Elisabeth King

Byron Bay – Beer, Bars and Top Class Spirits

by / Comments Off on Byron Bay – Beer, Bars and Top Class Spirits / 13 View / January 7, 2021

The distillers are a tourist attraction in their own right. Jim McEwan, AKA The Cask Whisperer, boasts more than 50 years’ experience and is the only distiller in the world to win the Master Distiller of the Year award three times.

HOME to Hollywood and home-grown movie stars, smart restaurants and luxury rentals, Byron Bay is also the Wellness Capital of Australia. But there’s more to the NSW tourism mecca for keen beer and spirits fans and those yearning for some of the best seaside bars in the country. In fact, you could spend a week visiting local breweries and distilleries on a DIY basis or with leading tour companies to sample top class craft beers and artisanal spirits.
Located on the 39-hectare Brook Farm, Cape Byron Distillery was once a rundown dairy farm. Pam and Martin Brook took over the property in 1988 and planted 35,000 subtropical trees. Today’s lush rainforest is a haven for wildlife and birds and produces most of the botanicals used to make the distillery’s signature Brookie’s Byron Bay Gin.
The distillers are a tourist attraction in their own right. Jim McEwan, AKA The Cask Whisperer, boasts more than 50 years’ experience and is the only distiller in the world to win the Master Distiller of the Year award three times.
Eddie Brook, Co-Founder and CEO of Cape Byron Distillery, has been mentored by McEwan and is devoted to gin flavoured with native ingredients. A passion acknowledged at the Icons of Gin awards held in London in February when the distillery was named Sustainable Distillery of the Year, beating out all-comers.
Two types of multi-award-winning gins are on offer in a range of sizes from 50ml to 700ml – Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin and Slow Gin, billed as “a rare gin made from the jewel of our rainforest, Davidson plum”. Cape Byron has recently started making whisky in the traditional Scottish style using nutrient-rich spring water from the base of Mount Warning. Visitors to the distillery can sign up to be notified of the first limited release. For butterscotch schnapps devotees – Mac by Brookie’s – is a premium macadamia nut and wattleseed liqueur flavoured with butterscotch, cacao and coffee flavours.
Tour bookings are essential during the Covid-19 crisis. You are given a G&T on arrival before a guided tasting of the Brookie’s range. Go to capebyrondistillery.com.
Brian and Helen Restall of the Lord Byron Distillery were inspired and mentored by the award-winning team at Lark Distillery in Tasmania. The duo makes artisanal spirits using ingredients sourced from their own farm and local growers. The range is a mix of light and dark, including The Promise Spiced Rum, vodka, silver rhum, limoncello, silver rhum overproof, kokomo coconut infused pure cane spirit and Fig Tree Restaurant kumquat liqueur.
Centrally located in Byon Bay’s Banksia Drive, Lord Byron Distillery offers complimentary tours and cocktails and tastings at the cellar door. If you are really keen, you can sign up for the very instructive two-hour blending class.
Husk Distillers, renowned for Ink Gin and paddock-to-bottle rum, opened its plush new cellar door, cocktail bar and cafe in Tumbulgum, a 60-minute drive from Byron Bay, last year. Forget any other rum you’ve tasted, Husk’s French-inspired agricole rum is made from the 60-hectare family farm’s sugar cane. Choose from Husk Spiced Bam Bam, Pure Cane and Pure Cane 50.
In 2012, Husk’s distiller, Paul Messenger, started to experiment with the colour switching properties of the Butterfly Pea, a flowering legume originating in Thailand. Over the following three years, he came up with a gin recipe made from 12 botanicals to create a superbly balanced gin with a deep blue colour dubbed Ink Gin. The following year the breakthrough spirit took out the Best Innovation in Spirits gong at the 2016 Australian Drinks Industry awards – the first craft product to win the category.
Husk’s offers three tours – daily distillery tours, an Ink Gin tour and a rum tour. Bookings are essential at www.huskdistillers.com The seasonal menus at the Planter’s Kitchen are reason enough to drop by or finish a tour with Happy Hour on Fridays and Saturdays.
The craft beer brand synonymous with Byron Bay is Stone & Wood. The company routinely picks up major awards for its top sellers – Pacific Ale and Green Coast Lager- limited and seasonal releases. A visit to its Byron Bay brewery is considered a must-do regional attraction and features on most of the local tours for good reason.
The tasting room is Stone & Wood’s “spiritual home”, housing 31 brewing tanks, a canteen run by 100 Mile Table (co-owner Sarah Swan worked for the Rockpool Group in Sydney for 14 years) and a roomy beer garden. You don’t have to make a booking for a general visit, but you do need a reservation for a guided tour. A welcome craft brew kicks off the proceedings, followed by an in-depth immersion in the history of beer, the Stone & Wood story and conscious business initiatives. Then comes a guided tasting of five beers, including core brews, one-off pilot beers and limited releases. For bookings, go to www.stoneandwood.com.au.
Supernatural Cellars is Byron Bay’s first natural wine bar. Owned by ex- Hunter Valley (Krinklewood) winemaker, Peter Windrim, the cosy laneway premises specialises in 50 organic, biodynamic and naturally produced wines from near and far – WA through Georgia and France. Late last year, Supernatural Cellars won the inaugural Maverick award at the 2019 Wineslinger Awards, an annual tip of the hat to venues that hero wines. The moreish bar menu which also celebrates sustainability will keep you here for an hour or three.
The Bolt Hole, a rooftop cocktail and whisky bar, offers up to 300 whiskies, gins, rums, tequilas and artisanal spirits. A great spot for a sundowner amid a London club style decor of leather Chesterfields and an impressive copper-toned bar.
G&Ts made with Brookie’s Ink Gin do a brisk business at The Mez Club, a popular favourite with locals and visitors. The upper level caters to groups but downstairs is filled with friends and couples gazing out of the floor-to-ceiling windows open to the sea breezes. The tapas-style menu underscores Byron’s famous laidback vibe.
Some of the best views in town are also found at The Balcony Bar & Oyster Co. Then there’s the fresh-as oysters, expertly-made cocktails and seasonal menus created by Sean Connolly, the internationally renowned super-chef who also oversees top class eateries in Australia and New Zealand, including The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room in Sydney and Sean’s Kitchen in Adelaide.