Southern Wild Distillery

Southern Wild Distillery

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.”

Dasher and Fisher Gin Still
Dasher and Fisher Gin Still

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.

Southern Wild Distillery
George collecting bay leaves from local man, Andy’s garden
Southern Wild Distillery
Lavender at Marleen Herbs of Tasmania, suppliers of lavender for Dasher and Fisher gin.

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.

Southern Wild Distillery

Southern Wild Distillery
The Dasher river

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).

Southern Wild Distillery
Dasher and Fisher gins

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 destination 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).

You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Many thanks to George and the team at Southern Wild Distillery and Georgia at Cru Media for organising my visit.


Poltergeist Gin

There are so many different facets to the story around Poltergeist gin, it’s difficult to know where to start. There’s the fact that it’s made in Tasmania, its unusual name, and it’s home, Shene Estate, the country residence of early colonialist Gamaliel Butler.

The Kernke family acquired Shene in 2007 and have been tirelessly trying to preserve this historic site. Obviously, a project of this nature requires financing and following the discovery of centuries old gin bottles on the site, the family hit upon the idea of building a distillery.


As a result they’ve joined forces with Damian Mackey and at the end of 2015 will merge Mackey’s distillery with their own to create Shene Distillery where they will produce gin and whisky.

Damian learned his craft from the godfather of Tasmanian whisky, Bill Lark, and has been producing his own Irish style whisky since 2007, but when I spoke to him this week told me that even before he started distilling whisky he was playing with botanicals.

The result is Poltergeist gin, of which there are two varieties, ‘unfiltered’ and ‘a true spirit’ but before we get to that, let’s talk botanicals!

A pleasing mix of traditional and native, Poltergeist is made with distilled with juniper, coriander seeds, cardamom, cassia bark, angelica, orris root, liquorice root, star anise and lemon peel. The native ingredients are Tasmanian mountain pepper berry, lemon myrtle and macadamia nut. These botanicals are macerated for around 20 hours before distillation.

So why are there two versions and what does unfiltered mean?

When distilling botanicals oils are released. These are perceptible but sometimes when water (or ice) is added, the liquid might ‘louche’, i.e. cloud. Many spirits do this and while there isn’t anything wrong with the spirit, Damian and the team decided to play around a little with a unique carbon filtered system (made from organic coconut shells) to see whether they could reduce the looting.

When I first heard about the filtering, I was concerned as I knew this process had the potential to remove all the flavour, thus returning the gin back to base alcohol. Damian explained that filtering is done swiftly, so the flavour is retained. The result? Two gins with different flavour profiles, each adored by the Shene team who decided to launch both!

Poltergeist Gin – A True Spirit

Currently, my favourite (but unfiltered is gaining ground) this is an excellent example of a London dry style gin. Classic and versatile with a nice balance of juniper and citrus flavours with a good length and a tiny hint of spice at the end. Fresh and bright, this is a perfect G&T gin.


Poltergeist – Unfiltered

On the nose juniper is there along with some earthy notes, almost forest floor smells. The flavours of the spicier botanicals are elevated and there is much more heat and the flavour stays in your mouth for much longer. I’m already dreaming of this one in a warmed Negroni on a cold winter’s night.

And the name Poltergeist? Let’s just say that the Shene is estate is a little on the spooky side…

Origin: Tasmania

ABV: 46%

Price: Medium

You can follow Shene Estate on Facebook, twitter and instagram


Making Gin at McHenry and Sons

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?

Choosing botanicals

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.

Cracking coriander with William McHenry

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.

Test still at McHenry & Sons Distillery

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.

Making gin.mp4 from Caroline Childerley on Vimeo.

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!

My Gin!

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.


William McHenry & Sons Distillery

William McHenry & Sons Distillery is the most southerly distillery in the world. Based in Port Arthur, Tasmania, William and his team produce vodka, gin and whisky. I am a big fan of this Classic Dry Gin and couldn’t wait to cross the Tasman to see the distillery.

William told me that the plan to become a distiller involved something of a tree change for him and his family.

“I was part of the corporate world for a long time even spending 5 years in Manhattan before returning to Australia and basing ourselves in Sydney. A few years of working for a company flying back and forth from Perth on a weekly basis made me question “is this it”? Then after a particularly stressful day, I drove home with my mind full of that day’s business and ran a red light, narrowly escaping an accident. It shook me up enough to make me realise that I wanted to do something else with my life”.

Chatting with a friend at a barbecue, William shared his desire to change direction. His friend replied “With a name like William McHenry, you should be making whisky!”.

William says it was like a light coming on and he and his wife Alison began scoping property locations in Tasmania.

The property in Port Arthur piqued William’s interest on two levels. Firstly, he loved the area, but secondly the property had natural springs, with extremely pure water, an essential ingredient in distilling.

William showing me the natural spring
William’s renovation project!

The McHenry copper still was manufactured in Tasmania by the same company that made Stone Pine Distillery’s still. At 500 litres, it is also a similar size. Visitors are welcome to visit during distillation and William even sets up lunch for guests in front of the still.

William McHenry and Sons Copper Still

William loves showing off the area to its fullest potential and has built a ‘bothy’ close to the distillery where visitors can enjoy lunch and tastings of his spirits, while gazing out over the stunning views.

The beautiful ‘bothy’

One of the highlights of my visit to meet William and find out more about McHenry and Sons, was foraging for sloes for his acclaimed sloe gin. These are all picked by hand and are tricky little suckers as the bushes they grow on are covered in sharp thorns. I tasted one or two and they are sweet and juicy, but the tannin in the skins stripped my mouth of moisture in no time!

Spot the sloe berries!
Sloes mascerating in a jar

There are 4 styles of gin in the McHenry range: sloe, barrel-aged, London Dry style and Navy Strength (over-proof). William showed me the solera system used for making his barrel-aged gin, and allowed me to sample some from the first barrel. Delicious!

Sampling McHenry and Son Barrel-Aged Gin

I was also invited to make my own gin under Williams’ expert guidance, which was an amazing experience, one I’ll be sharing on another post. William offers these workshops through Bespoke Tasmania and you can book via the link below. If you are visiting Tasmania, I highly recommend making sure a visit to McHenry and Sons is on your itinerary!

William McHenry & Sons Distillery, Port Arthur, Tasmania. Follow them on Facebook and instagram. For gin-making workshops click here.

(With grateful thanks to William and the distillery team for giving up their time to share this wonderful distillery with me)