Raise a glass to the Hunter’s finest distilleries

Craft distilleries are on the rise across the Hunter with passionate,
artisan distillers producing premium, one-of-a-kind spirits.

Whether you’re after a refreshing gin, warming rum or smooth vodka, our local distilleries have got you covered. These small producers have the flexibility to get creative with the production process with many opting for a farm-to-bottle approach, using locally grown or foraged botanicals. Here is a snapshot of some of the most exciting Hunter distilleries.

The Farmer’s Wife Distillery

Kylie Sepos was always trying to find the perfect gin, and finally decided to make it herself.
“I’d always been quite interested in how different and unique gin can be and as a distiller you can really put your own signature on it,” she said.

She began to undertake a lot of research into distilling, starting by playing around with recipe development and then going on to spend some time at Tasmanian distilleries, putting into practice what she had learned.

It was then, that she felt ready to order her own precious handmade copper pot still. This was the start of The Farmer’s Wife Distillery, set on the family farm in Allworth just outside Stroud where she converted her husband’s machinery and motorbike shed into a distillery.

“I really wanted to make a gin that told the story of who we are and where we are from,” she said.
The Farmer’s Wife Gin is made in traditional London Dry style in which all the botanicals go in the still together – not post distillation.

“The three botanicals that make our gin unique are the ruby red grapefruit peel, native Aussie sage that’s reminiscent of a walk in the Aussie bushland and stingless native bee honey, which gives it such a beautiful length,” she said.

Kylie believes that the “amazing botanicals” we have access to are a key driver for Australian gin doing so well. And she is happy to experiment and add to her offering. In 2020, a limited release Warm Winter Gin was launched, already a firm favourite amongst gin lovers. Matured in barrels that had previously held whisky, it has a rich, smoked flavour, smooth and warm – like a winter hug.

The Farmer’s Wife does tastings by appointment at the distillery shed. However, the shed is only a temporary location for the cellar door, with Kylie in the process of having a new structure built a few minutes down the road. It’s due to open by the end of the year.

Hope Distillery

Hope Estate in Pokolbin is already well known for its craft beer, wine and hugely popular events but now they’ve added another feather to their cap – a distillery.

“Distilling is a logical extension of what we do and completes the picture of beer, wine and spirits,” owner Michael Hope said. “It may be wine country here but not everyone wants to drink wine all day.”

In 2020, he launched Hope Distillery as a small batch distiller producing premium Australian grain spirits.
Their Pokolbin Dry Gin is made in the classic London Dry Gin style and packs a full punch of juniper and premium botanicals like angelica root, coriander, and fennel with an addition of fresh lime and lemon. Its stronger sibling, Navy Strength Gin, has its origins in the 18th century when the British Navy provided their sailors with gin so high in alcohol that any leaks wouldn’t impact the lighting of gunpowder. It’s a perfect choice for a cocktail. Other varieties include Hopped, Spiced and Pink Grapefruit Gin.

Their Single Malt Moonshine is produced from 100% malted barley, double distilled in their pot still. Michael said he had always wanted to make his own moonshine. “It’s the original name for unaged whiskey distilled illegally at night using moonlight…not that I would do anything illegal,” he laughed. “I have made my moonshine in the same way, as if I was making a whisky, except I haven’t aged it in oak for two years.”

Their all grain-based vodka has been triple distilled, giving it a smooth, clean and crisp finish.
Visitors to the cellar door can enjoy tasting paddles of gin, vodka and moonshine with the craft spirits distilled at Hope Estate also available at Hope Estate’s popular festivals. Their recent Gin and Jazz Festival saw patrons enjoy tastings of 15 different gins.

“It’s all about experiences, it’s about introducing people to our drinks in a way that is fun and not intimidating,” Michael said.

You can expect the range at Hope Estate to grow with rum and whisky to be released in the coming years.
“The rum and whisky are a longer term project because you need to age them for a few years,” Michael added.

Magpie Distilling

This craft distillery in the Upper Hunter region of Murrurundi was born out of a couple’s desire to ditch their corporate lives and do something more creative. Geoff and Nikki Drummond began creating premium, small batch spirits in 2020 before opening their own cellar door this year. The Drummonds’ passion for distilling was set alight on a trip to Scotland visiting Speyside Distilleries.

“Once back in Murrurundi, the idea to open our own distillery moved from a concept to reality taking the better part of three years,” Nikki said.

All their hard work was validated when they won medals at the 2020 Australian Gin Awards, a remarkable feat in their first year of operation.

Magpie Distilling currently produces three different types of gin and a dark cane spirit similar to rum. Their gins include their flagship Murrurundi Dry, a reflection of the wild fennel and peppercorn trees of their Upper Hunter location. Songbird features a light pearlescent orange-crimson colour and comes with notes of pomegranate, cinnamon and cassia, and Autumn Harvest is a favourite with those who enjoy a bolder flavour.

“We use ingredients that are either grown or foraged on our own property or locally sourced from Murrurundi and the Upper Hunter region,” Nikki explained who has several new products due for launch in the coming months.

Everything at Magpie Distilling is produced by the Drummonds, from concepts and testing, through to distilling, bottling and marketing and sales.

In their newly opened cellar door visitors can see how the gins are distilled and learn about botanicals and flavouring processes while enjoying a funky small bar experience, local produce and spectacular views.
“We take great pride in our contemporary, small batch, fine spirits and that will be reflected in our new offering,” Nikki said. “Magpie Distilling has plans and ambition and we hope, in years to come, to have our gins in bars and restaurants in Asia and Europe. Start local, go global!”

Read more in the Winter issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Nathalie Craig, photos courtesy of distilleries.