It’s a balmy, still Friday afternoon in the Byron Bay hinterland. The slow drive down a dirt track toward the newly revealed Cape Byron Distillery is garnished with the view of a thirty-year old rainforest, and a peak of macadamia trees, hinting to the famous Brookfarm property on which we find ourselves.
A beaming smile from Eddie Brook is the welcome offered on arrival, after sliding open a mesh door into a new world: a large, neat distillery, home of Byron Bay’s newest, and arguably most impressive local product of 2017: Brookie’s Dry Gin.
A short while in and it becomes apparent why Eddie – ‘Brookie’ – is beaming. He is living his passion, and affecting positive change, in his very own back yard, nonetheless. But more on that later.
As a hospitality and marketing professional whom has specialised in the cocktail industry for over a decade, Eddie has a long-standing interest for quality spirits, and as the son of Martin and Pam Brook, the pioneering founders of one of Byron Bay’s most beloved brands, Brookfarm, the trajectory toward the place the 28-year-old now finds himself seems an obvious one.
Enter: World-renowned, award-winning, master distiller, Jim McEwan, whom for the gin enthusiasts reading requires no introduction, but for those who merely dabble in the odd gin, he is the creator of the world-famous ‘The Botanist’.
In a rare opportunity eight years ago, during a 23-date, sold-out national Whisky tour that Eddie promoted, the pair developed a friendship over their shared passion for gin and whiskey, and found themselves incubating an exciting collaborative endeavour that would result in a very impressive drop, indeed.
And what of the drop? Confidently presenting itself with a traditional flavour profile, it is a clean, strong, and smooth gin that, with its surprise changing flavours over time, impressed even this declared ‘non-gin-drinker’. In fact, it impressed me so much, the icy G&T served with a wedge of lemon, was one of the most delicious and refreshing drinks I have enjoyed in a long time. Sitting at the bar, a striking, rustic chunk of old Norfolk Pine rescued from Clark’s beach, and peering out on the rows of Macadamia trees, and the tranquil rainforest, might just make this the perfect little Friday afternoon situation.
“It is the perfect pantry for making gin,” Eddie enthuses, as he discusses the magic meeting of the minds between Jim and the Brook family, as they combined McEwan’s expertise, and incredible native flavours he had never worked with before – all grown and foraged on Brookfarm. “We use ingredients like Davidson plum, lily pilly leaves, native raspberries, native ginger, and so much more … this is an opportunity to showcase Australian native flavours, especially from the Northern Rivers, to the world”.
The property that offers this abundance of native treats is the result of the passionate, ground-breaking work of Eddie’s parents, Martin and Pam, thirty years ago, when they established on an old run-down dairy farm that had been cleared of 99% of its original rainforest; replaced with lantana. Martin took to replanting over 35,000 trees, and today continues a fervent campaign in rainforest rejuvenation, in partnership with the Big Scrub Foundation.
As Eddie takes us on a tour of the family-owned and operated distillery, met by two more lovely smiles from Martin and Pam from the far corner, hand pouring and labelling bottles of gin, we get a feel for the authenticity in which this company runs, demonstrating the values throughout every facet of operation.
They use Mt Warning Springwater, a high-quality local water, sourced from none other than the sacred Wollumbin. Even the label paper stock is made from recycled sugar cane. And if you want more evidence of the company’s commitment to detail, you need to get right up close and examine the label.
The 2000 litre copper still, named ‘George’, after Eddie’s grandfather, and lifetime devotee to gin, was designed and built by Peter Bailey, who previously built a still for the ‘Godfather of Whisky’, Bill Lark. Eddie explains the consideration of the shape and materials of the still were paramount in producing the highest quality product they could achieve. It even chases the suadade in a Whiskey traditionalist’s heart, by being the only Australian distillery to house a Spirit Safe.
“It is a physical reminder that we doing it traditionally,” Eddie explains, “It’s a point of quality”.
The attribution of the quality of the product belongs to many things; the veracious love and dedication to the craft, the integrity with which the company is run, the locally foraged, native, ingredients, the care invested in building a premium still, the integration of enterprise with genuine commitment to the care and improvement of the local environment are just some.
As the world rushes faster ahead around us, it is people like the Brooks and companies like Cape Byron Distillery that restore faith for those of us who believe successful enterprise at a local level is possible, whilst making a professional commitment to the greater good.
This is why Brookie’s Gin will be one of the most celebrated brands of 2017. That, and it is bloody great gin. Yes, this non-gin drinker is officially a convert.
Cape Byron Distillery Officially opens in early 2017, when distillery and rainforest tours will be offered. Some locals’ previews tours will soon be available. Sign up at capebyrondistillery.com.au
*Cape Byron Distillery is running a Pozible campaign to raise $25,000 for Big Scrub Land Care.
Get your hands on a limited release bottle of Brookie’s Gin, and some native ginger seeds direct from the Brookfarm property. Plus you can sponsor your own tree!