I must admit I got pretty excited at the creating of this post. But then I always get excited about visiting distilleries and writing about them.
And that’s exactly what happened last weekend.
We were invited by our dear friend Kathleen Davies, founder of Nip of Courage, to come with her down to Corowa, a little town on the New South Wales border. There we’d be allowed to explore the recently established Corowa Distillery and perhaps try some of its pre-release whisky straight from the cask.
Pretty awesome, right? Well, it gets better – just you wait and see.
Having survived the weekend, we also had a party to celebrate the Race that Stops a Nation – the Melbourne Cup – with some awesome family friends. The question is: did I pick the winning horse?
We hope you enjoy this IG Edition as much as we did making it!
Jim & Christina xx
With the prospect of a 7-hour drive and a piss-up in a distillery ahead of us in the morning, Kathleen, Mrs Romance and myself decide to line our stomachs at a favourite Vietnamese kitchen The Ha Noi.
This place may look simple, but the food definitely isn’t. Delicious stuffed squid, papaya salad with pork and prawn, and a couple of other specials have all three of us so full by the end. In fact, I can almost sympathise with the squid!
We’re on the road early(ish) this morning. We pick up Kathleen’s right hand woman Ros and take off south, heading for Gundagai and our first stop for the drive.
With Kathleen in high spirits we have to think on our feet to avoid a full blown karaoke session in the car. We turn to our current favourite guilty pleasure – the hilarious podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno. It’s about a guy who’s discovered his 60-year-old dad has penned an erotic novella called Belinda Blinked.
It’s horribly written, ridiculously un-erotic and entirely plotless. It’s a work of art. The podcast is based on this guy and his two friends reading the book out a chapter at a time and ripping it to shreds – the only thing the book is good for.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this podcast is a healthy thing to binge listen to for 7 hours straight. By the end of this trip I think our minds and our socio-ethical compasses will be bent out of shape completely.
At Gundagai, we stop of to refuel (the car and ourselves), but not before we get up close and personal with this terrifying golem of a koala. Kath’s got her best Blue Steel going here in spite of having just climbed into this beast via its bottom. And this thing’s supposed to be for kids?
Mrs Romance is less impressed at having to go all Inner Space on this massive nightmare of Australiana. Is she wondering if giant were-koalas carry giant were-chlamydia? Or is she merely lamenting her recent experience of being the probe for this massive marsupial’s endoscopy procedure.
I think I’ve been listening to that podcast a bit too long.
We finally arrive at Corowa. The distillery is here inside this old flour mill.
A piece of history in itself, the mill was in a very sad state when owner Dean Druce and head distiller Beau Schilg bought it from the local council for the princely sum of $1.
It’s taken the boys a while, but they’ve transformed what was a sad hulk, whose very frame was pitching over at a scary angle, into a beautiful monument to the local history.
And within its walls whisky magic is happening.
Along with the whisky (did I mention it’s the first organic whisky distillery in Australia? Well it is), Corowa Distilling Co is also home to this magnificent creature. In fact there are now three of these highland cattle on the property: a male, a female and the cutest little calf you’ve ever seen.
I wonder if this one was responsible for the wrecked car in the background. Looks tough enough, don’t you think?
Inside the distillery (isn’t it stunning?) the stage is set for tonight’s formal dinner. We’re pretty excited – for more reasons than just a good meal.
Tonight is to be a degustation paired with Australian spirits from some of our favourite distilleries. We’ll also be hanging out with our favourite distillers too; Ian Glen from Stone Pine Distillery, and Brian and Genise Hollingworth from Black Gate Distillery. I’m also super excited to be meeting Josh Walker from Timboon Railshed Distillery, which we wrote about here for the first time.
These guys will be telling us about their brand, their history and their spirits we’ll be trying tonight.
We have a look round the distillery and discover the magnificent bar they’ve installed here. And behind it – not to our surprise – is Brian Hollingworth. It may look like Brian’s chased Dean Druce up that ladder, but they’re actually talking whisky. Don’t worry.
When Brian finally lets Dean climb down, Dean takes us on a quick tour of the facility. They’re still fixing this beautiful relic up in places, but the important parts are now all done. Including the barrel room.
Here, maturing in all kinds of casks from ex-port and sherry to ex-wine, is the culmination of years of work. It’s a beautiful, exciting thought.
This barrel room is amazing. And the whisky that comes from it is going to be sensational. I tried a touch from the barrel and – even at cask strength – it was smooth and flavourful. And then I climbed a load of stairs and stood on rickety floorboards in a building that had stood derelict for 40 years until recently. Safe. Well done, Jim.
I must say though, I’m very much looking forward to trying more of this whisky. And to see how much more Dean, Beau and co will develop this beautiful piece of Australian heritage.
And here’s where the magic happens. These two copper wash and spirit pot stills, which are both steam powered, are the most important elements to the whole place.
It doesn’t seem to matter how many times distillers explain it to me, I still have trouble completely grasping the entire process of distilling. I suppose I shouldn’t question in and just enjoy the fruits of others’ genius!
The party is off and running! To my absolute joy, one of the pre-dinner cocktails is a gin martini using Stone Pine black truffle gin. Ian Glen has sourced and foraged these truffles from the lands surrounding his distillery in Bathurst, NSW and has created this brilliant, savoury, peppery gin that I’m completely in love with.
