It’s long held a reputation for having world-class wines and winemakers and it’s fast earning a reputation for outstanding cuisine and award winning craft ales. But for the past seven years, the Hunter has also been home to a range of other top-rating tipples
More commonly associated with the freezing conditions of far-offRussia, a variety of flavoured vodkas, as well as a unique selection of liqueurs, schnapps, gin and other speciality spirits are being distilled right here in the Hunter Valley and wowing both customers and connoisseurs at home and abroad.
These luscious spirits and liqueurs are being produced in the thick of the region’s wine country by the award-winning team at Hunter Distillery, located at 1686 Broke Road, Pokolbin. It’s a familiar sight on a Saturday in wine country – groups of people crowded around a long, gleaming bar eagerly awaiting a taste of the establishment’s prizewinning products.
When you roll up to the large cellar door it won’t be one of the Hunter Valley’s famous Semillons or Shiraz being poured into your glass, but a sip of a spirit that’s experiencing significant appeal amongst consumers and in particular among youngerdrinkers. A trend that is no doubt encouraged by the establishment of specialised spirit and gin bars in some of Australia’s major cities, serving multiple spirit brands and spirit-based cocktails.
Originally planned to be set up as a vineyard, the owners instead decided to tap into the growing interest in distilled spirits, and in particular vodka and gin. Vodka has long been the most popular spirit consumed in Australia, with data released by Roy Morgan Research revealing that just over 1.1 million adults drink vodka over an average four-week period. But while its popularity has remained virtually unchanged in the past five years, it certainly hasn’t gone unchallenged, with gin quickly gaining on its top-shelf rival.
The tipple of choice of our grandmothers is now enjoying a surge in popularity and is on its way to replacing vodka as Australia's white spirt of choice, according to Roy Morgan Research. In a recent survey, gin has gained more popularity than vodka with the average number of monthly gin drinkers nationwide growing from 633,000 adults in March 2010 to 860,000 in 2015. Not surprisingly, given those statistics, business has been booming for Hunter Distillery.
Since opening to the public in October 2012, the business has undergone a period of rapid growth, expanding its line of products as well as its tasting centre to meet the surge in demand. The certified organic distillery now produces around 29 different spirits, with its products winning awards throughout Australia and overseas, including a bronze medal at the highly competitive San Francisco World Spirits Awards in 2016.
Cellar door manager Neil Langdon and his small team work to provide for a growing thirst for locally produced spirits that for years was not being catered for in the Hunter region. Neil said that since opening six years ago, the cellar door’s original bar space had been more than doubled to cope with the numbers of tourists, tour groups and locals who stop by for a tasting – and even that still isn’t big enough sometimes!
“It started off with just the one bar to service people, and before long we had to include a couple of purpose-built bars to enable us to double the capacity over those busier periods’’,” he said.
“There is a growing interest in spirits, and we’re growing with it. “Gin is the fastest growing spirit in the world, and is the most open to interpretation and experimentation, so there is a whole new world of flavours to be explored’’.
Experimenting with different flavours is certainly an enjoyable pastime at Hunter Distillery. With their original line of products including a small range of premium Valli label vodkas such as traditional, lemon myrtle and vanilla, it didn’t take long for Hunter Distillery to spice up their line with a variety of flavours that include apple, caramel, chilli, chocolate, coffee and lime.
The addition of liqueurs and schnapps to their range allowed the distillers to get even more creative, with everything from blackberry and butterscotch schnapps to choc mint, hazelnut, ginger, passionfruit and Turkish delight liqueurs, just to name a few. It also ensured there was a flavour to suit almost every taste.
“What I find here is with walk-in customers, your 18 to say the mid-20s normally go for the liqueurs and schnapps, because they’re low alcohol and they’re sweet. Then as the person gets a bit older that’s where their palate becomes more defined, and they go for the higherspirits, the vodkas and the gins,” Neil said.
For those looking for something a little stronger, there’s the award winning Copperwave Gin and the uniquely flavoured Jail House Gin which incorporates lemon myrtle and Szechuan spice. The Connoisseur Range is also worth a try with spirits with the highest alcohol content, Arak (52 percent), and the spirit with the most interesting history – Honey Vodka.“Honey vodka is a traditional Polish medicinal recipe.
The grandfather of one of the owners was a honey doctor, and this is one of the grandfather’s recipes handed down through the generations.” Neil said they release a new product at least three times a year, with the latest additions including the honeydew melon liqueur, the raspberry liqueur a lychee liqueur as well as their first “dark” spirit, a golden rum.
In an area so well known for its wine, Hunter Distillery is certainly cementing its place as a real tourist attraction for those on the tasting trail. While it may seem a tough task to entice both locals and visitors away from the popular and well-worn wine-tasting trail, Mr Langdon said setting up in the heart of Wine Country had been more of a help than a hindrance.
“We’re looking for the same sort of people who come to the Hunter Valley for wine, but we’re offering them a product that perhaps they didn’t expect to find.”
“Some people are coming up for a wine tour, and they only want to try wine, but others come for anexperience of the Valley, and that’s where we fit in really well.”
Hunter Distillery is open for tasting and purchases seven days a week from 10am to 5pm, with their products also available for sale via their website at www.hunterdistillery.com.au■