Australia has always been one of those places that has intrigued me. The famously-laid back culture, beach life, miles and miles of vast wilderness, vibrant modern cities and of course their wines. The latter has come along way since new world wine first broke onto the UK market in the Eighties with their big, bold flavours of Shiraz and heavily oaked Chardonnay. More recently, Australia has become known for more restrained, delicate styles from increasingly diverse small scale wineries. So here I am flying at 36,000 feet on the gruelling 24 hour flight down anticipating new finds from not only the wine regions the also the burgeoning gin and whisky scene.
This is going to be the Grape Wizards big Ozzie road trip: an antipodean grape, grain and hop adventure, starting in Sydney and taking in both coast and country all the way from Byron Bay in the North, to Hobar, Tasmania at the most southern tip.
So after ushering in the New Year on the steps of Sydney’s Opera House the real adventure begins. First stop is a tour of the Northern NSW/Queensland breweries and Distilleries and then on to the wine regions of Tasmania’s Coal Valley and the Yarra wine region situated north east of Melbourne. This is the first of three articles outlining some of the gems I uncovered.
Cape Byron Distillery. The taste of nature.
Cape Byron Distillery is set in the heart of the Brook family’s Macadamia Farm, in the hinterland of Byron, Northern NSW, surrounded by sub-tropical rainforest. Over the last 32 years, the family have revived the land so decimated by cattle farming in the previous century, by replanting a lush orchard of Macadamia as well as over 30,000 native tree species. Whilst their eldest son now runs the farm, it was their youngest son Eddie whilst working in the hospitality industry who had the good fortune to bump into the renowned distiller Jim McEwan (of Bruichladdich fame and inventor of The Botanist gin and Octomore whisky). When Eddie revealed that the family farm was blessed with an area of pristine rainforest with its many native botanicals, the idea of Brookies Distillery was born.
Five years later, alongside the flagship. “Byron Dry” gin, worthy of note is also a distinctive liqueur showcasing the farms Macadamia nuts and native wattleseed, a native spice referred to as “bush coffee”. Roasted Macademia nuts, shells and wattleseeds are combined to create a versatile nutty liqueur suited to cocktails, coffees and desserts.
The comprehensive, informative tour started with a short walk into the rainforest. After an extended drought lasting over two years the forest is now in the middle of a fire exclusion zone. The walk highlighted the delicate ecosystem that is present on the estate. Almost all the botanicals are in situ and can be easily picked from the bushes and trees. We walked past stingless beehives brought in to control nut borers that feast on Macademia. This is clever, natural farming. It’s clear the environment as well as the gin is revered here.
Back at the distillery we meet George. George is large copper still named after Eddies grandfather. Each batch of George can produce 3,500 hand-crafted bottles in one go. George now produces not just gin, but also whiskey using a local Brewers (Stone and Wood) wash. The first batch could be seen maturing in bourbon casks, resting in the scrub under the cool shade of the distillery.
The flagship gin, Brookies Byron Dry, is created with 25 botanicals, 17 of them indigenous to the region: Byron Sunrise finger limes, myrtle, Macademia, ginger, raspberries and many more. It’s a balanced yet distinctive take on a classic London dry gin with citrus and juniper taking the lead with refreshing green spice, hints of red fruit and a lovely floral finish. Awarded 2 gold medals from the San Francisco Spirits Awards is a sign that this gin is on the global stage.
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