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  • Liane Morris

Family Legends Drive Local Distillery Success


The Hunter Distillery, located in the heart of Hunter Valley wine country in Pokolbin, has a philosophy of using only the highest quality ingredients, coupled with traditional methods and the latest production technology, to produce an uncompromising range of top-shelf spirits. Their success as the region's first distillery has led to industry growth, even though owner Joe Slupik was told that a distillery in the heart of wine country could never work.

 

The story of Hunter Distillery begins in Poland before the Second World War when Joe's grandfather supported his local community as a 'honey doctor'. He would distil liquor and add honey and other beneficial natural ingredients to make a tonic. He taught his daughter everything he knew. During the war, Joe's grandfather, the still and all the alcohol were taken in a raid. After the war, Joe's mother migrated to Australia, finding herself in the Greta Migrant Camp. Joe was always fascinated by his mother's stories about the distilling process and its importance within the family legends.


Joe grew up in Branxton and ran Maitland Fabrications, working across the region on new builds and maintenance, often within the wine industry. It wasn't until his mother passed that Joe thought about the family history of distilling.


"It was at Mum's funeral when I was giving the eulogy and sharing the family stories about distilling in Poland that the idea took hold," said Joe.


"People approached me after the funeral and suggested I start a distillery in my mother's honour. So, in 2010, I did just that. I already had the 100 acres in Pokolbin and could certainly build the required structures. I didn't have much to lose, and I had confidence in the location. I built the Hunter Valley Cheese Factory building at the McGuigan Cellar Door and understood its ability to draw customers from Sydney."


Today the family-run business employs around fifteen people. Joe is also supported by son Colin and daughter Theresa, making the craft a fourth-generation family tradition. Hunter Distillery has won multiple international awards, including at the London Spirit Show and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and is one of the few distilleries that make its own alcohol. The spirits produced include Gin, Vodka, Liqueurs, Schnapps Brandy and Rum. Products are blended with natural botanicals and with 100% rainwater. All of this happens on-site at Hunter Distillery Pokolbin.



"We are always endeavouring to source ingredients of the highest quality, including for our Mystery Blue Gin, which is created using natural colour. We use the butterfly pea flower to create a distinctive hue, and it is one of the best sellers. Hunter Distillery's most awarded Gin, however, is the Copperwave Gin which has developed a strong following over time," said Joe.


"New exciting products are currently being developed, so watch this space!"


Hunter Distillery navigated the Covid pandemic well, with the tasting experiences permanently changed as a result. Tastings are now seated but still feature the distinctive test tubes with six spirits of choice at 4ml each, which is currently only $5 per person.


With so many flavours of liqueur to choose from, there is always something new to try. Flavours include the traditional Butterscotch Schnapps, Chocolate Mint, Hazelnut and Strawberry but also the more adventurous Chilli Schnapps, Lychee, Mango or Turkish Delight liqueurs.


The Vodkas feature several flavours, including Coffee, Caramel and Lemon Myrtle, as well as the more traditional offerings of Apple and Raspberry.


"Our products and tasting experiences perfectly complement the food and wine scene here in the Hunter, and we're proud to be a part of driving repeat visitation into our region," said Joe.

"It's a source of great pride for me to be able to continue a long-standing family tradition from Poland to the Hunter, from our family to yours, and to be a leader in this burgeoning industry and craft."


Hunter Distillery is located at 1686 Broke Road, Pokolbin and is open seven days, 10am - 5pm.

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