By Fergal Gleeson
You might think that great whisky can only be made on a craggy island in Scotland or that premium gin must be distilled at a Georgian pile in London.
Well it turns out that a distilling company operating out of Margaret River and Great Southern are making spirits that are catching the attention of the world’s spirits cognoscenti.
Albany’s Great Southern Distilling Company has been named “Australian Distiller of the Year” by Whisky Magazine’s Icons of World Whisky Awards, making it the second consecutive year they have taken out the top spot.
The Icons of Whisky are organised by UK-based Whisky Magazine that recognise the very best in the global whisky business. It’s the latest in an extensive list of international awards they have accumulated over the years.
Founder Cameron Syme was inspired to enter the business as a young man by stories of his Scottish ancestors who were whisky makers. Cameron tells the story of how there was a reward offered by the English police for information on the location of illegal distilleries.
His relatives, needing to update their boiler, ‘dobbed’ their own distillery in and used the proceeds to buy a new one. His relatives had removed the pot still before the raid and after the reward were back in business even better than before!
Cameron has been a passionate lover of his spirts since he was 18 but a career in investment banking and law kept him busy while he learnt the distilling trade in his spare time. His epiphany to open a distillery came after completing an oil and gas deal.
He said “Let’s go south!” to his wife and Southern Distilling Company was founded in 2004. Over the past 14 years they have built a reputation for producing some of the best whisky and gin in the world, using premium local grain, pure Albany water and peat from the Great Southern’s Valley of the Giants.
The distillery stays true to traditional methods and uses small batch pot-still distilling equipment at its home on the edge of Princess Royal Harbour in Albany, where its flagship brand Limeburners is based.
In 2015 Margaret River Distilling Co was formed with a focus on gin. “There are now some excellent producers in Western Australia like ‘West Winds’ and ‘Old Youngs’ but Giniversity was Western Australia’s first gin. Giniversity Botanicals won the trophy for “Best in Class” at the 2018 USA’s American Distilling Institute in the International Botanical Gin category” says Cameron.
Gin is going through a huge revival and is much faster to bring to market than whisky” (which requires years of ageing). “The history of gin is so rich in our culture. We’ve planted our own juniper in Porongurup. We have our own orchard in Margaret River where we grow our own botanicals. I used to say that ‘Gin is a great summer drink and whisky a winter drink’ but I’m less fussy now!”
What’s the experience like for visitors to Margaret River Distilling Co? “I remember being a kid coming to Margaret River in the 1980’s. It was not the high end destination that it is now.
Our venue is more relaxed and more like the Margaret River of old. Ben Tassone, who is the Venue Manager, is focussed on customer service and providing good food at a good price. It’s also somewhere where you can try our range. “
“Giniversity at the Margaret River Distilling Co is an interactive class where you can expand your knowledge of distilling and get practical hands on experience” says Cameron.
“In Australia, we know more about wine and beer. There is a lack of knowledge of distilling. At the end of the class you walk away with your own gin made to your own recipe.” This must make Giniversity one of the most enjoyable seats of higher learning!
“We have distilleries in iconic locations. 16 years of research has shown that Albany is one of the best places to make whisky because of the quality of the wheat, the hard water, cool climate and peat bogs. And Margaret River is magical. This is the location of our gin distillery where we are developing flavours for the palate.”
Limeburners currently export to 6 markets. There are plans to grow this to 25 markets in the next 10 years. “The focus will be on getting more volume into barrel,” says Cameron
“We are currently turning down orders because we don’t have enough whisky. We have focussed on premium quality first and while we will never compete with the big players, we want to increase volume so that we can offer an everyday whisky in the future at a lower price.”
More at http://www.distillery.com.au
From Marque Magazine