Hotly Anticipated Husk Distillers Opens In The Tweed Shire
Mandaley Perkins has reason to celebrate. A few short weeks ago, Perkins and her husband Paul Messenger – co-founders of Husk Distillers – threw open the doors to their new distillery and cellar door at Tumbulgum in the gorgeous Tweed Shire of northern New South Wales.
Judging by the festival-like atmosphere as I drive up to the farm entrance – the afternoon sun bathing the cane fields in a golden light, visitors streaming along the road in flowing dresses, felt hats and gum boots – it’s fair to say this has been an anticipated opening.
As the makers of Ink Gin, the famous colour-changing tipple known for its delicate purple-pink hue, Husk Distillers are one of the rising stars of the Australian spirit scene.
For Perkins, the opening of the new distillery is not only the realisation of an ambitious two-and-a-half-years build, but the start of a new chapter for the family-owned business.
Bigger and better than ever
No longer confined to the small 9×7-metre tin shed they outgrew a long time ago, or the 1,000-litre hand-beaten copper still which produced their first 150,000 bottles of Ink Gin, they now have a venue worth showing off – and the crowds appear to be loving it.
As you enter the impressive new venue, walking past the original hand-beaten still – now repurposed as an outdoor sculpture – there’s a licensed bar and cellar door, a café area, outdoor seating, and a vast lawn with people young and old spread out on hay bales and picnic rugs on the day of my visit. It’s the kind of place you can make an afternoon of.
To help showcase their products, as well as give visitors an insight into the production of their award-winning spirits, Husk offer a 45-minute tour of their distillery and cellar door.
“People can make a lot of claims, so we just thought it’d be nice to open to visitors, so they can see exactly what we do and how our products are made, because it’s quite different.”
“It’s a full encapsulation of what we do,” Perkins says. “To start the tour, you get a gin and tonic, and then we take you right through our process, from the new 6,000-litre Forsyth still we recently imported from Scotland to the barrel house where we age our rums.”
“The tour finishes with a rum tasting flight in the cellar door.”
Love at first sip
Perkins and her husband purchased the property in 2012 after holidaying in the French Caribbean and experiencing its Agricole rum scene. Unlike the rums we’re accustomed to here in Australia, Agricole rum is made using fresh sugar cane juice instead of molasses.
For Paul Messenger, a whisky fan at heart, it was love at first sip.
“They have such an amazing rum culture over there,” Perkins says. “Particularly fine rums that people sip like whiskies. It’s just so different from what we know here in Australia, and go us thinking ‘We’re a sugar cane country, why don’t we try and make this ourselves?’”
After an extensive search, the couple settled on a 60-hectare property in Tumbulgum, just 20 minutes south of the Gold Coast Airport. Though it had been used for cane growing in the past, it was a grazing property at the time and had to be worked up and re-planted.
“Rhum agricole, a French term which means ‘agricultural rum’, is made using fresh sugar cane juice. Unlike the rhum industriel (industrial rum) style people are familiar with here in Australia, which is made year-round using the molasses by-product from sugar refining, we can only make it during the harvest season from late July/August through to November.”
Being so reliant on their own harvest, Perkins says the Agricole style rum is not without its challenges, and it’s probably why there are no other Australian Agricole rum producers.
“We grow the cane, harvest it, ferment it and distil it ourselves. There’s a real risk factor there. We’ve been lucky that 2017 was the only year so far we haven’t been able to harvest – we were too busy rescuing the distillery and packing shed during the big flood.”
A uniquely Australian gin
With the seasonality of their rum production, Husk needed to create a product they could make during the non-harvest months. Thanks to the botanical diversity of the Tweed Shire, the decision to create their own gin was an easy one.
With the addition of the pH sensitive butterfly pea flower, which changes colour when added to acids such as tonic water or lemon juice, Ink Gin as we know it was created – putting both Husk Distillers and the Tweed Shire on the international stage.
Husk make several rums including the Husk Triple Oak sipping rum, unaged Pure Cane (so named due to an Australia law which forbids rums aged under two years from being called rum), and multi-award-winning Spiced Bam Bam – flavoured using natural botanicals.
“Australians loved a spiced rum, and we’re not that familiar with the fine sipping rums, Perkins says. “We thought a spiced rum would be a good segue way into the Australian market, showcasing the Agricole style, and indeed it’s turned out that way.”
“Every week we’re learning. The weekends have been crazy, and we’re going to need more parking, but we’re so thrilled to finally be able to welcome people into our world.”
(All images: Husk Distillers / supplied)
Published 19 July, 2019