By Julie Ray
Mentors Mark Nicholson and Bill Lark (rum in hand) amongst the stills at the Lord Byron Distillery with new local micro distiller Brian Restall (rear) Photo Jeff ‘Rum Rebellion’ Dawson
The Patriarch of Australian whisky, Bill Lark from Lark Distillery Tasmania graced our shores over the weekend to help launch an artisanal distillery in Byron Bay. It took a whisky lover like Bill, surrounded by rich fields of barley, crystal clear soft water, highland peat bogs and a climate similar to Scotland and Ireland, to question why Tasmania wasn’t producing its own malt whisky.
The answer was a law from 1838 prohibiting micro distillers in Australia. In 1992 Bill became the driving force for successfully changing the legislation and soon after Bill and his wife Lyn founded Lark Distillery, the first such Australian distillery in over 150 years, indeed something to raise your glass to!
Today Bill not only runs his world renowned and award winning malt whisky distillery but also a distilling school with his long time friend and whisky aficionado, Mark Nicholson. He has assisted a number of start-up distilleries in Tasmania and helped to grow a hugely successful premium craft spirit industry within Australia. Bill is often quoted as saying ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’.
Byron locals Brian and Helen Restall are now seeing their dream of creating their own rum micro distillery come to fruition with training and mentoring from Bill and Mark.
‘We have been so lucky that Bill and Mark have taken time to come here and sample our products before we release them. Our process of carbon neutral, zero waste distilling has been five years in the making,’ Brian explains. ‘The beauty of the micro distilling industry is it’s very collegial, a very supportive club. Our job as distillers is to support others and not only make great drinks but to get people to think about what they are drinking and where it has come from.’
Lord Byron Distillery, situated in the Arts and Industry Estate of Byron Bay, is distilling rum from ingredients sourced from Brian and Helen’s farm in Byron shire and other local producers.
‘We bring water in from our natural spring and rain water as well as buying molasses from the local sugar milling cooperative. Our aim is to combine my love for rum using ethical and sustainable practices,’ Brian said.
Lord Byron Distillery has a cellar door where you can see the copper and stainless steel stills in action along with aged oak barrels that are slowly filling up with the Restall’s handmade rum, which will be ready to sell in two years time.
‘Rum is not rum until it has been laid down in oak barrels for at least two years. In the meantime we will be releasing a very limited amount of our handmade spirits called Spirit of Byron, which is silver rhum, vodka and limoncello, ‘ Brian said. ‘I haven’t misspelt rhum, it’s the French spelling. The silver rhum is straight off the still and is 63 per cent proof, zero days in the barrel. I call it mojito fun. It needs to be treated with caution and approached gently. It has a smooth and buttery mouth feel with vanilla caramel undertones.’
Lord Byron rum is the only handcrafted rum in the region that uses local molasses, giving a distinctive flavour compared to rums made with sugarcane juice. ‘I was working next to the sugar mill and saw 60,000 tonnes of food grade, best quality molasses going to cattle feed every year. Being a rum lover I thought all that molasses is a lot of rum,’ Brian said.
Lord Byron will be holding cocktail and gin making classes when it officially opens in a few weeks. Follow them on social media for details of the opening, product releases and other news.
Lord Byron Distillery 7/4 Banksia Drive, Byron Bay
Instagram and Facebook: LordByronDistillery