Master Distiller Jim McEwan and Distiller Eddie Brook reveal the next chapter for Cape Byron Distillery.
Editor’s Note: In November 2016, I had the pleasure of being the first to present the story of Cape Byron Distillery by Eddie Brook and Jim McEwan as told exclusively on our sister website Gourmantic. Last week, I visited the distillery to learn about the next chapter: whisky.
About Cape Byron Distillery
Cape Byron Distillery is a family-owned distillery located on the Brook family’s macadamia farm, set among orchards surrounded by macadamia trees and sub-tropical rainforest in the hinterland of Byron Bay, NSW.
For the last 30 years, the Brook family has been regenerating the rainforest in particular the Northern Rivers area where they have replanted over 40,000 rainforest trees. The distillery was built as an extension of the rainforest with recycled timbers and finishes from the surrounding area. You can view a tour of the rainforest here.
Prior to the distillery’s official opening in November 2016, Hall of Fame and Master Distiller of the Year Jim McEwan (aka The Cask whisperer) had spent time at Cape Byron Distillery mentoring the Brook family and training Eddie Brook in the craft of distilling. Together, they produced Brookie’s Dry Gin, distilled with native botanicals foraged from the heart of the rainforest. The distillery also produces Brookie’s Slow Gin, a take on the traditional sloe gin using the Davidson Plum, a rainforest fruit native to the subtropical region of Byron Bay. The most recent addition is Mac., a macadamia and wattleseed liqueur that celebrates the native Australian ingredients that the Northern Rivers is renowned for.
Whisky… The Next Chapter
Whisky has always been on the agenda, and to realise the dream, Master Distiller Jim McEwan returned to Cape Byron Distillery to start whisky production along with Distiller Eddie Brook. On 11 February 2019, the first cask was filled.
Cape Byron Distillery has partnered with new world brewery Stone & Wood in Byron Bay who bring their knowledge and expertise of the brewing process. They employ Pale Malt, the same barley they use in their Pacific Ale which is a malted barley with a soft sweetness. Fermentation takes place at the distillery in George, the 2000 litre copper pot still using two varieties of yeast before the liquid undergoes double distillation. In 10 months’ time, the distillery will be acquiring a 4500 litre wash still.
“This child was born yesterday,” says Jim of the new make spirit we sampled at 63.9% ABV. It’s crystal clear, malt-driven with notes of lychee, kiwi and pears. It will be aged primarily in ex-bourbon casks from Kentucky namely Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s, Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve.
“The first few years are about teaching the child to walk and talk, that’s what the bourbon casks do, to give that beautiful vanilla and depth of flavour,” says Eddie Brook. Further maturation will draw inspiration from Australia’s diverse wine regions.
“We will never ever use artificial colouring,” says Jim McEwan.
The distillery’s proximity to the ocean will undoubtedly have an effect on the whisky. Being so close to the sea is expected to bring an element of salinity coupled with the climatic influence from the hinterland.
According to Eddie Brook, what will give the whisky a point of difference is the combination of tradition, community and a sense of place of the Northern Rivers. As for the name of the whisky, that is yet to be decided. “We have about three years to figure it out,” he says.
Watch the video below for more in-depth insights by Jim McEwan and Eddie Brook as Cape Byron Distillery begins whisky production.
Cocktails & Bars travelled to Cape Byron Distillery as media guests.