In celebration of World Gin Day this weekend – Saturday 8 June – I thought it was the perfect time to post something about the must visit Cape Byron Distillery in Byron Bay.
Making your way down the dirt driveway at Cape Byron Distillery into the subtropical rainforest, there is a cooling crispness in the air and the occasional sound of a whipbird hiding in the canopy. It feels good for the soul – an instant elixir to rejuvenate the traveller (and local) – and just a short 10-minute drive from the busy CBD of Byron Bay.
Cape Byron Distillery sits quietly in the Byron Bay hinterland, nestled into a cosy corner of the 96-acre farm atop St Helena ridge owned by the Brook family. The distillery building blends with nature and the 35,000 subtropical rainforest trees that the family has planted during the past 30 years, creating an oasis for native animals and birds. Inside the distillery the handcrafted cellar door bar is inviting, but it’s almost superseded by the panoramic vista from the distillery verandah, overlooking the macadamia orchards and regenerated farmland where the Brook’s other incredibly successful family business Brookfarm all began.
Visiting Cape Byron Distillery is by prior appointment or as part of a two-hour distillery tour booking. Tours take place Friday – Sunday at either 11.00am or 2.30pm.
When you arrive for the Cape Byron Distillery tour you are welcomed with a drink of their award winning Brookie’s Gin & Tonic to begin your experience, garnished with rainforest ingredients such as a lemon myrtle leaf and a bejewelled finger lime.
After a group gathering and informative conversation led by one of the distillery’s ‘Spiritual Legends’ about the history of the property and the Brook’s ongoing commitment to restoring the native vegetation, it’s time for a rainforest walk to smell, see and taste the botanicals used in the gin. Depending on the season you might be able to see the fruit of the Davidson Plum growing strangely from the trunk of the trees. The plums are used to flavour the distillery’s other award-winning gin product – the deliciously easy drinking Brookie’s Slow Gin. There is beauty all around and some time to breath the fresh air before heading back to the cellar door for an in-depth gin tasting and guided sensory experience. And there is plenty of time for a selfie with ‘George’ the distillery’s copper pot still which was handcrafted in Tasmania. At the end of the tour you are invited to sit back on the verandah and enjoy a drink from the cellar door’s seasonal cocktail list.
The ‘recipe’ for Brookie’s gins was created by Eddie Brook and Scottish master distiller Jim McEwan. Jim has more than 52 years of experience in the distillery industry. As a young man he had a dream to become a ‘cooper’, which is someone who makes barrels for distilling. After travelling around Scotland learning the craft, he joined Bruichladdich distillery which, at the time, was in a dire situation and facing closure. With just two employees and a distillery dog named Boo; Jim saw an opportunity. Through his enthusiasm, authenticity and commitment he was able to reignite the local community, create jobs and salvage the distillery, all while creating the world famous The Botanist gin.
Earlier this year, Jim made the return trip to Cape Byron Distillery to help Eddie and The Brooks with their first whisky distillation. The whisky is ageing in old bourbon barrels and should be ready in about three years. We can’t wait to try this one!
The distillery’s third product ‘Mac’ is another easy-drinking example based on native ingredients. To me this golden liqueur tastes and can be used much like Frangelico. Macadamia nuts are hard roasted and then the nut shell is used in the distillation process along with wattle seed and Mount Warning Springwater. I like to drink it neat over ice with a little bit of lime juice.
THE VERDICT: I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited Cape Byron Distillery on many a happy occasion and each time the tour has included something new that keeps me interested and returning. If you’re a gin fan or if you know nothing about gin or whisky or distillation, a visit to Cape Byron Distillery is a unique experience that you will want to do more than once. It’s great to enjoy on your own or with a buddy or as part of a group activity. My tip is to arrange a ride home so you can linger on the distillery verandah a little longer.