Unearthing Swiftcrest Distillery, High Country organic distillers

Words by Tehya Nicholas & Amanda Kennedy
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Swiftcrest Distillery champions everything good about small-batch distilling: sustainability, creativity and unhurried perfection. For Hank and Carrie Thierry, the secret to great tasting gin and vodka is working side-by-side with nature through every step of the process. The couple, who opened Swiftcrest Distillery in 2019, have followed this principle to the letter. The result? A series of entirely organic, small-batch gin and vodkas to make even the toughest critic swoon.

Nestled at the foothills of the Victorian Alps in Mansfield, Swiftcrest Distillery is perfect for the duo’s sustainable ethos. With its cool nights and warm days, a pristine natural spring, and the fact it had never seen a chemical (or even a bolt of electricity), the property has allowed their dreams to become reality.

‘My wife and I had a property up here in Mansfield for the last 18 years and we’ve always been looking for something that we could do with the land. We’ve got a natural spring on the property – crystal clear. We’ve tested it and found out it’s absolutely pure,’ Hank explains.

After completing a distilling course in 2014, things took off from there. Between various gig-economy jobs, the couple worked to build their business, staying between their Mansfield and Brunswick Airbnbs, depending on the availability of each. ‘Only once did I book out both properties at the same time and we had to sleep on a friend’s couch,’ Hank says in his typically laid-back style.

The couple’s clear commitment to the environment and single-mindedness is fundamental to their approach from go to whoa.

98% of distilleries buy in bulk spirit. We make all of our base spirit from scratch. We use all biodynamic grain direct from the farmer.

It is then taken to an artisan maltster in Ballarat before returning to their distillery to make the base spirit. Water is supplied by a 130 year-old steam pump which brings filtered water straight from the property’s natural spring. The water is then heated in a wood-fired steam boiler which dates back to 1906.

‘It took us about six months to find the guy that could build the boiler and it was about another 18 months before he could build it.’

Naturally, fuel for the boiler also comes from the property.
‘We’re very lucky – we only use windfall timber and we’ve got enough that we’re sustainable for the distillery. We’ve enough trees that process more CO2 (carbon doixide) than we produce,’ says Hank. To close the production circle neatly,  spent grain is then fed to animals, both on and off the property.

Both Hank and his wife have a background in fine art, so their love of aesthetics runs deep.
‘Every part of the process, you have the opportunity to choose what kind of color palette that you’re going to paint with. If you change the temperatures that you mash and ferment at, you can change the flavours. We’ve also trialled over a dozen different yeasts and you get all different flavour profiles (pineapple, banana, apple and pepper). I think a lot of distillers are missing out on that part of it.’

And if you’re wondering what’s the story behind the name?
‘When we bought the property 18 years ago, we saw these birds flying past. (Swifts) migrate between Japan and Siberia and this part of Australia every year. We only get them at the top of the hill – so we named the property Swiftcrest.’

In a marketplace full of slapdash spirits with costly byproducts, Swiftcrest gin and vodka makes for a genuinely refreshing alternative. Well worth a visit if you’re heading through the High Country, and until then, we recommend their Organic Alpine Spring Gin for your next homemade G&T.


THE DETAILS
WHAT: Swiftcrest Distillery
WHERE: 126 Goodwills Road, Mansfield
WHEN: Open for tours by appointment only
MORE INFO: Swiftcrest Distillery

We wish to acknowledge the Taungurung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Muscat Gin – Two Worlds Colliding

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This is a gin as beautiful and unique as the collaboration that made it. Muscat grapes macerated for eight weeks in gin made with Australian botanicals. On the nose, it is aromatic, floral, and rich, the clean, lean juniper dancing around old-fashioned blousy roses. On the mouth, it is luscious and full-bodied, the unfermented sugar from the grapes clinging to the lips, the dryness of the strawberry gum and peppermint gum like a bush track on a hot still day.

Muscat Gin is a 50/50 collaboration between Lee Attwood from Backwoods Distilling Co. in Yackandandah and Rowly Milhinch from Scion Wine in Rutherglen. Milhinch’s brown muscat grapes were trucked to Yackandandah and allowed to steep in Atwood’s gin for 56 days.

Backwood’s gin is itself a beautiful creature, made with premium, resinous juniper berries and gum leaves, which are native to the region. Alongside these are classic gin botanicals like orris root and angelica for body and sweetness, the dusky spiciness of cardamom, high notes of coriander and a little citrus tang from lemon myrtle, which appears long after the gin has been swallowed. After two months the grapes were basket pressed, and all that ruby muscat colour, sweetness, and complex floral notes became one with the gin.

That the muscat and gin work so well together comes as no surprise, as the men who made them are now great mates. Attwood and Milhinch met at the clearance sale of historic Mount Prior Estate in Rutherglen. They were trying to outbid each other on old oak barrels in which tawny port had been aged. At the end of the day, packing up the spoils of the auction in the backs of their utes, they started talking. That conversation has not stopped, and the result is this Muscat Gin, marketed under the Still & Stem brand.

