14 December 2023

Headlands Distilling Co leads the world with unique spirit

| Lucy Ridge
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Two men stand back to back with crossed arms and smile in front of a tall copper column.

Brewery employee Zach and co-founder Jared Smith in front of the continuous column still. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Headlands Distilling Co has ticked off a lot of firsts in its eight years of operations. Wollongong’s first craft distillery, the first gin made from entirely native botanicals, the first Illawarra Plum liqueur and now the first Illawarra Plum Whisky.

Headlands Distilling Co was founded by four University of Wollongong graduates – a group of friends with a list of degrees as long as your arm. Jared Smith is the scientist of the group and has turned his chemistry skills to the art of distillation.

Bottle and glass of whisky.

Headlands Distilling Co was founded by four friends in 2015. Photo: Headlands Distilling Co.

The set-up at Headlands is impressive: the team controls every possible variable to create excellent spirits. Grain is sourced from a single farmer in Temora and they can even choose a specific wheat variety. Unlike many distilleries, they ferment their own mash and distill their base spirit in-house using a continuous distillation column.

“We do the fermentation ourselves in strictly temperature controlled tanks. This is a slower process that means we get less of that acetone flavour,” Jared explained to Region.

“Our continuous column is really energy efficient. It’s super unusual for a distillery our size to use this style of column still but it actually saves us about 80 per cent on our power bills.”

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Essentially, the continuous column cycles the liquid between the fermentation tanks and the column still, using the coolness of one to chill the other before cycling the now-warm liquid back into the system.

Different gins in distinctive bottles with rounded bases.

Native flavours abound in Headlands Gins. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Headlands makes its own vodka, which also forms the basis of its gins, including its Boobialla gin.

“This gin is controversial, because the only definition of gin is that the spirit must contain juniper. This one doesn’t actually contain any juniper, but it contains Boobialla or Australian Juniper.”

Boobialla is an entirely different species to European Juniper, and Jared explained that the flavour profile is different too: it’s herbal and sweet, whereas juniper is piney. The gin made with Boobialla is a little more subtle than a traditional gin, best suited to a martini or simply drunk on the rocks rather than doused in tonic and garnishes.

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Native fruit Illawarra Plum features in both a gin and a liqueur. The gin is modelled after an English Sloe Gin but uses the native fruit the team harvests by hand.

“Early on we went to the Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation to introduce ourselves and let them know what we wanted to do,” Jared explained.

“Nobody farms this fruit at the moment, so we forage for it, but we’re saving all the seeds and replanting so hopefully we can grow our own orchard in the future.”

Purple box reading Single Malt Whisky, Illawarra Plum Cask, with whisky bottle next to it.

The Illawarra Plum Cask Whisky is unique. Photo: Headlands Distilling Co.

They’ve also made a barrel-aged Illawarra Plum Liqueur, which has opened another door for them.

“We have made the world’s first Illawarra plum cask whiskey. We took a four-year-old ex-bourbon cask whiskey, put it in an Illawarra plum spirit barrel and then left it for another three years,”

This unique spirit was launched on 5 December with a limited release of 309 bottles from a single barrel.

Headlands Distilling Co is located at 12/6-8 Ralph Black Drive, North Wollongong. Curious lovers of spirits can visit the distillery for a tour and tasting of these unique drinks. Find more information on the website. Follow Headlands Distilling Co on Facebook or Instagram.

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