Be still and distill; our top distilleries from Byron to Brisbane

Australians are great fans of boutique brews.

The ‘low volume, premium production’ trend has moved through sectors of Australia’s liquor industry during the past ten years. First it was beer that benefitted from the craft movement, then gin, and now rum and whiskey are having their time in the spotlight.

Craft distilleries are popping up all over the south-east corner, each one with its own point of difference. We take a look at our top distilleries from Byron to Brisbane. From elegant to quirky, they each have their own appeal.

Beenleigh Artisan Distillery, 142 Distillery Rd, Eagleby Ph: 07 3807 3737

The oldest operating distillery in Australia, Beenleigh Rum Distillery began around 140 years ago when a still from the S.S.Walrus washed up on the shores of the Albert River was put to good use by local farmers. Today, guests gather at the distillery’s new Visitors’ Centre for a tour and tasting, but history is not far away. This boutique distillery still operates from the original stone building, using molasses from the local sugar mill and still pot distilling using some of their original copper equipment in the Big Red Shed, producing world award-winning rum and vodka. Read more here.

Brisbane Distillery, 99 Jane St., West End Ph: 07 4243 4101

Brisbane Distillery is Brisbane’s first grain to glass gin distillery, offering tastings and bottle sales, with a cocktail and tasting bar as well as a gin school where customers can create their own gin from their choice of 150 botanicals. The distillery distils vodka and a French Caribbean-style agricole rhum made from locally sourced sugar cane juice. Brisbane Distillery was recently renovated, a new gin school adjoining the distillery. Read about the Gin School experience here.

Cape Byron Distillery, 80 St Helena Rd, McLeods Shoot NSW Ph: 02 6684 7961

Using botanicals from the rainforest they have regenerated since purchasing the property in 1988 and macadamias from their own orchard, the Brook family’s Cape Byron Distillery makes two types of Brookie’s gin and Mac, a rich macadamia and wattleseed liqueur. Visit the cellar door and you can take a tour with one of the distillery staff to learn more about the botanicals and distilling process of their excellent gins. The distillery’s latest project is to make whiskey using malted barley and nutrient-rich spring water from the base of Mount Warning.

Granddad Jack’s Distillery, 45 Lemana Lane, Miami Ph: 0426 968 173

Australia’s youngest commercial distiller, Luke Ridden co-owns Granddad Jack’s Distillery with his father David. Luke is the youngest person in the world to win a gold medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and the only person in Australia to win Double Gold. In the distillery dedicated to Luke’s great-grandfather Jack, the team handcraft their spirits in small batches: gin, rum, whiskey, coffee liqueur and petite vodka with a new limited release every month. Visit the distillery for tastings, cocktails, a tour or gin-making class or just to soak up its fabulous vibe. Read more here.

Husk Distillers, 1152 Dulguigan Rd, North Tumbulgum NSW Ph: 02 6675 9149 

After starting the first agricole (paddock-to-glass) rum distillery in Australia in his farm shed, hand cutting his own sugar cane and making his own yeast, Paul Messenger diversified into a shorter-term spirit, gin, making his famous purple-hued Ink Gin pot distilled in small batches in a hand-beaten copper still. Its colour and smooth mouth feel caught the attention of Margot Robbie, who posted about it on Instagram and the rest is history. Situated on the Messenger family farm and framed by the Tweed River and Mt Warning, the ‘Husk Experience’ includes a café, cellar door and distillery tour. Read more here.

Lord Byron Distillery, 4 Banksia Drive, Byron Bay NSW Ph: 02 8646 4901

Using only molasses from the local farmer-owned milling cooperative, water from a natural spring on the family farm and yeast, with no artificial flavour, colour or preservatives, Lord Byron Distillery makes a range of handcrafted premium spirits: aged rhum (non-aged rum), rum (barrel-aged for more than two years), vodka, gin, and limoncello from Australian bush lemons. This family-owned distillery is not only using a secondary product, molasses, but it’s also zero-waste and carbon-neutral. Visit the distillery for tastings and a gin-making class. Read more here.

Milton Rum Distillery, 1/47 Castlemaine St Milton Ph: 0401 583 763

With a vision of starting a Cuban-styled bar, chemical engineer Alexander Bell launched Milton Rum with a partner in mid-2019. One of only five rum distilleries in Queensland and Northern NSW, what’s really different about Milton Rum is the old school column still that Bell designed and built himself, its ‘three stills in one’ making the smallest continuous still in the Southern Hemisphere. Beginning with spiced cane spirit, the partners have branched out into different rum styles from around the world, all made on site from molasses, and stocked in many local bottle shops and bars. Their Jamaican rum will be launched mid-2021. Read more here.

Panezski Artisan Distillery, 7/55 Bailey Crescent, Southport Ph: 0429 611 122

Owned and distilled by Paul and Vanessa Chapman, Panezski is a tribute to Vanessa’s holocaust-surviving Polish grandmother. Making the alcohol from scratch (instead of adding flavour to a pre-purchased alcohol base), Paul uses the best grains available, the rye malt grain coming from Germany and the rest of the grain from Australia in a 100-litre still. Besides one wheat and one rye vodka, the distillery presently makes two beers, a triple sec and two gins, with an aged vodka in the making. Read more here.

Tamborine Mt Distillery, 10 Macdonnell Rd, Tamborine Mountain Ph: 07 5545 3452

Tamborine Mountain Distillery’s beginnings in 1993 were momentous, founders Michael and Alla Ward being the first to be granted a distillery license in Queensland in more than a century! Today it is the most internationally awarded distillery in Australia. Now situated in an Elizabethan Tudor style building at one end of Gallery Walk, Mt Tamborine, Tamborine Mountain Distillery’s Tasting Room is a favourite of people eager to taste the distillery’s range of fine liqueurs, vodkas, schnapps, eaux-de-vie, rum, gin and more. Read more here.

Wildflower Distilling, 2/486 Scottsdale Dr, Varsity Lakes Ph: 1300 683 471

High distilling standards and attention to detail in every aspect of production and marketing give Wildflower Gin both broad appeal and distinction. Wildflower gin is made by infusing alcohol with botanicals for flavour and local Varsity Lakes honey for smoothness and mouth feel. Master of Distilling, Tudor Duxbury, tells us that how the gin is treated is also important, taking hard cuts from each distill to keep only the highest quality liquor, the rest being recycled into the next run to avoid wastage. You can test your own skills at gin making in a masterclass with thirty botanicals to choose from. Read more here.

Winston Quinn, Ph: 0403 537 740

Smart targeted marketing is a hallmark of the sassy urban boutique distillery, Winston Quinn. Founder and distiller Megan Donsky uses grain ethanol from Manildra, a vast range of botanicals and fresh produce to produce four naturally coloured and uniquely balanced gins as well as limited releases. Each one of the distinctive gins is named after jeans and beautifully presented in a cut glass bottle with a jean pocket label: Dry Cut, Skinny Jeans, Pink Fit and Slim Crop. Winston Quinn gin is stocked in major retailers. Read more here.

Want to venture further? Some other local distilleries include:

Finesse Spirits, Fonzie Abbott Gin, Fortune Noosa Distillery, Hopscotch Brewers & Distillers, Imbibis Artisan Spirits, Pomona Distillery, Sunshine & Sons, White Lies.