Garnished with a burnt butter sage leaf (the mastermind idea of the lovely Elly from the Ginstress, who’s also here tonight), this is a martini of the ages.
And mixing up magic behind the bar is none other than Kathleen from Nip of Courage herself. It’s good to see she’s survived the encounter with that Godzilla koala, isn’t it.
We’re also being treated to a new gin we haven’t tried before in a beautiful G&T. Remedy Gin from Reed and Co Distillery. This is Hamish Nugent and Rachel Reed’s first release of their gin, which is full of citrus and spice. We’re looking forward to seeing more of these guys and what they can do.
Dinner is well under way. And what a beautiful setting to dine in. While we’re enjoying our meal, we get to hear from the distillers present and what they’re making, what we’re drinking and their plans for the future.
Ian Glen from Stone Pine talks about his fantastic black truffle gin, Beau Schilg talks about his whisky and the distillery here at Corowa, Josh Walker from Timboon explains his beautiful Christie Release whisky, and Genise and Brian Hollingworth talk about their Black Gate Distillery adventures with their whisky and rum.
Kathleen also puts in cameos for William McHenry from McHenry and Sons Distillery and Peter Bignell of Belgrove Distillery, who couldn’t be here tonight.
Kathleen also proudly presents Rachel Reed and Genise Hollingworth as part of the growing group of women distillers in the country, which is absolutely excellent.
As for the food, well, it can’t be faulted. Every dish that comes out features the spirit we’re drinking in some format. The jam here with these exquisite scallops is made with a touch of whisky.
Most amazingly of all, the food is all from the mind and hands of Corowa Distillery’s head chef Sam Massari, who is manning the kitchen solo this evening. My mind is blown.
Mrs Romance and I are pretty happy with our assigned seating. Always a pleasure to hang out with Ian Glen from Stone Pine Distillery. And tonight I’ve just discovered he not only makes incredible gin and a black spiced rum that’ll make you weep tears of joy, he also makes a barrel-aged grappa I only knew existed earlier this year when we were in Italy.
In Puglia they call it barrique, but Ian’s is called invecchiata in quercia – literally ‘aged in oak’. I’m going to buy some!
Walking around the little town of Corowa the next day, we discover some more of the old heritage of the area. not only are there lots of these beautiful old buildings on the main street, there’s also a wealth of pubs.
Corowa, it turns out, was once a main freight hub. In fact one of the old pubs here was called the Terminus as this was the centre of trade when goods would come up the Murray River, which separates New South Wales and Victoria.
Corowa is also famous for being the place where the Australian Federation was signed in 1901.
We find our way back to the distillery and prepare ourselves for breakfast. Corowa Distillery also has a cafe restaurant serving up all kinds of delicious things.
It also happens to be a chocolate factory, and you can come here and make your own giant choc freckle.
Whisky, coffee, breakfast and chocolate (in any order actually) is pretty much the ideal. They’re also talking about opening up a cheese factory nearby too. I think I might move here!
We have one last look round the distillery before we make ready to head back north. It’s been a pleasure and an education meeting Beau, Dean and their precious stills. I’m pretty sure we’ll be back again – and watch this space for when the boys release their first whisky too.
Before we hit the road, I get a few shots with my mates Josh from Timboon and Ian from Stone Pine distilleries. You’ll be hearing more about these two soon as well – I’ve got lots more to tell you about their distilleries as well as this one.
Back in Sydney, we’re getting ready for Australia’s most famous horse race: the Melbourne Cup. Mrs Romance’s family have got together with friends every year to have a feed, a drink and a punt on the Race that Stops a Nation. The crew’s still going strong and it’s a lot of fun seeing everyone.
Because Mrs Romance’s dad came from Italy, there’s always a strong Italian influence at these parties. The food, the drink, the jokes, the stories. Having everyone together is more like having a family gathering than a get-together with friends.
This is my first Melbourne Cup with these guys – I’ve always missed it because of work commitments before. I’m so glad to have made this one.
Every year since the beginning of time, the person who picks the wining horse from the house sweep gets to take home our version of the Melbourne Cup. You get your name, the venue and the year you won it engraved on a plaque, and you get to keep the trophy for the year.
You also get to host the race party the following year. Will this year be ours?
We’ve got the appropriate drink ready just in case. It’s an Italian prosecco – Porta Dante – from the northeastern part of Italy – Veneto, which includes Venice. It’s a light, refreshing drop perfect for this early summer’s day. It’s also amazing value – you can pick up a bottle from Dan Murphy’s for $17 !
I used to understand a bit about reading the form for horse racing. In fact the first year I was in Australia, I won a fair amount of money on the Melbourne Cup.
That seems to have all gone by the by. Now I simply pick a nag on a tip or based on its name. I’ve picked Humidor based on my love of cigars. It turns out this one’s actually got pretty good odds too…
But that all means nothing when your horse doesn’t even come in the top 10. In fact it only just made it into the top 20. And there are 23 horses running!
Both Mrs Romance and I both miss out – by a long way – on the house sweep, so it looks like we won’t be lifting the trophy or hosting next year’s party either.
Apart from the prosecco to give us comfort, we also have this excellent looking pavlova our gracious and graceful host Ana has made. You see, even on the darkest day a glimmer of light can be seen.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s IG Edition.
Did you have a punt on the Melbourne Cup? Have you ever been to Corowa? Have you listened to My Dad Wrote a Porno? Tell us about it all in the comments!