The opening of Kilderkin Distillery in Ballarat restores the historical connection the town has with distilling. Warrenheip Distillery was based nearby from 1864. By 1894 it was the only distillery making whisky in Victoria. It continued to do so until just after World War One when production moved to the Corio Distillery in Geelong.
I recently visited Kilderkin distillery where I met the owners Chris Pratt and Scott Wilson-Browne as well as Scott’s partner Vanessa.
Chris, a psychologist by trade, and Scott, renowned craft brewer and the man behind Red Duck Brewery, met over their shared love of beer. Chris confided in me that he had a project to drink a different craft beer every day of the year, and he and Scott kept bumping in to each other over the years at different beer events. With Chris hailing from Scotland, the chat soon turned to making whisky and eventually, gin.
Why Kilderkin Distillery?
A kilderkin is a cask, usually 16 or 18 gallons. Chris and Scott thought the name suited their background in beer and their plans to make whisky.
The stills were made by Peter Bailley at Knapp Lewer in Tasmania. It was to Peter that Bill Lark first went when he wanted to open his distillery 25 years ago, requesting that they look as close to Macallan stills as possible. Knapp Lewer stills can also be found at Archie Rose, Shene Estate & Distillery and Stone Pine Distillery. Chris and Scott’s assisted with the design and included the option for the botanical basket to be removed, allowing greater flexibility.
Like a lot distilleries, Kilderkin have started out making gin. There are two Kilderkin distillery gins, ‘The Larrikin’ and ‘The Scoundrel’.
‘The Larrikin’ is a contemporary Australian gin made with native botanicals, including lemon myrtle. I find that lemon myrtle can often overwhelm gins (less is definitely more), but ‘The Larrikin’ is tasty and well-balanced. ‘The Scoundrel’ is a more traditional London dry style and a delicious one at that. There is also an aged gin that has been rested for three months in American oak bourbon barrels. They hope to have their whisky ready by 2019.
Tasmania continues to lead the way in the growth of distilling in Australia. Last week, I was the guest of Southern Wild Distillery, makers of Dasher & Fisher gin, who invited me to their home in Devonport.
Master Distiller, George Burgess’ previous career as a food technologist involved removing the variation of seasons and ingredients. With his gins, he’s done a complete about-face and is using locally foraged ingredients and embracing the seasons when they are available. George explains every sip should “give the drinker a sense of time and place; that the drinker should almost smell and taste the season and the landscape.”
George is passionate about supporting local people and their businesses. All of the ingredients he uses in his spirits are a stone’s throw from the distillery and he thinks nothing of cruising around Devonport checking out the fruit and plants growing in people’s gardens before hopping out, introducing himself, and asking if he can take some away.
He could be perceived as a botanical stalker, but judging by the warm welcome from Andy, whose garden houses the magnificent bay tree that George regularly harvests, they are happy to be involved in supporting a local business.
Named after the local rivers, Dasher and Fisher gins come in three styles, Mountain, Meadow and Ocean each feature the same three botanicals: pepperberry, lavender, and wakame (seaweed).
George created ‘Mountain’ for those who prefer a very traditional style of gin. In addition to the juniper and pepper berry it features 11 botanicals including cardamom and liquorice.
‘Meadow’ contains 15 botanicals, including bay, rosemary, sage and fresh oranges, nearly all of which are picked from local gardens and fields.
‘Ocean’ is the most delicate of the three. In addition to the wakame, George has incorporated rose, chamomile, and orris root to create a floral gin with hints of ocean spray.
Devonport is in the midst of the largest urban renewal project ever undertaken in regional Tasmania. The Living City project is a new multi-purpose civic building, convention centre and will boast a new Food Pavilion showcasing regional Tasmanian products.
The Living City project approached George about the distillery when the original building he had selected became unavailable. He jumped at the chance and Southern Wild Distillery has taken a temporary space while the site is built. On completion, (November 2017), George will be adding two additional stills, an 1800 litre and a 3600 litrefor his whisky.
George has exciting plans for a different style of whisky and seasonal gins, so it looks like Devonport will be another fantastic spirit designation to add to your ‘to do’ list!
