The (gin) spirit of Byron's rainforest
BYRON Bay welcomed a new entrant to a growing list of ethical regional producers early this week: Cape Byron Distillery, launching with a rainforest infused gin.
Nestled in rainforest on the Brook family's macadamia farm in the Byron Bay hinterland, visitors to the distillery for an industry launch didn't have to look far to see the source of ingredients used in Brookie's Byron Dry Gin.
"We're looking to showcase Australian flavours that are unique to the Northern Rivers,” said founder Eddie Brook.
The new distiller said neighbouring Mount Warning Spring Water provided the base for the gin while fresh native fruits, berries and herbs - as well as the family macadamias - added flavour.
"The spring at Mount Warning is ancient and the water has a sweetness to it,” he said.
"There are around about 15 native ingredients in the gin and the majority come from our rainforest.
"We've got native raspberry, cinnamon myrtle, aniseed myrtle, native ginger, lilly pilly...
"We're really embracing seasonality, so there will be subtle changes as the seasons roll through.”
Mr Brook said he was looking forward to adding Davidson plums and fresh native rye berries from the coming summer to the mix: "we've got over six rye berry varieties growing”.
Rewards of rainforest regeneration
Rewards from the sub-tropical rainforest came after 30 years of regeneration on what was "a run-down dairy farm”.
"It was literally a dry barren landscape, not a tree in sight,” said Mr Brook.
"Dad had a passion for rainforest regeneration and we've replanted over 35, 000 rainforest trees since then with advice from Landcare and Big Scrub Rainforest Landcare.
"My upbringing was with a machete in hand clearing camphor laurel with my brother, Will.”
The Brook family regeneration project has morphed into the Cape Byron Distillery and Mr Brook described the harvesting as "wild farming”.
"It's all about continuing the growth with selective wild harvesting to ensure the sustainability of our rainforest,” he said.
"For every one stem of native ginger we wild harvest from our farm we resow four times as many seeds.”
While traditional gin botanicals were imported - juniper, cinnamon and liquorice root - Mr Brook said he hoped to work with industry and farmers on Australian production.
The Northern Rivers' spirit was not only evident in the gin: "the distillery verandah overlooks the rainforest and the macadamia farm” said Mr Brook "and we've recycled local materials throughout the building”.
"Timbers for the bar come from railway sleepers in town and we've used an old Norfolk pine tree that fell a few years ago out the front of Byron Bay, so we're almost bringing the tree back together.
"Soon we'll employ some locals in production and the distillery will be open to the public for almost a cellar door experience, including a rainforest tour distillery tour and tastings.”
All tours would be by booking only - "it's a working farm and distillery,” said Mr Brook - and there were no plans for a restaurant or functions.
"The only events we'll host are community events,” said Mr Brook.
Beverage Manager Sam Curtis, of acclaimed Northern Rivers' restaurant Harvest, said he hoped to add a signature cocktail to his menu showcasing the locally made gin.
"It's a complex, multi-layered dry that plays on classical dry gin spices,” said Mr Curtis.
"You could leave it in your glass for ten minutes and different notes would open up, it's very good to drink on its own.
"It has has a lovely clean texture, it's really well-rounded.”
The Bruce Springsteen of whiskey
Mr Brook learned the art of gin-making from acclaimed Scottish distiller Jim McEwan, a master distiller with more than fifty years' experience, primarily in whiskey.
"Jim is the Bruce Springsteen of the whiskey industry,” said Mr Brook.
"As a cocktail maker, I learned to talk about whiskey watching Jim McEwan talk about whiskey on you tube.
"We got to know each other quite well when I was brand manager for his scotch in Australia and had to give him a tasting tour: it would've been like a young boxer putting on a tour for Muhammad Ali.”
Mr Brook said until he met Mr McEwan, the Cape Byron Distillery was "just a dream”.
Mr McEwan's influence would likely continue when Mr Brook ventured into whiskey next year.
Like Brookie's Byron Dry Gin, a future whiskey would share tastes of the Northern Rivers region.
"It'll be breathing in the air from the farm, salty sea breezes... those humid days” said Mr Brook.
He also hoped to offer seasonal native fruit liqueurs and said there was a "fair chance” macadamia liqueur would be available.
Crowd-funding for gin seeds
Mr Brook has so far distilled two batches of gin that he planned to bottle this week: "we're still yet to put labels on bottles,” he said.
Consumers would be invited to buy Brookie's Byron Dry Gin for $75 per bottle and simultaneously support rainforest regeneration via a three-week crowd-funding campaign kicking off November 25.
Mr Brook said a percentage of the profits would be donated to Big Scrub Rainforest Landcare and supporters would receive native seeds to inspire individual regeneration.
"A lot of people think the environment is too big a problem to tackle and this week we've seen new land clearing laws pass through parliament but regeneration doesn't take a lifetime: we've done it in thirty years.”