Underground Spirits: subzero, submicron distilling in the nation’s capital

They haven’t been around all that long, but they’ve crammed a lot in. Having already earned a swathe of awards at spirits competitions around the world, Underground Spirits recently released a new coffee vodka and debuted its new, rebranded product range – which puts the distillery’s unique ‘cryofiltration’ production method (not to mention its Canberra home) centre stage.

The driving force behind Underground Spirits, Toby Angstmann (pictured below), is many things: a leading fertility specialist, a robotic surgeon, and a bit of an all-round genius – not that he would admit it.

In a roundabout way, it’s also Angstmann’s unusual professional background that has provided Underground Spirits with a key point of difference in what is an increasingly crowded marketplace.

As a fertility specialist, one of his tasks was stopping the formation of crystals as an embryo develops, which got Angstmann thinking about the formation of ice crystals when cold filtering spirits. After much experimentation, his medically-trained mind came up with a sub-zero, sub-micron ‘cryofiltration’ process that eliminates impurities earlier than other distillation techniques.

The distillery’s range is currently comprised of five products: a gin, Shiraz gin, vodka, vodka with caramel, and vodka with cold brew coffee. All undergo the patented cryofiltration process that lend the Underground Spirits their smooth character, eliminating the alcohol burn you usually feel when drinking a straight spirit.

But, as Angstmann told BARS&clubs, they’re not stopping there: “We love coming up with new products, so there are always plans to expand the range,” he said.

“We are excited about the offering right now, with some new products on board – for example the cold brew coffee vodka – and we’re getting some whisky down too, which is my passion. Ross, one of our distillers, is working on a Navy Strength Gin that draws on developing our gin further and will give it that distiller’s strength that we all like from time to time.”

The Underground Spirits founder also encourages bartenders to experiment with his range, describing it as a way of “keeping the innovation going”.

“Each and every spirit has an individuality and character, but also versatility,” he said. “Creating a cocktail is an art, and every bartender wants to put their own spin on it, it’s part of the creative process.

“I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing some exceptional cocktails made some very talented bartenders using Underground as a base spirit. They are the ones that make this scene so exciting.”

The original idea for Underground Spirits developed over years spent home brewing and tinkering on smaller systems, but for many years the idea of his own distillery remained just that: a dream.

Fast forward to January 2016. Angstmann and his wife were travelling through Northern England when they stumbled upon a car accident that had happened 30 seconds earlier.

As the couple (Angstmann’s wife is also a doctor) rushed to the aid of a woman with critically life-threatening injuries (ultimately saving her life), it occurred to Angstmann that life is too short to keep putting things off and he felt more determined than ever to turn his ideas into reality. By 2017, a hobby had turned into a business, and Underground Spirits was born.

When asked about his future plans for Underground Spirits, Angstmann is keen to highlight his hopes for Canberra and the surrounding area, too.

“In five years’ time my hope is that Underground has put a lasting stamp on Canberra as a spirit producing capital city,” he said.

“We have such a wonderful, diverse and high-quality range of natural resources and primary products, and being at the epicentre for trade, as spirit producers we can draw on those things – and we plan to keep on doing that.

“Craft distilling is as much about a place, people and community as it is about the spirit itself; people want to be connected to their food and drink, where it comes from and what goes into it. We love the idea that we can create a sense of place through what we do and how we present the best of Canberra.”

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