Boutique brewing and distilling have become a 21st century craft for many businesses throughout Australia, but a small distillery specialising in dark rum and single malt whiskey at Mendooran run by husband and wife team Brian and Genise Hollingworth could easily be missed.
Because alcohol levels are high, the Hollingworths do not open their door to passing trade, but will welcome visitors by appointment or at special tasting functions from time to time.
“That’s when we know there are designated drivers or we pick up and deliver if people are staying nearby,” Brian said.
However, World Whiskey Day on Saturday, May 19, will be see festivities at their Black Gate Distillery for the “Blues and Barbecue” event featuring the Dubbo-based Macquarie Mud Flappers band.
“We’ll have a barbecue and smoked meats and whiskey,” Genise said, “an opportunity for people to stay and camp at Black Gate, just a few kilometres out of town.”
When Brian mentioned distilling as a business they could do together, Genise was not interested, even thinking it was not a good idea.
Brian had dabbled in distilling some years prior and believed they could make a go of it with both their input.
“Brian persisted and finally took me to a husband-and-wife-owned distillery at Bathurst and we had a big talk with them,” Genise said.
“It sounded a good idea after that and here we are seven years later going great guns.”
They created their first batch in 2011.
“It took three years to set up,” Brian said.
“We established the business in 2009 and purpose-built the distillery on our property of just over one hectare and opened to the public in 2012.”
The Hollingworths first produced vodka and liqueurs to start a cash flow and quick turnover.
“But once our matured spirits came along we stopped those,” Brian said.
One specialty they made was Quondong liqueur, which they have also phased out.
“Supply of fruit was fickle and while there were several trees in the district we had access to, some years they wouldn’t bear fruit, so we couldn’t rely on them,” Genise said.
The couple now specialises in making Black Gate Dark Rum in 51 per cent overproof and 40pc single cask and single cask Black Gate Single Malt Whiskey.
“We make a barrel load at a time and mature that, then decanter that barrel so each batch is from just one cask,” Brian said.
“That means each batch is slightly different and even matured in different oak casks, which give the unique flavours,” Genise said.
They use American oak barrels previously used to mature sherry or port.
“We are now awaiting the arrival of American bourbon barrels, which will enhance our whiskey batches,” Brian said.
Black Gate rum is matured for two-and-a-half years while the whiskey is barrelled for three years.
“It doesn’t have to be, but that’s what works here,” Brian said.
Australian law demands that it can be called “whiskey” after two years in oak.
“Ours is a single malt so only three ingredients (malted barley, yeast and water) are used,” Brian said.
“There are quite a few variables in the process as far as ferment style and time goes.
“The grain type, the yeast type and then how you distill it, they all have some small affects on the spirit itself.”
But one of the main things is the casking.
“Up to 60pc of flavour comes from the cask,” he said.
“All of our first releases were from our sherry casks and we now have done a couple in port casks.
“The flavour varies with the port casks giving a more peppery, spicey flavours while the sherry casks give off a lot of sweetness.”
Brian said some distilleries would mature whiskey in bourbon casks then finish in a sherry or port cask “just to give that extra bit of flavour”.
While rum brews are made up in 400 litre batches it takes 800lr to make a 100lr barrel.
The Hollingworths use a pot still for for their spirit making.
“The first mix distilled makes up 28 to 29 per cent alcohol with lots of water bringing flavours,” Brian said.
“Then the second distill sees the alcohol jump to about 80pc and that percentage drops off the more we take out over the run.”
Black Gate has a distributor in Sydney.
“We use Nip Of Courage”, Bankstown, which distributes Australia-wide and is gearing up for export as well.”
Molasses is sourced from Bundaberg Sugar and special malting barley is sourced from Tamworth via Melbourne and the United Kingdom. Australian ale yeast is also used.
“Smokey flavoured whiskey has become really popular made with grain and peat then dried, so we’ve been making that style for the past 18 to 20 months now,” Brian said.
“We’ve sort of rolled the dice and hoped it works, but I think it’s going to be OK as there is a big demand for Australian smokey whiskey and I think there’s no one specialising in it that I know of.”
Call Black Gate Distillery (02) 6886 1123.