Food and drink

Hemp, quandong and Kakadu plum – Australian distilling startup Feels Botanical gives new life to French eau de vie spirits

- January 5, 2023 3 MIN READ
Blake Vanderfield-Kramer and Steve Pillemer
Feels Botanical cofounders Blake Vanderfield-Kramer and Steve Pillemer
French for ‘water of life’, eau de vie is the latest spirit to take Aussie palates by storm.

A favourite amongst European drinkers, eau de vie has a rich history in French and German drinking culture, valued for its rich, velvety mouth feel and complex flavours. Local distiller, Feels Botanical have now brought its take on the spirit, launching an eau de vie range that adopts Australian ingredients and celebrates local flavours.

Feels Botanical founders Blake Vanderfield-Kramer and Steve Pillemer said they created the range in response to the shift in Australia’s alcohol industry as consumers looked for more natural, authentic, discoverable and mindful offerings.

Blake said what initially appealed to him about eau de vie was the way it drinks, and he hoped consumers would feel the same.

“It is velvety, creamy and fruit-driven. Very different from other spirits, it’s super versatile; you can serve it over ice, mixed with soda or in cocktails. And, there is an abundance of high-quality Australian grapes and wines to turn into amazing spirits,” he adds.

He says his passion for wine began during his time working in the industry and living in the Adelaide Hills. So, when he and Steve first began their journey of development for Feels Botanical, his thoughts immediately turned to the abundance of fantastic grapes available in the region.

“Australian eau de vie made from grapes (un-aged brandy), adds a unique element to the spirit that a neutral base spirit doesn’t. There is an abundance of high-quality grape growers and winemakers in Australia too, so why not use this amazing produce to create an amazing and unique style of spirit,” he says.

Feels Botanical range

Feels Botanical uses Australian ingredients to deliver a unique flavour profile

The birth of Feels Botanical

Blake describes developing the Feels Botanical brand as “so much fun” as he and Steve searched for native botanicals to enhance their eau de vie blends.

“First off, it was about the shape of flavour – experiencing each botanical and the eau de vie spirit throughout the journey. Secondly, we wanted versatility – being able to drink over ice, with a mixer or in a cocktail. Thirdly, we want the botanicals to play to moods and occasions that suited different venues, cocktail menus, or the way consumers felt or wanted to feel.”

Blake says he really enjoyed this part of the process as he and Steve worked to develop the brand.

“We started with placeholder product propositions such as; good, lively, passion and tomorrow, and then started researching botanicals that were known to speak to those moods and occasions.

“We then got it down to about 5-7 botanicals for each and had the individual botanical steeped in eau de vie, and then started to blend. We realised that while you were creating a flavour, you were not able to experience each individual flavour throughout the process, so we reduced it to three botanicals per product so you can taste each botanical at certain stages of the flavour journey.”


Testing the market

Having settled on the feel and flavour, it was time to test and learn. Blake says they began trying the blends out in drinks. Friends, family and industry people were their willing guinea pigs.

“I wanted to see how they responded to the botanicals, the shape of the flavour of the eau de vie and the drinks we were making. We wanted a versatile product that could be enjoyed over ice, with a mixer or in cocktails,” he explains.

“When we moved into bulk production, I was fortunate enough to have an old colleague and mentor of mine consult on the shape of flavour and botanical ratio. He was a master distiller and also worked within the wine industry, so he was a perfect fit for helping us achieve what we wanted to.

“Our distillation partner is B-corp certified and have used native and natural botanicals in their own products, and also own a number of wine brands, making them the perfect fit for helping bring Feels Botanical to life.”

Asked to describe eau de vie to the uninitiated, his answer is simple: “It’s velvety, creamy with fresh fruit characteristics. The special twist Feels Botanical puts on eau de vie is the unique combination of three botanicals we integrate into the eau de vie grape spirit, such as Feels Bask, which has hemp, quandong and Kakadu plum.”

As for what the punters should expect from a glass, Blake replies:

“An enjoyable experience that takes you to a place or occasion and accentuates your feels…”

Find out more about Feels Botanical here.