bay to create a new Kimberley-flavoured gin.
Aptly named the Pearler’s Gin, Mr Davidson said the new spirit paid homage to Broome’s pearling history, while providing consumers a local tasting experience.
“If you’re going to a regional place, you want to sample something interesting, related to the area,” Mr Davidson said.
“Although the oyster pearl wasn’t easy to comprehend how it would all mix, we started to, you know, experiment with it.”
Mr Davidson initially trialled distilling the farm’s oyster shells, but found the mantle resulted in a more flavoursome product.
The mantle comes to Moontide’s Broome premises frozen, and is distilled with a combination of native botanicals, including Burdekin plum and lemon myrtle.
While the thought of drinking a beverage made from oyster flesh could prove a deterrence for some, Ms Davidson said the response to the gin has been “overwhelmingly positive” since its launch last month.
“There’s a couple of raised eyebrows but once people have tasted it, there is no doubt in their mind that it really is a lovely gin,” she said.
“It gives a lot of flavour — not an oyster flavour — something you wouldn’t describe as a saltiness either, but it’s like a minerality.
“It just adds a while different flavour profile to our other two gins.”