Picture Melbourne CBD 150 years ago and it looks something like this: dark laneways and run-down cottages where under-the-table trades, bootleggers and debauchery ran wild. The area between Lonsdale, Spring, La Trobe and Exhibition Streets was long ago dubbed Melbourne’s Red-Light district. Though it was largely demolished in the 1950s, one cottage managed to survive, and it’s now home to an up-and-coming inner-city gin distillery inspired by the infamous area.
Look for the red brick building on Casselden Place and inside you will find Little Lon – an urban distillery producing boutique small batch gins. Owner, Brad Wilson, was inspired by the historic spirit producers in Europe, where whiskies and gins were produced in 400-year-old buildings. Bringing the idea back home to Melbourne, it seemed only fitting that he straight to the scene of many crimes and its key figures, to inspire his latest venture.
Brad and his gang use Australian-grown malted barley to produce handcrafted Jenever gin. The goodies are produced using a 200-litre copper column still which is situated on site. Small batch brews are churned out in succession with different Aussie botanicals on show, such as lemon myrtle and rosemary.
Every batch has its own unique character – each inspired by none other than the sauciest underdogs and crime-lords in the Little Lon district back in its hey-day. The Little Miss Yoko batch is a nod to the Chinese Madame, Yokohama, who ran her business from her Casselden Place home, the Constable Hicking was inspired by a cop about town, and the Maude Compton by a notorious pickpocket.
Stop by for a history lesson, stay for a drink. Whatever your purpose, it’s a safe bet that you will walk out having learnt something you didn’t know about Melbourne’s past and how it has come to be the city that we know and love… as well as a new favourite gin to impress your mates with.