Southern Wild Distillery is open to the public daily from 9.30am-5pm (later on Friday and Saturday evenings).
A trip to Mt Uncle Distillery, the home of ‘quintessentially Australian’ gin, Botanic Australis, has always been high on my list of distilleries to visit. Thanks to Tourism Queensland who supported my trip, I’ve been able to tick this one off.
It’s the northernmost distillery in Australia, which fits nicely with the fact that I’ve been to the southernmost distillery (McHenry’s in Tasmania) this year too. Set in a lush banana plantation in the heart of the Atherton Tablelands, Mt Uncle Distillery is about an hour from Cairns and a must-see if you are visiting the area.
Wandering around the grounds of Mt Uncle distillery, it’s easy to see where Mark got the inspiration for his gin. The air is fragrant with the aromas of native plants and trees and as we walk, Mark stops occasionally to pluck a leaf and tell me which botanical ingredient it is. Other than importing his juniper, all of the botanicals used in Botanic Australis are local to the distillery and the surrounding area.
Mark explained that his distillation method, differs to other distilleries because of the volatility of the botanical ingredients he uses. Mark macerates the botanicals in a separate tank for 48 hours, before discarding them. He then runs the infused alcohol is through the still, a Holstein Arnold from Germany, named Helga.
“Native botanicals have a lot of astringent properties, and like tea leaves can easily be stewed which as you know, is not a pleasant taste. Using this method I can draw out the flavours I like and leave those “bush” flavours behind”.
I was fascinated to see how this method would affect the way the spirit came off the still. As I’ve mentioned previously, the favours of each botanical come off at different points in distillation (a bit like a rainbow). Botanic Australis was no different, with all the different flavours easily discernible throughout the process.
Off-site Mark and his wife Claire spent some time showing me the lush, tropical region where they live, full of beautiful waterfalls and rainforests where Mark is in his element as a former environmental scientist and keen botanist.
We went to another of the family’s properties to forage for native ginger, one of the ingredients in Botanic Australis. Pulling up the plants to see who could find the largest ginger root was a very satisfying way to spend an hour or two. Claire was a dab hand with the machete, chopping it down to size ready for freezing back at the distillery.
As a special surprise, Mark and Claire had arranged a little tree-planting ceremony for me!
This part of Queensland was a magical place to visit and I highly recommend it. Mark and Claire are welcoming hosts and the Cellar door is open 7 days a week (except for public holidays) and there is a fantastic cafe, on site too.
I stayed at Mt Quincan Crater Retreat, a set of spectacular tree-houses overlooking the Atherton Tablelands. I felt very spoilt indeed and am looking forward to my return!
It’s hard to believe that Four Pillars Gin launched less than two years ago (around the same time The Gin Queen was born). In that short time the Four Pillars brand has taken the gin world by storm, both here and overseas, winning several accolades along the way.
All of this has been achieved within a small space generously loaned to Four Pillars by Rob Dolan wines, but with 3 different gin styles and Cameron Mackenzie’s creativity to house, it was time to expand into their own Four Pillars Distillery, and last week I had the pleasure in joining the team at the official opening.
Four Pillars have invested in two new Carl stills, Jude, named after Stuart Gregor’s mum, and Eileen, (a much smaller still, arriving soon) named after Matt Jones’ mum.
Cam told me in no uncertain terms that opening the distillery was not part of a plan to become contract distillers. “Far from it!”, he said “Collaboration is what we have always been about and having Jude and Eileen will offer us increased flexibility to create unique gins with selected partners”.
In spite of the shed’s vastness (and very high ceilings!) the team have created a welcoming bar space with a fantastic team behind it, including Troy (St. Ronan’s cider maker and formerly of Innocent Bystander up the road) and Scott Gauld. The bar is stocked with some great local tipples as well as Four Pillars aplenty.
A small shop offers books, Four Pillars branded glassware and 200ml bottles of Four Pillars. Handy!
I cannot wait to see what’s in store and am heading back to take a peek at Eileen when she arrives!
The distillery welcomes walk-in tasters ($10 per head, refundable with any retail purchase) Thursday- Monday 10.30am-5.30pm and from November 16th Thursday-Sunday 10.30am-5.30pm and Friday and Saturday 10.30am-9.00pm. For more information click here.
