In Food + Drink

‘Zero Waste, All Taste’ At New Byron Bay Distillery

Byron Shire is a haven of creativity, a mecca attracting those looking to push the boundaries and step outside the norm. It’s also a place where the environment and renewable energy are at the forefront of every local’s mind. Mullumbimby was among the first towns to use hydroelectric power – way back in the 1920s – and that environmental spirit lives on.

Brian and Helen Restell, together with their brother Kris, recently launched the Lord Byron Distillery – a new zero waste and carbon neutral distillery producing hand-crafted rum, vodka and limoncello from its home in the vibrant Byron Bay Arts & Industrial Estate.

On the day of my visit, Brian is tending to the three main stills at their factory – as well as a smaller fourth, which I’ll come back to later – and it’s clear this is the business he was born to create. He exudes passion for his craft, with all the necessary expertise to back it up.

“This is a passion business for us,” Brian says. “For me, I’m passionate about rum and have been all my life, and for my wife Helen, that passion is for vodka and the various cocktails you can make with it.”

“Having had the opportunity to travel and taste what international-quality rum was like, it was a no-brainer that we could create something of that calibre – or maybe even better – right here in Byron, particularly with the quality ingredients right on our doorstep.”

Molasses from local sugar cane growers, spring water from his father’s farm… the raw ingredients were practically begging to be turned into rum. Yet, Brian says, the lightbulb moment that really encouraged them to start the business came about in perhaps the most ‘Byron’ way possible.

“We were out at dinner with friends and were all so concerned about the food, where it was grown and how it was cooked, yet none of us were giving the same thought to the alcohol we were drinking, and that struck me as strange. You should care what you put in your body, whether it’s food or drink. It was a moment that told us we just had to do it.”

Mentored by Australian spirit legend Bill Lark, Brian, Helen and head distiller Kris have travelled extensively overseas to both achieve their distilling certifications and also see what the industry was like around the world, which practices they wanted to adopt, and which they didn’t.

In addition to using no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives, Brian is most proud of their environmental ethos – Lord Byron Distillery is both carbon neutral and zero waste.

“Our molasses is sourced from local sustainably certified cane growers, and our electricity comes from a local renewable energy provider, Cape Byron Power. We also capture and repurpose the waste by-products created throughout the entire distilling process.”

“After touring a lot of distilleries, I found people were just dumping their waste product, and it actually made me quite disheartened, wondering if we were doing the right thing starting a distillery. My wife Helen just turned to me and said: ‘You’ll find a way’. So, we did.”

Unlike a lot of distilleries, which use a once-through cooling system where the water used in the heat exchanger goes down the drain after use, Lord Byron’s water is stored in tanks.

“The other thing we’re really proud of is using waste from the fermentation as fertiliser. If you think about it, molasses is rich in sugar, nutrients and minerals. Once you convert the sugar into alcohol and boil it off in the still, what you’re left with is the nutrients and minerals. Our stills drain into IBCs and we use that as liquid fertiliser on our farm.”

Though it was suggested they could have patented this technique, Brian says they chose to take an ‘open source’ approach that would hopefully allow other producers to do the same.

Like the global slow food movement, which champions local ingredients and traditional cooking techniques, Lord Byron is taking a ‘slow alcohol’ approach to their creations.

“With alcohol there are two things you can chase: quality or quantity. If you chase quantity, you’ll finish the ferment at 24 to 36 hours, distil it, and then put another one down. But we just find that it doesn’t taste like anything, it’s not quality. We’re taking the quality route.”

“Mass produced rum tends to have a fermentation of between 24-48 hours. By 36-hours you’ll have as much alcohol as you’re likely to get, but it just doesn’t have the profile that we want. We hold on for another five to six days and it adds a deeper complexity of flavour.”

Lord Byron currently make four main products: Silver Rhum, a 40.3 percent rum named with an ‘h’ so as to avoid an historic law forbidding anything aged less than two years being called rum; a 63 percent Overproof Silver Rhum; sugar cane-based Vodka, which is perfect for those who have an intolerance to wheat, dairy or grain; and Limoncello made with their sugar cane vodka.

They also offer a delicious Central American aged rum called The Promise, which this is not produced in house. It’s a promise of what their aged rum will be in the very near future.

Despite spotting a small gin still working overtime in the background during my visit, Brian says they don’t sell their own Lord Byron gin – yet they do still make one.

“We’ve decided not to offer our own Lord Byron gin, because gin is a re-distillation and you don’t make the base. We want to focus on our own drinks, but one of the things we can do for charity is create bespoke gins. I’m currently creating a gin for MND and Me, a charity supporting people and their families living with Motor Neurone Disease in Queensland.”

Lord Byron Distillery may be new to the scene, but with its environmental focus, dedication to quality, and willingness to share ideas, it won’t be long till it becomes a household name.

Published 12 December, 2018