With a focus on rainforest regeneration and local education, Eddie Brook, co-owner of Byron Bay’s Cape Byron Distillery, is changing the face of distilleries Australia- (and world) wide.
Alongside the rest of his equally passionate family, the longtime Byron local has also managed to master the art of creating world-class gin. For which we are all extremely grateful.
We sat down for a chat with Eddie about the families’ 30 year passion for rebuilding the rainforest and the recent announcement of Cape Byron’s Distillery’s very first whiskey.
How long have you been a Byron Bay local?
Our family have owned a farm here for 30 years, so before I was born. We moved up here when I was seven or eight so I’ve been a local for most of my life. We’ve been farming macadamias and regenerating rainforests for 30 years on St Helena, which is in the hinterland of Byron Bay.
What do you love most about living in this part of the world?
This is home for me and the older I get the more I appreciate the area. I have quite a love of nature, the land and the environment, so to come to the distillery every day, in the middle of our farm, set amongst the rainforest and be able to educate people on rainforest regeneration is pretty special. We get to be involved in the local community and give back as much as possible. We’re beyond appreciative to have the community involved in this journey from the start.
Tell us how the Cape Byron Distillery came into being?
My first ever job outside of being a bartender was as a brand ambassador for Bruichladdich. How I learnt to talk about the product, was watching every single YouTube video possible of Jim McEwan (Master Distiller at Bruichladdich) talking about their products. They became more than just a product. They became the people, the land and the environment which has such a huge impact on its creation. To be honest, I was a huge fanboy of Jim, if I could’ve had a poster of him on the wall, I would have. After working in the industry for many years, I got the opportunity to put on an Australia-wide tour for him and we did a 22 show tour, 100 people plus at every event. In the time we spent together, a strong friendship was born. One day he asked about my parents, who we are as a family and what we do, I told him about our farm and how passionate we are about giving back to the land and the plants native to the region. That was really where the idea for the distillery started. He turned to me on one trip and told me we were meant to meet and start this distillery. I still bear the scars from pinching myself today.
Your family is passionate about rainforest regeneration and sustainability, how does this come into play within the distillery?
We’d been regenerating rainforests and working with the land long before the distillery came about. For us now, it plays a couple of parts, we’re able to reinvest into regenerative work and in particular, the work we do with the Big Scrub Landcare organisation but further to that, when people come and do tours we get to talk more about the rainforest than the gin itself, so it’s an opportunity for us to educate people about regeneration. The rainforest here is only 30 years old and when people come to experience it, they realise it doesn’t take a lifetime to regenerate a rainforest. It’s not too big a task and everyone can play their part in bringing our land back to life.
Brookies Gins very quickly became much-loved drops worldwide, what’s unique about your process of creating them and their flavours?
All of our products are dry and slow and everything we want to do is about showcasing our region. Our Dry Gin is distilled with 25 botanicals, 18 of which are native to Australia and our region and we’re able to source a wild harvest from our rainforest. We take Lilli Pilly leaves and the Rye berries from our farm; we’ve also got aniseed, cinnamon myrtle and macadamia that go into our gins. There’s a huge abundance of these flavors we source from right here. It’s about selective harvesting which means we always plant and regenerate more than what we would ever take from the land. For instance, if there were 12 stems of native ginger, we would only take a maximum of three from that crop so it wouldn’t be affected. With our Dry Gin, we wanted to showcase the Northern Rivers botanicals and if you look at the native flavours that are in abundance in this area, we have the perfect pantry for crafting it. In our Slow Gin, we use one single fruit, which is called the Davidson Plum and you could not get more local to Northern Rivers than this plum. The DNA of this variety comes from Mullumbimby just 10 kilometres north of here. I grew up making jam from it every year with Mum and I’ve always wanted to showcase it. For our Mac liqueur, we use roasted macadamias and roasted wattle seed purely from here.
Cape Byron Distillery recently announced their first whiskey, what can you tell us about it?
It’s not whiskey yet, it becomes whiskey once it’s lived in a barrel for two years but we have commenced our single malt whiskey program. Jim McEwan was back in Australia and he is is the world’s most awarded scotch whiskey distiller, he’s the only many to be awarded International Distiller of the Year three times in a row. He’s got 55 years in the scotch whiskey production industry. To have him as a mentor and business partner to craft our spirit is incredible. To make our single malt spirit, we start with beer and we’re very fortunate to be working with some dear friends and an incredible local business to create that beer. Stone and Wood, they’re amazing producers of beer in our area and they’re very ingrained in our community. We just loved having this opportunity to work closely with them. So they produce our beer, we then distill it twice in Pottsville at our distillery and it then ages in American Oak bourbon casks. It sits there and breathes the same air we breathe, when the barrel is warm, the spirit expands into the wood and when it’s cold, it gets pushed out of the timber, so the environment has a huge impact on the flavour and in two years time when it becomes whiskey, it will have a lot of the character of the Northern Rivers ingrained into it.
Can you tell us about the distillery tours?
We run distillery and rainforest tours, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They’re run through bookings on our website and we keep them to about 20 people per tour so you get a very intimate experience. When you come to the distillery, we’ll greet you with a gin and tonic garnished with native finger lime and aniseed myrtle then you’ll get to experience our rainforest; we take you on a walk through and you get to touch and taste and understand different native flavours and about rainforest regeneration. Then we come back to the spirits and do a tasting and an educational drinking tour of how we make them. It’s $35 per person and runs for about an hour and three quarters.
How is your family changing the face of distilleries?
In Australia, we’re such a young industry for spirits. We get excited about learning all the lessons and doing things the traditional way. We’re so lucky to be trained by Jim – for hundreds and hundreds of years the Scots have been perfecting the art of distillation for their single malt whiskey – so we take all those lessons and traditions and use them to make our spirits. We also get to capture everything that’s unique to Northern Rivers and we love showing the art of distillation and also our unique flavours and environment. It makes for a pretty exciting combination to create a new chapter in Australian and international distilleries. We’re getting noticed, we’re now on shelf at Harrod’s in the UK which is pretty cool for them to be interested in our story. Plus having customers buying our spirits alongside the finest single malt whiskies in the world is pretty special.
Do you have anything else exciting in the works for 2019?
We’ve always got a few things up our sleeves. We’re a family who love creating so you can rest assured that throughout the year there will be at least one or two more releases showcasing some unique native flavours people can enjoy at home. I can’t tell you too much yet, but we do have a few plans.
What’s your personal favourite tipple on a balmy summer afternoon?
For me at the moment it would be a Slow Gin on ice. Nice and simple. When the gin hits the ice and it melts it opens up the spirit it’s just delicious. It is a bit moreish so you might have to pour yourself another one after that.