Our Long, Slow, Process from Grain to Glass
It's start's with the recipe for our gins. Lucie has a highly developed sense of taste and smell and can develop complete recipes with hardly any experimentation. In fact our 2021 Australian Gin Awards Gold Medal winning Ascension was developed in one go. The first distillation of the botanicals was the one we entered in the competition - and it was a brand new concept using ingredients we had never used before like Grapefruit Peel, Lemon Thyme and Hops. Lucie is WSET Level 2 Spirits qualified and will be undertaking further qualifications as they become available.
We make our own Grain Neutral Spirit (GNS) as the base spirit for our Gins and Vodkas. Not many distilleries do this – it’s very time consuming and adds weeks to the process of making spirits. Nevertheless, the result is a product that we have complete control over and is of the highest quality. We believe a big reason all our spirits can be consumed straight (if you want) is because of the mouth feel that our barley-based spirits have.
So, we start with 50 kilograms of Gladfield barley. We crush it and add it to 140 litres of filtered water which has been heated to 75 degrees Celsius. Next, we stir the malt through it and make sure the liquid maintains a temperature of 65 degrees for an hour.
Once the desired alcohol potential is reached, we drain the liquid from the boiler and decant it into two 60 litre fermenting barrels.
The liquid is left to cool overnight, until it reaches a temperature that will allow the yeast to be pitched. Once pitched, we babysit the fermenters for two weeks ensuring the temperature of the liquid stays as close as possible to 20 degrees - this means using electric blankets in winter and fans during the summer months.
The spent barley, which is left over from this process, is transported to a mate’s small farm and then fed to the livestock – Zero Waste.
Once the two weeks are up, we confirm via specific gravity reading that the now beer is ready to be distilled.
It's time for the first pot strip!
We use two 30 litre stills for this and run each still four times for three hours each to process the 120 litres of alcohol from the fermenters.
This process converts the beer at approx 9% to 53% alcohol, but it is still very rough, which is why we pot strip the 53% alcohol a second time to further refine it. After the second pot strip we are left with only 10 litres of alcohol at approx. 75% ABV.
The above processes as well as the ingredients are exactly the same as making the finest single malt whiskeys. But instead of transferring this spirit into barrels and putting our feet up, our work continues, and we further refine into Gin and Vodka.
The now 75% alcohol is further refined through our 6 litre finishing column still for 12 hours and emerges as a very potent 95.5% to 96% ABV and has a neutral taste and smooth mouthfeel. Every time we exceed 96% we do a little dance.
We constantly monitor the alcohol purity and strength throughout this process and are left with 5 litres of high strength alcohol.
Liquid Infusion Extraction
The way we extract the flavour and aroma from our botanicals, is one of our unique differences.
We fill the finishing still with a combination of the column distilled spirit (ie GNS) and Antipodes bottled water and then use an extraction process that allows the alcohol vapours to rise through a pipe then solidify and seep through the botanicals contained in a cylinder and then return to the still.
We repeat this process until all flavour and aroma is extracted - this can be up to 20 cycles and four hours.
Our old process was vapour infusion, which is similar but only allowed one extraction. You can only imagine the difference in flavours we get now...
If the now column stripped grain neutral spirit (GNS) is destined to become Gin, we distill the extracted botanicals that resulted from the extraction process in pot mode, so that maximum taste is consolidated into the newly created Gin.
Once this process is completed, after about three hours, the now 85% ABV Gin is cut to 46% ABV using Antipodes water. We love Antipodes water because the neutral pH and low minerality means the Gin doesn’t pick up any flavours from the water i.e it lets the Gin shine.
If the GNS is destined to become Vodka, then it is put through the column still a second time.
If we're creating a varietal style Vodka, it goes through the liquid extraction process and then into pot mode. This creates the ultimate smoothness and taste.
It is a ten-hour process to convert 3 litres of GNS into pure Vodka, as it drips out at two drops per second.
The bottling gets done by hand and we apply the beeswax top to keep the spirits safe until you open the bottle. We are told, the bees wax is edible but haven't tried it but let us know if you do - just to, perhaps, let you get an understanding of our mania for quality we had brown top corks you couldn't see under the wax but then we thought brown doesn't work with the bottle colour scheme if someone peels the wax off so we changed to black top corks - only problem is we had to buy five years supply of corks just to make the minimum order quantity but we think it was worth it.
Each batch of Vodka or Gin consists of six – nine bottles.
We also hand-assemble the boxes with the help of a large rubber mallet - in case you notice any black marks on the box.
Lucie also paints the Vicar’s Son sign by hand.
That's all it takes to make an all-natural handcrafted artisan gin or vodka.
We reckon making our own base spirit is 80% of the entire process and although it would be a hell of a lot simpler and cheaper to just buy it in, it wouldn't be the same...
So, why do we think we are the smallest commercial distillery in the world? Well, we think a batch size of six to nine bottles would qualify us. Failing that, our distillery is in a corner of our garage - about eight square meters!