This article has been a long time coming; I first visited Rex Burdon, owner/operator of Nonesuch Distillery, about four months ago, the day after my Tasmanian Whisky Academy introduction to distilling course. Nonesuch Distillery is located at Forcett,Tasmania, on the way to historic Port Arthur. Rex kindly opened his distillery (a humble shed) to the TWA students and answered our many questions during an all-access tour of his innovative Tasmanian craft distillery.
Nonesuch is famous for its gin and in my opinion Rex’s London Dry Gin is the best Tassie has to offeras well as being excellent value for money. In addition to the traditional London Dry Gin, Nonesuch also produce a popular Sloe Gin and a unique Sloe Malt.
Gin is a centuries old distilled spirit that derives its aroma and flavour from aromatic botanicals, predominately Juniper berries.
Gin can be produced by adding botanical flavouring to a neutral spirit, distilling a spirit with natural botanicals (seeds, leaves and berries etc.)that are exposed to spirit vapour or by distilling a spirit with natural botanicals macerated within the still itself using a calico bag, not unlike a giant tea bag. The resultant gin can be distilled once or multiple times, filtered or unfiltered with each method producing vastly different results. In fact, it is very difficult for any two gins to taste the same considering the possible variation in botanical ingredients and production method.
Nonesuch gin is unfiltered and made in a single spirit run (one-shot method) with natural botanicals macerated within the still for around 18 hours. In addition to Juniper, Nonesuch utilise some interesting botanicals such as lemon myrtle (something I can smell quite strongly in the London Dry Gin) cassia bark (which smells amazing), cumquat and even some native Australia wattle seeds. Rex had this to say about his recipe:
“For our initial expression, we didn’t want to stray too far from what people have enjoyed in their gins for years. Rather we tweaked the amounts so that we achieved a gin that has some sweetness forward along with the juniper and with the citrus notes that appeal to Australians generally. Of course, it had to work with sloes in our Sloe Gin and certainly had to work in my Martini”
The Sloe Gin Rex mentioned is a classic Olde English tipple that is made by infusing the Dry Gin with the fruit of the Blackthorn tree (Sloes). The Sloes infuse in the gin for up to twelve months before bottling. Sloesare not berries and more closely related to a plum. The fruit used by Nonesuch is locally foraged from plants originally brought to Tasmania by early colonial settlers. The resultant mix is a ruby red liqueur with all the aromatics of gin.
Sloe Malt is produced in a similar way but without the use of aromatics.
Instead, a new make spirit (the same spirit that would usually go into casks to mature into Single Malt) is infused with Sloes in small 60 litre containers for around 12 months. Nonesuch Sloe Malt is produced in very limited quantities, is very tasty and is a great base for a fancy cocktail.
In an exciting new development, Nonesuch is also now distilling Whisky and intends to produce a range of styles using different grains and grain combinations as well as maturing in a range of wood types. Current batches are mainly single malt but wood styles for the casks include New American Oak as well as repurposed Bourbon, Sherry, Port and Pinot casks.
The wash used to distil the new make spirit is produced entirely in-house by Rex.
Malted barley is delivered to the distillery door where Rex mills it to the desired consistency using a mill driven by an ordinary power drill. He then uses his own mash tun and flat base fermenter(an unused stainless steel vat) to ferment the barley, feeding the local cows and poultry on the discarded mash. The bespoke mash tun has a hinged base so that it can be loaded on the back of a truck and easily emptied into the adjacent paddocks. (Rex freely admits the idea for this vessel came from fellow distiller Mathew Cooper at Fanny’s Bay Distillery). Fresh from the fermenter, the wash is transferred to a Tasmanian designed and built 300 litre Knapp Lewer still, affectionately named Pandora.
Rex runs his distillery as simply as possible.
There are no temperature controlled fermenters, just a simple heat exchanger, shed insulation, a fishtank heater and a ‘finger’ thermometer. The entire brewing setup cost only $2,200. This is what Rex had to say about his introduction to distilling and distilling philosophy:
“Like most Tasmanian distillers my journey started with a meeting with Bill Lark. Bill enthused me with his passion and we embraced the idea of making a Sloe Gin that we could send to the U.K. and show them Tasmania could make that as well as we make Whisky.Of course, we have to first make a great Dry Gin if we are to do that and Bill and Lyn Lark were exceedingly generous in offering advice.Now we have extended to distilling whisky and we have had amazing support from Fanny’s Bay Distillery’s Mathew Cooper.Our philosophy is simply to produce the amount of spirit to which we can devote the attention to detail that ensures a quality result.founders of this industry in Tasmania have set a fantastic benchmark of quality and it is vital that we all maintain that standard.”
Rex and his partner Annette are a lovely down to earth couple who embody the inclusive and open professional culture that is indicative of the Tasmanian whisky and spirits industry.
They are more than happy to share their distilling experience with anyone who is interested. Rex runs his own intimate distilling experiences where a maximum of two people at a time can spend the day at Nonesuch Distillery and join in the process of making a craft whisky from scratch.
I highly recommend this experience if you are planning a trip to Tasmania or even if you are a local with an interest in distilling. I guarantee you will be well looked after by Rex and Annetteand will gain a unique insight to the distilling process and how a little Aussie ingenuity could save you a lot of money when starting your own distillery.
About the author:
My name is Shane Kinloch and I am a dad who loves his whisky. I am not a whisky expert, professional journalist, sommelier or distiller; but I am more than just a whisky drinker. In 2016, I started WhiskyDad.net and hope my writing comes across as no-nonsense and down to earth. I grew up in Tasmania, Australia with a whisky loving Scottish dad of my own who introduced me to the world of whisky. I love writing and feeding off the energy of those in the whisky industry and the passionate people who support it. Hopefully my writing will one day legitimise my whisky habit and perhaps lead to cheaper whisky in the future. I can only dream.