“Beer is barley and barley is whisky”
The founding of Ballarat’s Kilderkin Distillery in early 2017 follows the story of two friends with a mutual admiration and appreciation for beer and spirits.
Scottish born craft-beer fan Chris Pratt and owner and brewer of Ballarat’s Red Duck Beer, Scott Wilson-Browne, met in 2010 and got to know each other “through the beer”.
Scott, who has been brewing Red Duck Beer for 13 years, said that the idea for a distillery came from the beer.
“We discovered that we were both pretty passionate about gin and spirits, and whisky, and we kept talking about how we were going to have a distillery someday,” Scott said.
The Distillery is home to two pot stills made by Tasmania-based artisan Peter Bailey, to Chris and Scott’s specifications. Peter has made stills for several Australian distilleries which Scott says have all produced an award-winning whisky.
The Distillery is named after an old English word derived from Dutch that means ‘small cask’. Kilderkin barrels hold approximately 80 litres and are the barrels Chris and Scott have chosen to begin ageing their whisky. Smaller barrels, like the Kilderkin, reduce the time it takes to age a whisky.
The symbiotic nature of brewery and distillery means that Chris and Scott can bounce between the beer and the gin and whisky operations.
“There’s a synergy in that we use the brewhouse to make the wash that makes the whisky,” Scott explained.
“Barley is beer and barley is whisky.”
“Fundamentally, good quality ingredients handled carefully and you get a good product.”
The duo have now got four gins on the market.
Most of the botanicals used in Kilderkin gin are sourced here in Australia.
“Australia is a fantastic place to source natural native ingredients because the first nation peoples have been using these things for 60 to 80 thousand years,” Scott explained.
Chris said that while Australian distillers generally follow international gin laws, its production in Australia isn’t really regulated.
“The real guiding principle is the predominant flavour should be juniper, but other than that in Australia, pretty much you can do what you want,” Chris laughed.
“You need to temper ‘do what you want’ with if you can’t eat it, you don’t put it in gin,” Scott added.
When asked if he’d ever put his gin into his beer, after some polite musing, Scott said no.
“My first thought about putting gin in beer is that you just ruin a good gin!”
The efficacy of the two pot stills means that they aren’t designed to distill a pure alcohol – built more for flavour than for efficiency.
“We’d have to distill four or five times to get the purity we need, which would be a really expensive bottle of gin in the end,” Scott explained.
“We are really fussy and we only get wheat-based ethanol coming in because for us, that makes the best gin.”
“We won’t take any other spirit.”
Kilderkin won two bronze medals at this year’s Australian Distilled Spirits Awards for its Buccaneer Navy Strength Gin and its Barrel-Aged Gin. The Distillery garnered another two bronze medals this year from the American Distilling Institute, for its Scoundrel London Dry Gin and its Larrikin Australian Gin.
“So, we’re just starting,” Chris said.
“I don’t think we’ve any huge awards to stick on the bottles just yet but our gins are being recognised at both of those competitions.”
Chris said that the Kilderkin business model was to focus on the gin first and then move onto producing a spirit for the whisky.
A small whisky operation has now begun at Kilderkin. Scott is brewing his own wash at the Red Duck Brewery before he distills the liquid to become new-make spirit that is then cut and put to barrel.
“We don’t have nearly enough,” Scott said.
“Considering the whisky market at the moment, we really haven’t got enough, we’ve got about 32 Kilderkins now of whisky that’s ageing but we should have double or triple that amount.”
“But first and foremost for us, our focus is we really just want to make a good single malt.”
“Between the two of us, we want to create a really really good whisky and that’s the most important thing.”
Original Larrikin, Australian (42%)
This is a contemporary gin made with Australian botanicals that complement the juniper and coriander base. Notes of lemon and hints of spice are followed by a smooth mouthfeel. Larrikin botanicals include, juniper, coriander seed, lemon myrtle, cinnamon myrtle, aniseed myrtle, pepperberry leaf, roast wattleseed, rivermint, and lilly pilly berries.
Scoundrel, London Dry (42%)
This is a classic London Dry gin with notes of juniper and coriander, balanced with spices including, cinnamon verum and brown cardamom, along with accents of fresh citrus. Scoundrel botanicals include, juniper, coriander seed, lemon peel, green cardamom, brown cardamom, grains of paradise, aniseed, cinnamon verum, angelica root, orris root, fresh oranges and a few slices of lemon.
Buccaneer, Navy Strength (57%)
This is a navy-strength gin distilled with plenty of flavour extracted from botanicals with an extra ration of juniper and added limes. The Buccaneer is an ideal spirit for mixers and cocktails. Initially smooth on the front palate, this gin releases the complexity of flavours before the higher alcohol level makes its presence known. Buccaneer botanicals are the same as Scoundrel but with extra juniper and added limes.
Barrel-Aged Batch #3 (43.5%)
This barrel-aged gin has been ‘aged’ in small American oak barrels that once held bourbon and then Tasmanian whisky. It’s ‘aged’ because the gin is only in barrel for a few weeks, sufficient to provide oaky nuances and soften the juniper to let some of the other botanicals come through more clearly. Scott and Chris age small batches of Scoundrel and Original Larrikin and use different barrels so each batch has unique characteristics.