Four Pillars Distillery, 2A Lilydale Road, Healesville.
I visited Hayman’s Distillery on the same day as my visit to Beefeater. Given the family connection between these two iconic gin brands, it was a fitting juxtaposition.
I was looking forward to meeting Lizzie Bailey, Hayman’s Master Distiller and one of only 4 female gin distillers in the world. Lizzie has recently joined Hayman’s since they brought gin production back in-house from Thames Distillers in 2013.
Lizzie was kind enough to interviewed and took me around the distillery, introducing me to Marjorie (their still named after Christopher Hayman’s mother) before leading me through a personal gin tasting of their range.
Did you always want to be a distiller?
I love flavour and I come from a farming background and being able to have raw materials and turn it into something is something I’m very passionate about. Gin botanicals and messing about in the lab, I absolutely love it.
Entering the industry I worked at Chase and Sipsmith before learning that Hayman’s were looking for a distiller. Knowing how influential the brand is, it was a great opportunity not only to become a distiller, but also to go out into the trade as the brand ambassador. I love the feedback and seeing people drink gin that you’ve made.
I went for the job and then came down several times for a fairly intense interview process. It was a serious business introducing someone into the Hayman family. Fortunately, having worked at Sipsmith, which also has a Carl still, I knew how to manage Marjorie.
In terms of the gins, is it like Beefeater, more of a custodial role?
Yes, that is partly the case. There are certainly perimeters for the brand, that need to be adhered to, but I do have time scheduled for R&D. We are doing new things, I have a small pot still (called Eve) that I use to try out recipes.
However, we are also serious about bringing back gins from the family archives. From an educational perspective, these are the expressions that show the history of gin.
What’s the most challenging thing about distilling?
I get very excited about distilling, so I enjoy the challenges! The biggest one for all distillers is probably achieving consistency. If Marjorie is having an off-day, for example. In the winter, she struggles a little to get going. My job is to work out how to change things on the still to maintain that consistency in the spirit.
After our chat, we moved onto the more important part of my visit. The tasting!
What we tasted
Hayman’s London Dry Gin (40 % ABV)
The winner of the Best Gin award in San Francisco Spirits award 2014, this gin is a classic London dry with a delicious citrus nose and bright juniper notes. A very well-balanced gin.
Hayman’s Old Tom Gin (40% ABV)
As a fan of classic cocktails, I’ve been using Hayman’s Old Tom for a while. Made to an 1870’s family recipe, it is softer, mellower, and more approachable than the London Dry. It’s not too sweet and is fantastic in a Martinez cocktail.
Hayman’s Family Reserve Gin (41.3% ABV)
This gin is a very old style of gin sold in the 1800s. Before the Bottling Act of 1861, gin was transported and served from old whisk(e)y barrels, as seen here in this illustration.
It’s not an aged gin, but is described as ‘rested’. Lizzie uses 3rd fill whisky casks. The impact is subtle, but adds to the complexity of the gin. This one makes a great gin old-fashioned cocktail.
Hayman’s Royal Dock Gin (57% ABV)
This very gin was supplied to both the English Royal Navy and the trade from 1863. As you’d expect from an Navy Strength gin, it is bold and punchy, but I liked the fact that it was still smooth enough to enjoy neat.
Hayman’s 1820 Gin Liqueur (40% ABV)
Described by Lizzie as “Gin’s cousin” this spirit is the creation of Christopher Hayman’s creation. An original recipe using gin base and adding sugar to create a delicious sipping liqueur. This drink has an extra hit of juniper and would be perfect neat over ice with a twist of orange.
Hayman’s Sloe Gin (26% ABV)
Hayman’s Sloe gin is made by steeping sloe berries in a gin base. Every year Hayman’s runs a little competition amongst its employees to see who can bring in the most sloe berries. The prize is…well, bottle of the finished sloe gin! Lizzie explained that although this is a fun exercise, additional sloe berries are needed to add to the stockpile.
The sloes are left in the gin for 3-4 months and just given it an occasional stir. Sugar is added at the final stage, with the quantity varying year on year depending on the sweetness of that year’s sloe harvest.
