Lemon myrtle vodka. Turkish delight liqueur. Magical, colour-changing gin. These aren’t the kinds of spirits you’ll find at your everyday bottle shop – but you will find them (and plenty more) at a little place called Hunter Distillery.
For those who like to branch out with their evening tipple, or who are keen to try their hand at making interesting cocktails at home, Hunter Distillery is a dream destination. Starting as a licenced backyard project back in the early 2000's, the Distillery began its journey with the production of just five vodkas. Dubbed Valli Vodkas, these limited-edition spirits were originally produced in small quantities for the wholesale market. But the name rose to prominence after Valli Vodkas began bringing in international recognition, winning gold in the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition and silver at the London International Wine and Spirit Competition.
After such success, it was a natural decision to expand into a state-of-the-art distillery, tucked away amidst the wineries along Broke Road in Pokolbin. Since opening to the public in 2012, the Distillery has expanded in size, scope and offering. The original Valli Vodkas paved the way for the premium organic vodka range the Distillery is now renowned for, and various gins, liqueurs and schnapps have been added to the mix.
“It’s grown dramatically,” says Neil Langdon, Hunter Distillery’s Sales and Customer Relations Manager. “It’s gone from just the five vodkas to now five gins, about ten vodkas, about 15 liqueurs and schnapps, and some other specialty spirits. We started off with just one tasting bar; we’re now up to two very big public tasting bars and two group-booking tasting bars. And we’re still growing.”
For anyone looking to break up a wine tour with something a little different, the Distillery’s tasting bars are an essential stop. Not only will you sample a selection from the wide range of premium and flavoured spirits, but you’ll also get a sneak peek at the inner workings of the Distillery.
“The tasting area is in the same building as the production area, so you can actually see the stills and the bottling line and everything from the tasting area,” Neil explains.
From the moment you walk in for a $5 tasting experience, you’ll understand the Distillery’s unique appeal. The list of spirits available is extensive and often unusual (did someone say chilli schnapps? Caramel vodka? Choc-mint liqueur?). And when you finally decide what you’d like to try, your samples are offered not in glasses, but in test tubes.
“It’s a unique thing that we do for a couple of reasons,” says Neil. “It’s a point of difference, but the main reason is that it is straight spirits, so this way you get to try a couple of flavours, and we stay in RSA guidelines!”
The test-tube tasting experience isn’t the only thing that makes the venue distinctive. It’s also the only 100% organic distillery in the Hunter, and its processes are different from those of many other distilleries. “We make our own spirit,” Neil explains. “A lot of distilleries buy in the spirit and then make their products from that, but we actually make ours from scratch. We do the equivalent of five times distilling, so we’re able to remove a lot more of the nasty alcohols – there’s basically none of that burn that goes all the way down. It’s a very clean, polished spirit.”
From the basic spirit, premium vodkas are made first, creating a smooth and clean product that’s continued to garner awards over the years. This is followed by the special flavoured products, which are created using an infusion process with essential oils and flavour extractions. Flavour creation is a balance of art and science – a new challenge for the Distillery team each time as they experiment with different materials and techniques. Some flavours are virtually an instant success, only needing minor tweaking after the first attempt; but, Neil reveals, “there are others which might be in the development stage off and on for 18 months to two years or more. We like to make sure that you’ve got a beautiful smell, fantastic taste and a great aftertaste.”
So what’s popular at the Distillery these days?
Bestsellers like the Valli Vodka range and fruity or sweet liqueurs are always a hit, but gin is also currently having its moment for Hunter drinkers – particularly the enigmatically named ‘Mystery Gin’. Boasting an unusual vibrant-blue colour, Hunter Distillery’s Mystery Gin has a surprise twist in store when mixed with its best friend, tonic. “It uses a flower called the butterfly pea for its colour, which actually reacts with the citric acid in tonic water – so it will change colour and become more of a pink,” Neil explains. He points out that it’s unique in the flavour department as well, with a distinct sweetness and blood-orange overtone that endears it to gin fans and non-gin-drinkers alike.
Hunter Distillery’s range of boutique products is only available online or at the Distillery itself. But if you find you just can’t get enough, you can also join the Spirit Club and receive a 15% discount on all purchases, including two six-packs of 500mL bottles delivered in May and November each year. You’ll also have exclusive first access to new products, and possibly even special events such as members’ nights down the track… Bottoms up, we say.
Shop online at www.hunterdistillery.com.au or pop in for a test-tube tasting at 1686 Broke Road, Pokolbin.