By Stefanie Collins, editor b&c
Huon Valley cider producer Willie Smith’s has officially commissioned Australia’s first locally built alembic still.
The $200,000 investment will be used to make apple brandy, or Calvados, and will build on the established reputation of the Tasmanian apple industry as well Willie Smith’s reputation as a craft beverage creator.
Local still maker, Peter Bailly from Knapp Lewer Contracting, created the still as the first purpose-built Alembic Copper still in Tasmania and potentially Australia, according to Willie Smith’s owner Sam Reid.
“It is lovingly hand crafted with the pre-heater dome, taking one person two weeks to hand beat out of copper,” says Reid.
He added that it was expected to become another key element in the state’s boutique spirit scene – taking the number of distilleries in Tasmania to 15.
“We feel that this will be another boost for tourism in the Huon Valley and Southern Tasmania and give people even more of a reason to visit our great region,” he says. “There are viewing windows from where you can watch the still in operation along with tours at set times planned for the future.”
The Charentais-style alembic still was designed in the early 16th Century in the Cognac region of France, where it is still used for fine Cognac production and remains the still of choice for Calvados producers in Normandy in France. So it was the obvious still choice for the Willie Smith’s team.
Willie Smith’s head cider maker, and now distiller, Dr Tim Jones, was pleased with the initial spirit run off the still, saying “the spirit is smooth and fine, with creamy complexity and apple aroma – it expresses the characteristics of the cider we produce for this spirit and is also the result of this wonderfully designed and built still.”
The still’s commissioning launch was conducted by the ‘godfather’ of Tasmania’s whisky and spirits industry, Bill Lark, and saw him filling the first 100 litre sherry barrel – a product that will be released in three years’ time.
“The extension of their already successful cider production is a smart business move, and the production of a high quality Tasmanian Apple Brandy can only serve to strengthen our industry which has already gained high international accolades for its whiskies and gins,” says Lark. “The Tasmanian spirits industry is now growing rapidly and I know that the very supportive attitude of the industry welcomes and congratulates Willie Smith’s on this exciting development.”
People will be able to get their hands on Willie Smith’s yet to be named three-year old apple brandy when it has matured, and in the meantime the company is already selling its Apple Schnapps and will be releasing Pear and Cherry Schnapps in the next couple of months. According to Jones the first tastings of the unmatured brandy garnered great reviews.
“Guests tasted the first spirit run from the new still – a very clean apple based spirit that still exhibited strong Willie Smith’s characteristics – and the overwhelming feedback was positive with everyone excited to see how it will mature over the next three years, which is the requirement for Calvados in France,” says Jones. “It’s a process of patience but we think it will be well worth the wait.”