My grateful thanks to Lizzie and the team for sharing so much information (and delicious gin) with me.
In the shadows of St. Paul’s’ Cathedral and situated in one of the oldest parts of London, you could be forgiven for thinking that the City of London Distillery has always been there, but as owner and Master Distiller Jonathan Clark explained, it’s not the case.
Jonathan’s relationship with the venue began in 1976 when he began working there as a kitchen porter, doing the washing up. To use a well-worn cliché, Jonathan is your typical “London boy made good”, as twenty years later, not only did he own the premises, but another 5 bars.
After one of his tenants turned the venue into a “ladies bar”, as Jonathan delicately put it, he was hauled before the City of London authorities and told not only did he need to take-over the venue, but he had to find something else to do with it. The idea to open a distillery came while on holiday when he was enjoying a gin with a friend. (Jonathan had decided to start drinking gin aged 50 as he decreed it an “Old Man’s drink!)
He contacted Carl (the still makers) with the exact specifications for the stills (that occupy a small space under the stairs) and after checking costs and delivery dates headed off the States on a reconnaissance mission. After seeing a bar within a distillery he decided this was how he wanted his distillery to look. He placed his order for the stills and returned home.
Great, you might think. Except when he visited the City of London authorities they handed over four pages of reasons (many health and safety) why Jonathan could not open a distillery.
Nine months later and Jonathan had ticked off all the issues the City had presented to him, even installing bomb-proof glass in front of the stills. Jonathan proudly stated that even if there was an explosion you could carry on drinking and the glass wouldn’t be warm (let’s hope no-one ever puts this to the test).
The City of London Distillery eventually opened in December 2012 and two years later the Mayor officially opened it. Since then Jonathan has been made a Freeman of the City of London, an occasion that he is rightly proud of considering his humble beginnings.
The City of London Distillery makes four gins; City of London Dry Gin, ‘Square Mile’ (a super-premium version) and Sloe Gin, as well as producing an Old Tom gin exclusively for the Dorchester Hotel.
The London Dry is a good, traditional version and comes in at 40% ABV.
Square Mile has a punchier ABV of 47% and is perfect for a martini.
The sloe gin is a happy accident at 30% and full of almond flavours owing to the fact that Jonathan left the sloes in the gin three months longer than he planned as he forgot about it!
The bar has an impressive selection of gins from around the world and lots of gin artefacts and antiques that Jonathan collects.
You can also make your own gin in the workshop.
The City of London is a very special place. Everything from distilling to bottling and labelling occurs at this award-winning micro distillery. If you get the chance to visit, Jonathan is a great host and raconteur!
The gins are available on the City of London Distillery website or via Masters of Malt for international customers (remember to check delivery costs).
Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill opened to great fanfare in 2014 and in a very short time has become a major tourist destination.
The site itself dates back to c.903, and in the 18th century became a paper mill, eventually supplying bank-note paper to the Bank of England until 1963. It fell vacant in 2005 before being purchased by Bombay Sapphire in 2010. The beautiful Thomas Heatherwick designed glass-houses have attracted critical acclaim, as has the distillery’s commitment to sustainability and carbon-neutrality.
When I began planning my gin tour to the UK, I knew I had to go. As luck would have it, the team from Bombay Sapphire Australia were visiting at the same time and invited me to join them as part of a VIP experience to the distillery.
First up, I interviewed Master Distiller, Nik Fordham, (I’ll be sharing that interview at a later date) and met Sam Carter, Senior Brand Ambassador in the beautiful Bombay Sapphire bar where cocktail masterclasses are held.
Nik was quick to point out that this isn’t just a tourist hotspot, but a working distillery and every drop of Bombay Sapphire is now produced here. (It used to be distilled in Warrington at G&J Greenalls).
After asking me to hand over my camera and phone, Nik gave me a VERY exclusive tour behind the scenes, where I saw the stills, the steel baskets packed with botanicals ready for vapour infusion and a small lab room where different gins were awaiting inspection.
Bombay gin is sampled from the still every 30 minutes during the distillation process. These samples are checked and tasted to ensure product consistency. I was given a glass to taste and much to my relief I correctly identified it as Star of Bombay!