Still & Stem Muscat Gin has enough natural sugar from the grapes, around 100g per litre, to give it great body and balance to enjoy it neat on a large block of ice, perhaps a few drops of water to help liberate the aromatics. Rowly also recommends pouring a few fingers of the gin over ice, dropping in a slice of dehydrated orange, and topping up the glass with Capi tonic to your taste, long or short. Get in quick as only 1100 bottles were made.


THE DETAILS

WHAT: Still & Stem Muscat Gin
WHEN: Release – September 15 2021
MORE INFO: Scion Wine or Backwoods Distilling

In honour of World Gin Day, here’s our pick of some of Victoria’s lesser known distilleries

Words by Tehya Nicholas
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On Saturday, June 12th, the world celebrated one of its finest creations: gin. Yes folks, World Gin Day has just passed and that means it’s time to raise a glass for and of, these delicious spirits.

It’s absolutely no secret Victoria is a playground for gin lovers. With distilleries popping up across every region, some taking out huge international awards (looking at you Four Pillars), and more talented bartenders than you could poke a stick at, we’re never hard-pressed for a ripper G&T. But the average joe mightn’t be so well acquainted with the hidden gems that dot our state. The small-batch distilleries that makeup in flavour what they lack in size. We’re talking micro but mighty companies. Here is our best round up.

Death Gin

Death GinDon’t be spooked by the name… or maybe do. This gin is devilishly delicious. Planted on the outskirts of Knoxville, Death Gin gets its name (and its swagger) from the old tale of Patrick Black, the bushranger who made illegal gin, stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Carrying that larrikin spirit into their dry, botanical-laced spirits, Death Gin’s range is an accumulation of everything the makers love about gin, and it just keeps getting better.

Details here

Natural Distilling Co

Natural Distilling CoTradition, innovation and community are the three guiding lights for this Gippsland distillery. For some twenty years they’ve been following them, and pure gin excellence has followed. Using sustainable practices, all their award-winning spirits have been naturally distilled with homegrown hemp and cannabis terpenes. It may sound naughty, but they’re really very nice.

Find out more here

Swiftcress Distillery

Swiftcrest DistilleryPaul Kelly said from little things, big things grow. Sipping on the Alpine Spring Gin from Swiftcress, you’ll know it’s true. The four-times-distilled spirit is made on a small farm at the foothills of Mt Buller by one dedicated family. They’re entirely organic and hands-on, from milling the grain to sticking on the labels. We swear you can taste the love.

Details here

That Spirited Lot

That Spirited LotDown the coast – Seaford to be exact – a family of stubbornly independent gin distillers just keep making darn good gin. They call themselves That Spirited Lot, in part because they’re full of personality, in part because their flavours are experimental and bold. A dash of their award-winning Hawker Market Gin will take your Negroni to the next level.

More here

Yack Creek Distillery

Yack CreekBorn in 2016, Yack Creek Distillery creates small-batch, limited release gin inspired by Australian botanicals and global spices. Their creations have picked up awards and given their makers much to be proud of. Try their Lemon Myrtle Gin to know what heaven tastes like.

Find out more here

 


THE DETAILS
WHAT: World Gin Day
WHERE: Everywhere!
WHEN: June 12th 2021
MORE INFO: World Gin Day

Bellarine Distillery welcomes a new addition to the family

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You probably think whisky isn’t made in the Geelong region but Bellarine Distillery is here to prove you wrong.

Co-founder Russell Watson admits to being no stranger to a dram or two. Watson and wife Lorelle Warren spent several years hatching their plan to establish a distillery in the area, inspired in part by Bill Lark and his rekindling of Australia’s whisky production industry.

Watson explains, ‘from the beginning, the dream was to produce our own single malt whisky, made, matured and bottled on the Bellarine.’

From delivery of the first still in 2015 to opening The Whiskery in 2018, gin was an important first step of their journey. Thus the Drysdale cellar door has been treating lucky locals to a range of gins, cocktails and locally-sourced snacking options. But whisky, like all good things, takes time.

It’s a mix of American and French oak, tawny port and shiraz barrels as well as three months in an ex-bourbon cask that gives this whisky a stunning flavour profile. Bottled under the company’s distinctive branding, Bad Boy Billy whisky will only be available in strictly limited quantities. The recent first release sold out in one hour! Rest assured more releases are already in the pipeline.

Australian godfather of whisky, Bill Lark, has nothing but high praise. ‘It’s a tremendous expression of what we can produce here in Australia – a really great whisky rich in flavour, luscious and oily across the palate.’

THE DETAILS

WHAT: A Single Malt Whisky from Bellarine Distillery
WHERE: Purchase directly from the Bellarine Distillery website
WHEN: Head to their website to sign up for the newsletter for updates on the next release.

