Almost exactly 10 years on from this countries most devastating natural disaster, I find myself driving down towards the dusty O’Grady’s Road in Kinglake, Victoria. I know this area well as it is but only 10 minutes from my home. But funnily enough, although I have been driving these roads for years I always find something new on the trip. A new home under construction, a green mountain range, a farm sign, a pesky wallaby waiting to jump in front of the car or a herd of Belted Galloways. My wife and kids are with me on this trip and I say to my wife, Alana, for the millionth time “This is gods Country”.
We pull into the driveway. It is unsigned and we almost missed it. Unassuming to say the least. Down the extremely long driveway taking in the vast rows of Protea’s on the right and bush block on the left until we hit the blue tin shed and immediately through the open roller doors the huge copper pot-still stands proud. We park up next to a giant gum tree with a view of a sweeping green landscape
encapsulating a huge lake like dam. Magnificent. The kids run towards the tin shed and we follow close behind as we can see a roaring coonara fire inviting us inside.
This is where we finally meet Chantal and Sam. They welcome us in warmly and we have an introduction after talking online for months. Chantal is the Master Distiller and almost 9 months pregnant but still running around after her two young girls whilst also working hard on a stripping run of 9,000 litres. Sam and I share a Whisky and soda at the cellar door bar and talk shop.
Chantal and Sam both have a background in hospitality, having owned and operated clubs in France (where they met). Sam is originally from the UK, whereas Chantal is a born and bred Kinglakian. They both have a love for spirits and decided a few years ago that they wanted to use this beautiful family owned piece of land to distill. White spirits was the initial idea due to the region being famous for potatoes, but that swiftly changed to whisky… and thank god!
Their impressive, full copper, 2500 litre still (Un-named much to my disgust) was hand made by Knapp Lewer in Tasmania and is steam heated. It sits central in the building, owning the space. 3 x 3000 mash tuns stand side by side immediately adjacent. In the background is almost 100 x 50 litre casks with black faces. All numbered and accounted for with the Distilleries name. Look up! Look side to side! No bundle of electrical wires. No overdone automatic cleaners. No frills. Organic.
As if things where not already intriguing… The Makers Mark ex bourbon casks have been cut down from the original size. Chantal and Sam import them at 200 litres and then send them to Adelaide Cooperage to be cut down to 50 litres. All at a HUGE cost to them. But why?
“We are pretty confident that the greater surface area will give us a greater aging effect and also improve the flavor. They are far more suited to the Kinglake conditions at that size we feel” Says Sam.
Let me lay this out for you (the reader). Chantal and Sam could have easily left these barrels un-coopered, saved huge costs, produced more product, aged it for the same time and sold it to you at the same end price. But they chose not to. This peeked my interest.
We drew some 3 month old spirit from a cask and I immediately understood their reasoning. This stuff was beautifully coloured, viscus and had a great whisky to new make scent. I could have mistaken this single malt to have been in barrel for almost 12 months. Upon taste I was blown away. Sweet but bold, floral, slightly nutty and really well balanced. Flavor forward of its 63.5% ABV already. 3 bloody months!!!
It is clear that Chantal and Sam have put a lot of thought and passion into their product. But I knew this before we even arrived. That is why I was the very first pioneer club member, proud and paid up. But I honestly never expected the flavour that I experienced at this meeting, certainly not at this age.
I am truly, so excited for the future of Kinglake Distillery. Nestled in a region that needed people like Chantal and Sam to re-invest. A place of sorrow, frustration, growth and passion, and with Chantal due to give birth in less than a week, as well as continuing to work hard to forge a name for themselves in the industry and producing quality product, they are sure to experience all of the above over the next 2 years of maturation. Travelling Whisky Reviews hopes we can come along for the ride.
Stay tuned for a full video interview and review which will land here and on youtube shortly.
Although the distillery is not yet open to the general public, if you are planning a trip to the area and feel like popping in please contact Chantal and Sam via kinglakedistillery.com.au