Then it was time for a cocktail masterclass with Sam where we learned how to make two signature cocktails: The ‘Laverstoke’ (my favourite) and the ‘Modern Epicurean’, as well as learning more about the history of Bombay Sapphire. I love that Sam’s trousers are so on-brand!
Standing inside the Glasshouses was incredible, if a little warm! The two glasshouses are entirely separate. One contains botanicals from the Mediterranean and the other contains those from Tropical regions. Chris Cotterill, the Head Horticulturalist, (who formerly worked at Kew Gardens) explained that the waterfall-like beams were in fact heat conducting, and use energy created by the distillery to warm the glasshouses.
Next Nik took us to the dry botanical room and Dakin still house where we were able to smell, handle and taste Bombay Sapphire botanicals and see the magnificent stills.
FYI Grains of paradise do not taste nice. Also, do not trust a Master Distiller when he says “taste it, you’ll be fine”. He lied.
We learnt a bit more about the evolution of the Bombay gin before heading back to bar for one last cocktail, expertly made martinis from Sam.
Can you tell I loved Bombay Sapphire Distillery? The magnificent glasshouses, the beautiful English countryside, the stills. All of it.
It was an incredible experience and there is nothing like seeing at close-hand how gin is made. Nik and Sam outlined a few of the plans for further development of the distillery which will only add to further enrich the visitor experience.
If you are anywhere near Whitchurch, I urge you to go. There are a variety of ways you can enjoy your visit from a basic 2 and half hour self-guided tour (15GDP), all the way up to the VIP Experience (150GDP). You can find more information here.
Grateful thanks to Will Brix, Sam Carter, Nik Fordham and the team at Laverstoke for spending so much time with me and to Bombay Sapphire Australia for the invitation!
Bombay Sapphire Distillery, Laverstoke Mill, London Road, Laverstoke, Whitchurch, Hampshire
Having visited Sipsmith Distillery, the first gin distillery in London for 180 years, I had to visit Beefeater Distillery, the oldest continuously distilling gin producer in London.
Beefeater Gin is one of the most recognisable gin brands in the world, and is synonymous with London. Master distiller, Desmond Payne is one of the most respected distillers in the UK, unfortunately for me, Desmond was off in New York when I visited, but Tim Stones, Global Brand Ambassador was on hand to show me around.
I began my visit with the excellent self-guided tour!
The detailed history of the origins of gin, James Burroughs (who founded Beefeater) and London has all put together by well-known drinks historian (and Sipsmith Master Distiller) Jared Brown. It was fascinating.
I loved reading about the innovative ways people came by their gin. See the Black Cat above and the blurb below.
This might be why a black cat appears on some ‘Old Tom’ gin labels.
After completing my tour Tim caught up with me (actually he jumped out and scared me to death!) and took me through to the working part of the distillery.
The building has a distinctly 1960’s feel, (Beefeater moved from Lambeth to the current distillery in 1958) and most of the stills are from that era. They were all produced by John Dore & Co Ltd, one of the oldest still-makers in the world.
The stills were on a scale I hadn’t seen before and weren’t the usual shiny copper pots I’m used to seeing. And there were so many! Tim explained that they weren’t all running at the same time and that different stills produce different gins. Beefeater currently has 4 gins in its portfolio; Beefeater Dry, Beefeater 24, Burrough’s Reserve (a barrel-rested gin) and Beefeater Garden (limited edition, only available from the distillery.
They were producing gin while I was visiting and it was an impressive sight to see the gin gushing into the spirit safe. For some reason, I’d assumed the gin dripped through slowly!
Tim then showed me the variations of gin produced at different times of day. 10am, midday and 3pm. All different visually and also on the palate, with different botanical notes more pronounced in each variant.
We then moved to where the botanicals are stored. The smell was incredible and the quantities were huge!
The distilled gin is stored in massive vats before heading up to Scotland for bottling. Tim pointed out that there has to be a short time where the gin ‘rests’, allowing all the botanicals to marry together.
It was eye-opening to see gin being produced on this scale. Whatever the size of distillery, the distillers are all similar methods and core ingredients dating back hundreds of years, but with differing results. Isn’t it amazing?
