Written by Andrew Spence

Australia's largest wine region has cemented its place as the nation’s biggest brandy producer following the launch of a new distillery in Renmark.

Beverage company Bickford’s Australia has opened a distillery and visitor centre in Renmark, in the heart of South Australia’s Riverland.

The 23rd Street Distillery, in the revamped former Renmano plant, will produce craft spirits under its own label as well as well-known Australian label Black Bottle Brandy, Australia’s second biggest brandy brand.

The new centre is about a kilometre away from the St Agnes distillery, the maker of Australia’s biggest selling brandy.

Bickford’s, established in South Australia in 1874 and historically known for its premium cordials and syrups, has grown strongly into the alcoholic beverage market in recent years.

It purchased VOK Beverages in 2002 and has steadily bought up a portfolio of well-known products.

The stable now includes Vickers Gin, Beenleigh Rum, Beresford Wines, Real McCoy, Andrew Garrett, Three Oaks Cider and Galway Pipe.

It bought the Black Bottle Brandy label from Accolade in 2011 and has until now been making it out of its Beenleigh Rum distillery in Queensland. Vickers Gin will also be produced at the new Renmark distillery, which is about 260km northeast of the South Australian capital Adelaide.

The Riverland is Australia’s largest wine grape growing region, producing 517,000 tonnes or 29 per cent of the nation’s crush in 2016.

Bickford’s bought the Renmark site from Accolade Wines in 2014 after receiving more than $2 million in Riverland Sustainable Futures Funding towards the establishment of a spirit distillery in the region.

The 23rd Street Distillery is the result of a $6.6-million transformation and rejuvenation of the century-old landmark on Renmark’s 23rd Street.

The 23rd St Distillery label of craft spirits includes two brandies, a gin and a hybrid whisky.

Bickford’s Group Owner and Managing Director Angelo Kotses said the distillery was a chance for the company to become a player in Australia’s booming craft spirits industry and leverage export markets.

“We looked at the international model where cognac all of a sudden became cool and consumption went up and markets such as Asia grew dramatically so it was an ideal time to look at that whole category again,” he said.

“Suddenly Renmark has become the centre of brandy in Australia and what we want to do is build the pie rather than take a share from anyone else.”

Production will centre on three stills with the capacity to produce about 1500 litres – or about 11 barrels – of matured spirit during each run, positioning Bickford’s as the leading family-owned producer of branded spirits in Australia.

Kotses said having the marketing arm and manufacturing experience of a large beverage company, sufficient scale and existing global buyers helped the new brands.

“What we’re seeing is the craft spirits guys can’t produce enough volume because of the equipment size and style,” he said.

“We’ve got this nice space where we can take advantage of scale and that also gives you a great quality product on a consistent basis that sometimes you can’t get with a small still.

“The largest market for our bourbon is Bahrain, the largest export market for our rum is France and we’ve exported to 36 countries around the world and we think there’s the opportunity for this craft spirits angle to work well.”

Head Distiller Graham Buller said he and his team had a blank canvas to bring some exciting new additions to the Australian-made spirits market.

“Our brief is clear – so long as we continue to produce the existing products, nothing is off the table,” he said. 

“Indeed, we’re being encouraged to be inventive and innovative … and in the process, reignite brandy, give it a healthy dose of cool and captivate new consumers with a drink they thought was only for their nannas.”

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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