Check out the new Three Chain Road Gin from Buller Wines

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Gin may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Rutherglen but that’s about to change. Three Chain Road Gin is Buller Wines’ exciting new venture, drawing on their legacy and expertise to produce a gin that truly speaks of the region.

Inspired by a de-commissioned brandy still sitting idling by, winemaker David Whyte had an idea. ‘We’ve got a good understanding of blending,’ he says, alluding to the brand’s well-recognised canon of fortified wines, ‘so it was a natural progression for us to move into doing gin.’

Gin has always been a reflection of where it is made and Three Chain Road Gin is no different. A combination of traditional as well as native botanicals, such as lemon myrtle, wattle seed and pepper berry, will be sourced from local farmers supplemented with plantings from their own property. The current range of craft gins has plenty to get you started and more are in the pipeline.

Three Chain Road Premium Dry Gin is your go-to for the perfect G & T. The Elderflower Gin is more refined, making for a delightful gin spritz. It’s the Rare Muscat Gin where Three Chain Road Gin really hits their stride though, incorporating 50-year-old Muscat – what could be more Rutherglen than that? There’s also currently a Shiraz Gin in the works, which means your winter gin needs look sorted.

The Buller Calliope cellar has been given a recent facelift opening the way for distillery tours, a tasting room as well as gin masterclasses where you can indulge your inner distiller and make your own gin.

This could be the start of something beautiful.

THE DETAILS

WHAT: Three Chain Road Gin
WHERE: 2804 Federation Way, Rutherglen
WHEN:  Open 7 days 10am – 5pm
MORE INFO: Three Chain Road Gin

Breweries, bars and distilleries of Ballarat

Words by Amanda Kennedy
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It’s no surprise that Ballarat’s long association with brewing and distilling began with the Gold Rush. With water often being undrinkable on the goldfields, beer was an obvious alternative. This legacy can be seen today in a city whose university offers a two-year course in brewing.

Ballarat boasts plenty of spots to sample locally made beverages but to taste what the region really has to offer head to one of the following.

Aunty Jacks

Aunty Jacks BallaratThe moment you ask around about craft beer in Ballarat Aunty Jacks comes up time and again. Although a relative newcomer, it has fast become a go-to for all things craft beer. Whether you stay for a meal, grab a tasting paddle and listen to some live music or join in on the regular beer education classes, Aunty Jacks has it covered.

But the real stand-out has to be drinking a cold one only metres from where it’s made; it doesn’t come any fresher than that.

Check out their offerings here

Cubby Haus Brewing

Cubby Haus Brewing BallaratIt was an obsession with real ale that led Cubby Haus founders to design and build themselves a brewery, as you do. Five years on, they’ve developed a strong following. With eight core beers and plenty of single batch experiments, there’s something for everyone from a refreshing pilsner or an English IPA through to darker treats like their Oatmeal Stout.

Find out more

Dollar Bill Brewing

Dollar Bill Brewing BallaratThey say good things come to those who wait. This just about sums up Dollar Bill’s approach to fermentation. Beers (as well as ciders and meads) are given plenty of time in French oak barrels to reach their peak. It’s this exacted barrel-ageing process along with a mastery of wild fermentation that has cemented the brewery’s reputation amongst craft beer nerds.

Each seasonal release of the Parlay beer is eagerly anticipated by the brewery’s legion of loyal fans. Though the sour, complex flavours can be challenging at first, patience and persistence is rewarded.

Take a closer look here

Red Duck Beer

Red Duck Beer BallaratIn 2005 Scott and Vanessa Wilson-Browne started out with a simple plan – to make good beer that is good for you. Showcasing their commitment to natural ingredients and processes, their recent coffee and chocolate dark beer uses grain, coffee beans and cocoa sourced from local Ballarat producers.

Getting together with some friends? The obvious choice has to be the Quack Pack with 24 cans so you can experience the full Red Duck treatment.

Head here to find out more

Kilderkin Distillery

Kilderkin Distillery BallaratScott Wilson-Browne (yes, the same Scott from Red Duck) and Chris Pratt initially bonded over craft beer but it was a shared interest in distilling that led them to establish Kilderkin Distillery in 2016.

Though their whisky is yet to hit the market, there are six different gins to tempt your tastebuds. The Original Larrikin Gin with its blend of Australian botanicals is a natural starting off point to explore the range.

Although the distillery is presently between cellar door locations, you can still find Larrikin Gin through local outlets as well as via their online store.

Keep up to date with all the goings-on here

O’Brien Beer

O'briens Beers BallaratA diagnosis of coeliac disease didn’t dampen John O’Brien’s passion for beer. Swapping out the usual grain bill of barley and wheat for sorghum and millet was just the beginning. It took several years of innovation in both the brewing process and equipment but his effort paid off in spades.

Since launching the first commercial beer in 2005, O’Brien Beer has snagged over 40 international awards. And you don’t have to be gluten-free to enjoy it.

Order online or visit Hop Temple