I could have spent much longer chatting to Tim (he has the most amazing office bar) but had to head off to visit Hayman’s which fittingly has family connections to Beefeater (more on that in another post). I’ll also be sharing my interview with Tim at a later date as well as delving into the Beefeater gin portfolio in more detail.
As soon as I’d booked my flights to dear old Blighty, I began compiling a list of places to visit. It will come as no surprise that Sipsmith Distillery was at the top.
I have a great deal of time for team Sipsmith, not least because of their superb gins, but because they take the time to visit Melbourne on a regular basis.
Situated in a the heart of West London, Sipsmith Distillery is tucked away in a nondescript building at the back of a car park, the only hint of the sorcery within is the magnificent swan logo painted on the external wall.
The distillery was buzzing at 3pm on a Monday afternoon. Scanning the room I saw a bartender training session in full flow, a tour group standing in front of the stills learning about distilling techniques and Ollie Kitson, Head Distiller flitting between the stills and visitors.
Sam (Galsworthy) proudly showed me round and introduced me to the only Sipsmith I haven’t met, Fairfax, plus the fantastic team behind the scenes.
Front and centre are the gorgeous Carl stills, Constance and Patience. I’ve yet to discover the reason distillers name their stills. I suppose they are like their children, so need names? Patience was resting, with botanicals mascerating gently in her pot.
To the left on the stills is Ollie’s ‘den’ for want of a better word. The back wall is lined with jars with mysterious contents and hand written labels. A large blackboard dominates the space, outlining the distilling schedule with abbreviations in chalk hinting at secret projects (I didn’t photograph it for obvious reasons).
Next to the bar is is a wall covered with large glass jars with names, dates and ABVs scribbled on the front.
Ollie explained that these were the results of some of his experiments (and those of Jared Brown the master distiller). With taps on the front for easy pouring it seemed rude not to sample some! Sam also told me that they encourage locals to bring excess fruit from their gardens into the distillery for Ollie to play with and that they then come and sample the results at a later date.
I was particularly drawn to the Olive Distilled gin which was AMAZING. Like the best kind of dirty martini. (If they ever launch that commercially I will be buying it in crates.)
It was wonderful to visit the home of one of my favourite gins and exciting to see where the magic happens. Some of the experiments going on were so intriguing and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Olive Gin becomes more widely available. As a parting gift Sam gave me one of those little experiments to take home, a Gin Cordial for Gimlets.
During my whistle stop visit to McHenry and Sons Distillers, I was invited by William McHenry, the master distiller to make my own gin. How could I refuse?
I have blended my own gin , thanks to Bass & Flinders, but I hadn’t distilled gin before and couldn’t wait to have a go.
The workshop takes place in the tasting room at the distillery. it’s also where the whisky and barrel-aged gin are aging nicely. Perfect surroundings!
First, guests are invited to select their botanicals from an array of the usual and very unusual botanicals…onion flakes anyone?
I’m afraid I was very conservative in my choices. This was such a unique experience for me that I didn’t want to go home with something undrinkable! My choices were juniper (obviously), coriander seeds, orange peel, lavender and orris root. William helped me crack the coriander seeds to allow the flavour to be drawn out more easily.
Next we set up the miniature distilling pot. Vodka was poured into the flask and placed into the heating unit. Cold water flowed around the condensing pipe to assist with distillation. Then it was time to add the heat.
William explained that when distilling properly using his copper still there are three different temperature gauges to prevent the pot from over-heating. If this happens there can be a reflux effect where the alcohol boils up and overflows into the condenser, spoiling the gin. With the small unit we had to rely on our eyes. A rolling boil was what we were after, as seen in this video.
It wasn’t long before the spirits were flowing and I couldn’t resist letting a drop or two fall on to my fingertip in order to taste it. Quality control and all that!
What was interesting was how the different botanical flavours come through at different points during distillation, all distinct from one another.
Before bottling, William did a quick test of the ABV which came in at 78%, clearly requiring the gin to be cut with water! Usually, he does this with the guests at the time of the workshop, but it was easier for me to transport home in a smaller bottle!
Making gin at McHenry and Son workshops are available through Bespokse Tasmania and can be booked here. Grateful thanks to William McHenry for gifting me this fabulous experience.